Disco Inferno

Shameera Lin has one simple message: You should be dancing, yeah.

Left to right: Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers in the “Get Lucky” music video. (Source: MTV)

Left to right: Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers in the “Get Lucky” music video. (Source: MTV)

“Now I know why disco died,” said Uncle Jesse from Full House with a smirk, as Danny Tanner did the hustle to “Shake, Shake, Shake (Shake Your Booty)” by KC & The Sunshine Band.

In 1990, the disco era was viewed as a fading memory of boogie shoes, afro hairdos and repetitive lyrics. If you had questioned anyone on the street about the meaning of disco at the time, pejoratives like “cheesy”, “corny” and “outdated” would have come to mind. Still, there are simply too many timeless disco tracks (who doesn’t remember “…dancing in September” with Earth, Wind & Fire?) to relegate the genre to negative stereotypes. In fact, the stance of the general public has shifted drastically over the past few years.

To the credit of music critics, the topic has been discussed since this article by Marcus O’ Dair was written in 2008 — one of the first pieces about the reemergence of disco as a “fun” and “sexy” genre. Nevertheless, the article focused on artists producing disco-derived music such as Nu-Disco — a term in circulation as early as 2002, yet without a massive following. In addition, disco culture saw slight growth in the late nineties, with movies such as Pulp Fiction making it more socially acceptable. Needless to say, none of this brought disco back to its former level of glory. Yet, Nu-Disco should be credited for gradually reintroducing the slick genre to modern listeners — it was merely a matter of time before the mainstream pop industry would jump on the A-train.

In the summer of 2013, the mellow and hypnotic sound of Get Lucky could be heard on every radio station. Featuring Chic’s Nile Rogers as a songwriter and guitarist, the disco-infused Daft Punk tune was bound for success. Even more so: the collaboration between a legend of the genre, house musicians and an R&B/hip-hop producer marked the inception of a new period in modern chart-topping songs. From breaking the all-time streaming record on Spotify to receiving rave reviews from critics for being “an old-school disco jam”, the genre went from being almost-unnoticed in the mainstream music world to an overnight sensation of sorts. Pharrell Williams states that the Record of the Year “…evoked the sense of being on an exotic island during a “peachy color[ed] sunrise.” With people of all ages dancing to an old-fashioned tune in nightclubs and homes, there was no doubt about it — disco was once again relevant and cool.

Bruno Mars performing 'Treasure' live. (Picture: SingersRoom)

Bruno Mars performing ‘Treasure’ live. (Picture: SingersRoom)

As this New York Times article from 2013 shows, the trend did not end there. With a track heavily inspired by Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit, Got to Give It Up, Robin Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell came up with the other song of the summer, Blurred Lines — as declared by Stephen Colbert on a 2013 episode of The Colbert Report. Despite the raunchy music video and questionable lyrics sparking a series of controversies, the melody is still remembered for another reason: it had numerous shades of disco and funk, akin to the other chart-topping sensation.

Riding the waves of success, artists like Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake also released tracks with a similar flavour. The music video for Treasure embraced 70s fashion in its entirety, with glamorous afros and strikingly red suits dominating the dance floor — reminiscent of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. On the other hand, Take Back the Night managed to invoke the spirit of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album, coupled with powerful falsettos and sophisticated vocal flourishes — not forgetting the JT/MJ collaboration on Love Never Felt So Good. At this point, the disco revival was at its zenith — it seemed unstoppable.

2014, on the other hand, was slightly less eventful for boogie wonderland, as an odd match of happiness and sadness overtook the chart. Smash hits like Pharrell’s Happy and Sam Smith’s Stay With Me were polarising the sentiments of the general public.

The following year carried on the trends of 2013, to a certain degree. A number of the year’s biggest hits were indubitably based on groovy disco tunes, with an infusion of genres like pop and funk. Whilst the Record of the Year, Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, sounded more like a 1980s Prince record… the disco beat and groove were unmistakably present and formed the basis of the song. Up-and-coming artist The Weeknd also stylised the Grammy-nominated Can’t Feel My Face with subtle Off the Wall references, and musicians such as Maroon 5 and Jason Derulo found themselves including disco sounds in Sugar and Want to Want Me. All in all, it was yet another good year for disco.

The final verdict? Although the revival has since mildly diminished, the genre shows no indication of disappearing in the near future. Considering the trend for “Record of the Year” over the past three years, it would come as no surprise if next year’s winner ends up being related to disco in some manner. Uncle Jesse was sorely mistaken in that regard — disco never truly died, it merely needed the right moment to be resuscitated. As Kool & the Gang once proclaimed: “Get down on it!”

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Shameera Lin

Politics and Arts Correspondent at Filibuster
Shameera Lin is a 20-year-old writer for Filibuster from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Currently on a post-A-Level gap year after spearheading too many Sixth Form societies, she seeks to uncover her destiny in many things, including John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Christopher Hitchens' fearless commentaries and the stylistic brilliance of poets like W. H. Auden. An adamantly opinionated democratic socialist and nocturnal (aspiring) poet, Shameera fancies hearing well-balanced views on anything as well as solitary tea breaks in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur. For an odd compilation of tweets, find her @TheLinYou.
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