Retro Revival

Do you know what day it is? Me neither. Snow is in the forecast. Bandanas are stylish again. The threat of nuclear annihilation is always on the horizon. It’s a strange time for… time. But, a spring budding with new music reminds us that the record spins on, and even the global pandemic can’t disrupt the tight schedule of the genre life cycle. So, about half a century after it first rolled onto the scene in hightop quad skates, it seems that disco is ready to ride again. 

It’s not like we ever really escaped disco- despite the White Sox’ best efforts- its influence has crept into virtually every genre, and we pay our respects every time we go see a live DJ. But lately, it seems that the characteristics of disco are returning, overtly, to the top of the charts, in hit songs from the likes of Doja Cat, BENEE, and Dua Lipa. 

Globally, the top fifteen alone are, by my calculations, at least a quarter disco-y. My personal favorite, “Say So,” which has made itself comfortable on the charts, is emblematic of the genre modernization. It introduces elements typical of disco- the chicken-scratch guitar, the syncopated bass line- and then turns them on their head. After dishing out a few irresistibly catchy melodies, Doja Cat launches into a verse of rap that fits so seamlessly over the beat that it will make you wonder why it took like ten years after disco’s departure for rap to blow up (a question and uncomfortable answer for another time). 

Joining “Say So” in the top 15 is some of Dua Lipa’s latest. “Don’t Start Now,” is driven primarily by a bassline that walks between broken octaves, weaving around a four on the floor beat, two distinct signatures of the disco genre. Its release last fall teased her sophomore album, aptly titled Future Nostalgia, which echoed the same kind of overt retro influence throughout. 

These tracks aren’t isolated events, rather they reflect a more overarching cultural sentimentality for bygone eras. The Weeknd’s singles are straight out of the ’80s, the global Top 50 is rife with remixes of everyone from SAINt JHN to Frankie Valli. Fads come and go, but nostalgia is forever. As long as an obsession with the past doesn’t prevent progress, I’m here for it. Are new takes on classic styles groundbreaking? Maybe not, but maybe survival on the frontier means occasionally retracing old footsteps with new resources and knowledge. I personally feel like one decade of ’80s music was enough, but I don’t make the rules. 

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