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O Magazine
2015-2017

ZEDD vs. FREE WILL
& DEMOCRACY

by Ben Tuthill

Another EDM banger with repeated ascending major synth progressions, another mindlessly inspirational EDM music video. Zedd‘s latest single Beautiful Now sounds almost exactly like Calvin Harris’s 2014 Summer and Jodeb’s accompanying video looks almost exactly the same as Emil Nava’s (which looks almost exactly like Vincent Haycock’s for 2013’s identical-sounding Thinking About You). If there’s ever an argument for the stagnation and simultaneous depletion of Western cultural potential, it’s mainstream electronic summer hits.

Jodeb follows the basic EDM video format: take four or five incoherent plot lines set in disparate parts of the beautiful world, splice them up, increase intensity for the first three minutes and then, at the drop, cut to flashing lights and dancing. Beautiful Now hits the playbook so thoroughly that it almost comes across as parody. Check sexy redheaded lesbians rocked by tragedy. Check Clint Eastwood-esque South Americans climbing mountains. Check pretty young thugs pulling knives at liquor store. Check obligatory jumping-off-of-something shot. All of these excite me, I guess, and make me want to dance.

Actually, the music makes me want to dance. The visuals just add weight to that dancing. I’m not doing this because I’m bored or on drugs or trying to hook up; I’m dancing to experience the world to its fullest potential and in doing so  participate in the unification of all humanity. Fist pumping on molly has never felt more noble.

If Zedd really believed in the power of the drop for the liberation of the common people, I guess I could get behind that. But this video is so much more cynical than that. Every shot is designed to show me exactly what I’m not, what I don’t have. The people are beautiful, the lighting is beautiful, the settings are beautiful, and -most importantly – everyone here is “living” so much more than you will ever live. This isn’t just true for Beautiful Now: it’s 80% of mainstream EDM videos. It’s a cottage industry built entirely on fomo. E veryone else in the world is feeling cooler feelings than you! They’re pulling guns on each other. They’re kissing underwater. They’re jumping off of things. WTF are you doing? Why are you not at this party feeling  things too?

This isn’t designed to inspire me or make me want to dance or fall in love. It’s made to make me feel like shit. And -even though I’m a critically thinking young person who hates inspiration, dancing, and being in love – it works. It plays off my feelings of insignificance and presents a bass-heavy beat as a way out. Even though I know I’ll never feel the drop as intensely as the sexy red-headed lesbian lying down on the train tracks is feeling it, I’m still going to try. Because until I feel that perfect drop, my life just isn’t worth living.

It’s scary how well this works when you consider how stupid it is. “We’ll light up the sky, we’ll open the clouds / cuz baby tonight, we’re beautiful now”: this is shit middle schoolers trying to get handjobs say. This is a bottom-tier hook-up song that deserves absolutely nothing resembling real emotional consideration. Zedd is the EDM equivalent of a new off-brand Smartphone: cheap, boring, and exactly the same as the one you have but with slightly worse packaging.

It’s not surprising then that smartphone commercials and EDM videos follow the same essential format. Both rely on images that establish well-connected global joy that I -because I’m using an outdated cellphone; because I’m alone in your  bedroom watching music videos and not at the party – aren’t a part of. EDM videos  have more sexy red-headed lesbians, but it’s the same idea. They function on an axis of necessary exclusion and artificial need. They sell inspiration as a double-edged torture device/ recruitment tool. They make my lonely pathetic life unbearable and then offer me an ecstatic escape into mass-communalism. It’s Fascist propaganda 101.

At least Fascism has the object of nation-building for its mind-controlled, community-starved cogs. All EDM has is the drop. And after the drop there’s nothing. We’re obligatorily jumping off of something, into nothing, and at the bottom there isn’t even anything as good as a ground on which to splatter ourselves. Maybe that’s a little melodramatic for an assessment of a promotional clip for a party track. But Beautiful Now is a melodramatic clip. It’s asking me to take it seriously and I do. It’s hard not to when you’re assaulted with images that visceral tied to chords progressions that epic. Together they force a previously nonexistent absence and then demand that I fill that absence with something that everyone involved knows perfectly well to be junk. That’s how you sell cellphones, that’s how you build cults, that’s how you start night rallies. And that sucks.