porcelainandporcupines

On the radio: Shut Up and Dance

Posted on: January 25, 2016

First, a bit of news: I recently discovered an NPR station that stays tuned in on my car radio the entire length of my commute, rather than switches over to country music 1/3 of the way to work. Which, as far as novelties go, was exceptionally short-lived. But, the point is, now that I can spend an entire car ride pretending I have people to talk with, I may have less to say on the subject of whatever good or terrible song I have just heard for the first time. I know you’re sad, but at least I leave you with this discussion of Shut Up and Dance, by the band Walk the Moon, which holds the distinction of there being no other song that makes me change the radio station faster. 

Which,  honestly, makes it hard to know how to start talking about this song and my deep feelings on it, since I’m really only familiar with about 17 seconds of it. But those 17 seconds stick with me, because the song raises a conundrum which I then spend several minutes considering, and that conundrum is whether the song is incredibly cynical, or am the cynical one for thinking this is the most cynical song I’ve every heard?

It seems like the easy answer is me, that I’m the cynic, since, on the face of it, Shut Up and Dance is nothing but an upbeat bit of fluff exhorting the audience to dance, albeit quite impolitely. It is instantly sing-along-able and has a retro vibe beyond the sample of Where the Streets Have No Name that opens the song.

But then that sample starts to trouble me. Not because of anything I have against sampling, but I think that to count as sampling, you have to alter the original in some way, use it in a different context or in some other way be unexpected. Like when Naughty By Nature sampled the Jackson Five for O.P.P, taking the hook from a schoolboy’s crush and reapplying it to the homies who betray both their bros and their hos by indulging in the titular,uh, property, that belongs to other people. Shut Up and Dance, on the other hand, doesn’t do anything with U2’s guitar chords other than just, you know, play them as they lay.

This is what makes me believe it’s the song that’s cynical, rather than me. Because I’ve never in my live heard a song more clearly designed to be a big hit song than this one. And I say “designed” because I don’t believe this was written by actual human beings, but instead is the result of an advanced algorithm designed by an away team  of undercover aliens this close to mastering our human ways.

As a very lazy person, I do respect that strategy. It’s hard to write a big hit song; U2 did it in 1987, so why reinvent the wheel? We all know that U2 approves of recycling, so if they’re cool with it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be, too. On the other hand, if Walk the Moon isn’t going to bring any of itself to this endeavour, there’s no reason I shouldn’t just listen to the U2 song.

 

Of course, the U2 chords fade, to be replaced by generic ’80s guitar and synth, uh, things (you guys: I don’t know about music), as the focus shifts to the songs lyrics. Which isn’t an improvement, because I don’t understand at all what is the story this song is telling. 

The first verse goes as such:

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me

When did these two meet? I’m given the impression that they’re relationship starts with the song does- and, indeed, Google reports that in a subsequent verse the gentleman describes their relationship as “chemical physical kryptonite,” which is illusively evocative and entirely nonsensical but also gives a degree of urgency usually associated with the beginnings of things- which makes his “You’re holding back,” to be more than a little presumptuous. Yes, of course she’s holding back; that’s what people do with strangers, until they get to know them better. It’s probably supposed to be romantic, and maybe if I listened to the whole song I might end up rooting for this couple, but being familiar with only this one verse, I have to say it comes across as a little bit rapey.

Also, for a song so reliant on ’80s tropes, they missed a major opportunity in not having that woman be his density; that’s a song I probably could have gotten behind.

Finally, let’s talk about the band name for a second: Walk the Moon. I understand there are no official rules to naming a band, and thus no requirement that the name make sense. But I think we can all agree that, if a band name is going to nothing more than  string of random words, it shouldn’t include any verbs. Neutral Milk Hotel? Sure – sounds like a strange place to stay, but I’m along for the ride. Walk the Moon? No – fuck off and don’t tell me what to do.

That’s a lot of words to spill on a song that seems destined for the dust bins of history. I’d probably have more to say if I could listen to the whole song, but instead, let’s end with a nice list of 5 one-hit wonders I’d rather listen to than this hear this nonsense ever again:

  1. Mmmbop, by Hanson – I legitimately like this song. It seems peppy, but it’s actually a surprisingly dark discussion of aging. It’s not Death in Venice, certainly, but for a pop song by a bunch of teens, it’s unusual.
  2. Tubthumper, by Chumbawumba – now here is a song clearly written to achieve massive popularity, and nothing more. But, the almost angelic voice of the woman singing “Pissing the night away,” is a clever note. I’d hang out and chat with these guys for a little while.
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Deep Blue Something – I feel bad for Deep Blue Something, because I am sure some record executive somewhere promised them they’d be the next Hootie and the Blowfish, but apparently none of them had the charisma of Darius Rucker even if I really like a redhead. As for their name, well, the ’90s was an experimental time in overt apathy, so I grade them on a curve. But, all that said, I’m okay with this song. I wouldn’t buy an album, but I’m pretty sure I have a perfectly legal download of the single.
  4. Inside Out, by Eve 6- Most likely the only reason this song is on the list is because I just found out the band’s name was inspired by the X-Files episode “Eve”, and I like the X-Files enough not to watch the reboot. This is a perfectly serviceable if unmemorable song. Oh, and look at that – another redhead!
  5. Come on Eileen, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners – This is maybe the granddaddy of one-hit wonders from the ’80s, and overall I have to say that after three decades I’m actually quite tired of it. But I feel like DMR is a great example of being born in the wrong time, and that with the current popularity of bluegrass and folk music, they might have had a shot at sustained popularity if they were coming up now. So I feel a little bad for them. I also feel like they’re ripe for a comic book adaptation about Dexy’s Midnight Runners, a courier service that handles the most urgent overnight deliveries, and the interesting and/or sinister characters they meet on the job. As long as it didn’t get too, like, super-hero-y, I would read that.

 

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