Magazine article Artforum International

Don't Hold It against Me

Magazine article Artforum International

Don't Hold It against Me

Article excerpt

LISTENING TO BRITNEY SPEARS's recent single "Hold It Against Me"--which launched this past January at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart--one can't help but think that aspects of its production and structural composition betray the year of its release. The song is essentially one long crescendo, overlaid on a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format-The chorus builds in each iteration until finally it reappears, accompanied by a beat, with only about thirty seconds left in a song a little shy of four minutes. The entire song is constructed around this moment, and the effect of the rhythm entering is exacerbated by the production techniques--synth washes, digital piano, and thirty-second-note drum rolls familiar from the legendary Roland TR-909 drum machine--that have been used to tease us repeatedly about the climax's impending entrance by continually building to nonevents. Although it's frustrating and maddening, this withholding of gratification, which the song presents over and over, is what ultimately keeps us listening. And these elaborate, endurance-taxing crescendos, as well as the technical means used to amplify their tension, are all in fact taken from a single vernacular, one that is hardly contemporary; 1990s Euro-trance. Along with several other artists--including Kelly Rowland, Taio Cruz, Flo Rida, and Lady Gaga--Spears is appropriating this specific musical style. The former Mouseketeer and early tabloid flameout is, moreover, bringing its hallmarks to the US charts. Why? More important, why now?

Euro-trance is a US term for a style of house music that originated in the early '90s in Europe. Like a lot of dance music, the genre is split into infinite slightly ill-fitting subcategories such as vocal trance and progressive trance. The music shares with house a bass drum on every beat, aka "four to the floor," but it's farther from disco and soul than house is. Instead, the music is infused with a kind of sped-up new age sensibility: Like new age music, it embraces the more enthusiastic end of electronic music production. In other words, it is a bit overblown, dramatic, and tacky--and I mean this in a positive sense. Crucially, what we hear in many recent US singles is not an exact copy of Euro-trance but rather a distorted or Photoshopped 2011 version of what we remember Euro-trance to have been. History is not really advancing: It's the act of upgrading to an iPhone 4 that gives us pleasure, not our having arrived anywhere useful. When we hear Britney making Euro-trance we are hearing the illusion of progress.

In 2002, Eminem rapped, "Nobody listens to techno," yet it was in fact hip-hop where Euro-trance influences first started to appear in US pop. The "crunk" that typifies Lil Jon's production style is bathed in elements of Euro-trance, a style he says he grew familiar with in Atlanta strip clubs. …

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