It came on quietly at first. Listening to it once I wasn't exactly knocked out—it seemed like every clean, clipped, post-Random Access Memories song Daft Punk were ever involved with, and every half-entertaining, over-melodramatic Weeknd song I've ever overheard while walking past an open car window. By the second play it'd started to take hold a little more. I reflexively knew each note a second before it bounced, and I was beginning to recognize the words to the verses. By play five or six, I was completely off-book—able to mime along entirely without assistance, the tired marbles of my eyes reflecting laptop-white as I gormlessly mouthed along. Plays ten, eleven, twelve, saw my head nodding gently from side to side like the tail of aged labrador, my thigh-muscles synchronized clenching in rhythm. By the fifteenth play, the chorus was at one with my pulse.
I have absolutely no idea how many times I've listened to the Weeknd's new single with Daft Punk, "I Feel It Coming," since its release, but I know it's in three digits.
The single, the second Daft Punk featuring single to be taken from the Weeknd's latest album Starboy, arrived last week. I should say—to be perfectly upfront—I'm not interested in the Weeknd's album. I thought "I Can't Feel My Face" was pretty good, as songs about gak go, but his first Daft Punk collaboration, the eponymous "Starboy," is totally forgettable, and a brief scan through the album produced nothing of particular interest. Which is why I'm as surprised as you are that I'm currently writing an extended reaction to this song.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this—it was supposed to be Random Access Memories. Daft Punk's return to the heady heights of their former glory was supposed to play out in a collaboration with Nile Rodgers, or at least on their own album. Their return to form wasn't supposed to be an album track co-sign with another artist, let alone the fucking Weeknd. The Weeknd, a popstar so unbelievably forgettable and without distinguishing presence the only two things people ever say about him are (a) something about his hair or (b) that he maybe sounds a bit like Michael Jackson, if you squint your ears.
And yet, like it or not, it has happened. Fifteen years after they last did something good, Daft Punk have created their magnum opus, and it's a four and half minute slab of Kiss FM pop about female orgasms—which it is by the way, my girlfriend figured this out after my "five more listens before bed" routine the other night. Forget the Tron soundtrack, forget "Get Lucky", in fact, you can pretty much forget everything on this list. "I Feel It Coming" is here now. "I Feel It Coming" is all you need.
But why? What is it about this song?
In part, it's successful because it is simple. The chorus contains about five notes and as many words. The production is understated and small sounding—there's no drop, no rap feature, and no vocal gymnastics. It also sounds incredibly clean, as though the air has been sucked out of it, like every breath and scratch of fingers on guitar string has been plucked from the atmosphere, leaving the music and nothing else. The Weeknd sounds exactly like the Weeknd—you know, a bit like Michael Jackson—and Daft Punk sound exactly like Daft Punk. It's exactly what a collaboration between the Weeknd and Daft Punk should sound like. So why is it so good?
Well, firstly, an important question: is it good? Is "I Feel It Coming" actually good? I mean clearly it is a thing of immense beauty—a svelte and compelling piece of work—but is it a good song? I posit maybe not. Maybe it's actually quite mediocre. The sort of bargain-bin pop that would sound just as at home soundtracking the disco scene in a straight-to-video animated movie, as it would topping the charts. The tune, that "I've heard this somewhere before" quality the melody has, perhaps betrays the fact that "I Feel It Coming" isn't good as much as it is totally familiar. It's so conventional, such perfectly-packaged commercial disco-revivalism, it actually becomes comforting—like watching one of the shit Star Wars prequels, or eating a microwaveable lasagne. Culture that sort of sucks, but at least tastes like home.
Maybe it is good—maybe it is a the best pop song of all. Maybe, forty years from now, a wizened and weathered Reggie Yates with sallow bags beneath his eyes will present through cracking voice a documentary about "the disco-pop collaboration between Daft Punk and the Weeknd that changed the world." Maybe "I Feel It Coming" will herald a new era for chintzy disco-pop, maybe it will sell so many copies they'll have to think of a new category after double-platinum, maybe it will bring flares back into fashion, maybe it will bring dear old Robin Gibb back from the dead.
More likely though, it's the former, but even so there's something impressive about just how enchantingly average "I Feel It Coming" is. I can't think of another instance where a song has been so ostensibly unimpressive, yet equally so beguiling. It's like I've fallen in love with a slice of buttered white toast and a glass of orange squash. There's nothing I haven't seen before, but I can't look away.
Perhaps the real answer lies in the state of the world around us. No, that's not just to say: 2016 has been horrible, so a disco song is comforting and familiar. Rather, the shift currently occurring in the world is a rejection of the status-quo—a rebuttal of a complacent contemporary culture that has for too long commodified the radical, liberal ideas of the 1960s and 1970s in order to sell records, and phones, and whatever else. Disco was once a platform for excluded voices, but in the past decade has instead become a pair of shiny trousers for Justin Timberlake to put on whenever he chooses. So, as the political-correctness and niceness of modern pop-culture is rejected, so the age of Pharrell's "Happy" must come to an end and a new, scarier epoch must begin. It's in this context that something as derivative as "I Feel It Coming" becomes so strangely hypnotic—a flaccid callback to an already bygone age of complete and total, glorious mediocrity. A time before frog memes and golden elevators, before the fall of neoliberalism, when a slab of unremarkable wedding-reception pop was enough.
Either way, I'm still sat here listening to the same Weeknd song over and over again, Daft Punk's vocoder harmonies like a pair of electric toothbrushes serenading each-other. I'm dreaming of Ubers back from nightclubs, eating Wotsits at boring house parties, texting girls who probably aren't interested and eating paper-thin Maccy-D fries. I'm dreaming of American Apparel hoodies, Ryan Reynolds, Snapchat filters, the Brits, Comic Relief, Graham Norton, infinite pairs of white Vans, spearmint chewing gum, and the beige hum of a shopping mall. I'm dreaming of a time less exciting, for better or for worse.
The end of the world is nearly here, I feel it coming.