With a voice that sounded like a scowl, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, a.k.a. Lorde, announced that she had absolutely no interest in what her peers had to say. "I'm getting tired of being told to throw my hands up in the air/so there," she sang, the last two words apparently there to simulate a satisfied hmph. Those hands also belonged to the audience that, for the few years before the 2013 release of "Team," had been satiated mainly by what were seen as cheap thrills.
Auto-tuned voices, kick drums, ascending polysynth chords; these were the signifiers of a kind of pop that said nothing and promoted excess. This was the faceless "mainstream" that necessitated an alternative form of music. What few realized was that these two worlds were closer than ever in 2010, and a ragtag band of rappers and producers had created the song that showcased that bridge better than anyone. It was called "Like a G6" and listening to it now is to know what partying truly is. Far East Movement, Dev, and the Cataracs scored a big hit–holding the number-one spot on the top 40 for three weeks–but more than that, they inadvertently defined a mood and era.
"Like a G6" created nothing. It's derivative as all hell. But its craft and chutzpah are A-class. Over mechanical house beats and that trampolining bass line, Dev and the Cataracs strut and preen. Far East Movement, the song's ostensible headlining artists, seem to have contributed not much else to the song other than Khaled-ing the whole collaboration together. None of the lines are really worth salvaging but the auto-tuned fizz of the vocals and especially Dev sold banal bro platitudes like "When sober girls around me / they be acting like they're drunk." This is a song that's so coolly confident in its hedonism that it invented a whole model of private jet just to rhyme with "Three 6."
Now, to make things clear, EDM-pop like this can be divided into two separate movements: one is the post-Skrillex, Dutch-inspired big-room house; fist pumps, drops, Pitbull, the works. This took a foothold after 2011 or so but was preceded by something less grandiose. This bratty, angular form of electropop (the name we'll use henceforth for the sake of simplicity) was something wholly different from the boorish Ultra Festival-core that Calvin Harris and Avicii, et al. took to massive heights. It was somehow clever in its brazen stupidity and distinctly feminine, a quality that many of its detractors took harsh note of. Good old fashioned music critic sexism is why Lady Gaga and Kesha, the twin titans of electropop, were often vilified.
Dev, the woman responsible for the robotic hook that's the nucleus of "Like a G6"'s swagger, was not at the level of the former two. She'd been working with production team the Cataracs on her own music, the most fruitful product of which was titled "Booty Bounce." Despite its Dirty South-leaning title, the song and accompanying video were cold and sterile. It was reminiscent of any era of robot-pop, but mainly of electroclash, one of the most misattributed of the many revivalist movements that ushered in alternative music at the dawn of the 21st century.
Canadian musician Peaches, possibly electroclash's brightest star, is probably the earliest antecedent to the specific late-00s electropop sound. Gaga and Kesha have both cited her as an influence and her blunt-force electronics and deadpan carnality can be heard in the music that stormed the charts from 2008 to 2010. It's not unreasonable to assume that the Cataracs and Dev built upon that sound as well. Admittedly, the exact lineage can get confusing and nebulous because electroclash shared surface similarities with dance-punk (similar approach but much more aggressive and rock-oriented), blog-house (too maximalist, though never forget that Uffie probably pioneered Kesha's performance style), and new rave (which, as an invention of UK music magazines, never existed in the first place). Make no mistake though, the give-no-fucks attitude of all four styles was inherited by the electropop of the late 00s and gave it a character that was closer to rock stardom than pop diva-dom. In fact, instead of seeing those two archetypes as mutually exclusive, electropop saw the middle ground between them and synthesized a unique mood that was carefree yet stiff and in control.
Electropop's punk-ish nature, rapped female vocals, and distorted rave synths spoke to times that were both optimistic with the rise of a young, charismatic president and defiant in the face of a recession whose tendrils were only just beginning to spread. It's no surprise that various post-hardcore bands and indie popsters ran with the sound and its accompanying day-glo visuals, again not mentioning its secret kinship to the alternative world. While songs like Kesha's "Tik Tok" and Gaga's "Poker Face" were the most famous purveyors of this feeling, "Like a G6" captured all of it best. Why? How, even? It's funny considering that electropop focused on excess, but less was probably more in this song's case.
To provide some comparison, "Tik Tok" layers reference upon reference in its lyrics and production. Puff Daddy, 8-bit synths, Mick Jagger, it's all stirred together, to be consumed at once like a Jack and Coke cocktail. In a similar fashion, all of Gaga's oeuvre plays with too many different contexts and possible interpretations to be read merely as simple fun. "Like a G6" didn't care about pop culture cross-referencing or Kunihiko Ikuhara-esque attempts at deconstructing the performative aspects of gender and sexuality. Its concerns were pure and singular: "IT'S THAT 808 BUMP / MAKE YOU PUT YOUR HANDS UP."
But as with all parties, the cops showed up, the era eventually passed, and Gulfstream made the G600. Dev's career would cough up two more hits before dissipating. The Cataracs' last achievement was providing the internet with that .gif of Waka Flocka Flame riding off into the desert on a segway. They don't exist anymore, either. As for Far East Movement, their most recent EP was in 2014, featured terrible artwork, and had a Riff Raff guest verse. They've been in talks this year to collaborate with K-pop boy band Exo, appropriate considering K-pop has far surpassed electropop's past prominence by using nearly the same approach of girl rappers and relentless robot beats. The party generation of 2010 has moved on, but "Like a G6" will endure just as long as when someone drinks, they do it right and get slizard.
Phil doesn't let the party start until he walks in. He's on Twitter.