Most people who have Googled “The Chainsmokers,” rather than letting the omnipresent “Closer” speak for itself, are aware of the DJ/production duo’s checkered reputation. In a Billboard feature from last fall—a defining document of their disgustingly successful, #1-hit-studded come-up—’smokers Alex Pall and Drew Taggart talked like Donald Trump on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, bragging that “even before success, pussy was number one.” Similarly, they have posted over 30 videos of their tour exploits to their website, and in them, they often make The Situation look like Matt McGorry.
Last summer, the Chainsmokers felt emboldened to rag on a female artist with a much better reputation than them in a Rolling Stone interview, claiming that Lady Gaga’s lead single from Joanne, “Perfect Illusion,” “suck[ed].” When Gaga owned them simply by taking it in stride, something finally clicked: Why did everyone think they were such jerks? In a new interview with NME, Taggart and Pall talked about their change of heart. “Alex was saying the other day, ‘For 30 years nobody’s given me shit for what I said,'” Taggart said. “Like, ‘What the hell?'”
He added: “I promise you, we’re not assholes.” In other words, it seems the Chainsmokers have just realized that they’re finally liable for saying what they want, and that it’s not particularly cute coming from insanely rich music superstars. Under the spotlight, the building blocks of their existence are finally being questioned—and now, they’re furrowing their brow while drinking Coronas in their penthouse hotel suites, thinking about how to proceed.
Later in the interview, a reflective Pall took a stab at changing the group’s reputation:
It affects you, because you don’t know how people are going to see that – [whether they’ll] take it at face value and walk away feeling you are that person… It’s not about apologizing and back-pedaling. It’s about… I don’t want to say becoming better people, because that sounds cheesy. Just keeping it real, and understanding that not everyone’s on your team. Move forward.
Is it possible that the Chainsmokers might care what people think about them? They’re at least aware their bravado could do longterm damage to their image—but also, that the process of “keeping it real” might come off as disingenuous to their current crowd. They also talked how impressionable young kids—they singled out one with terminal illness who wrote them a letter—like their music, too, and not just date-rapey former frat douches who are now fresh meat on some Wall Street trading floor.
It’s much too soon to say they’re on their way to being a pair of woke baes—it seems more likely they’ll overplay their hand with some milquetoast attempt at a mature musical vision, and potentially Mackle their way right out of the Hot 100. But EDM robots have hearts, too.