Let’s Dance

Let’s Dance is having a moment. If you haven’t noticed, you haven’t been paying very close attention. Let’s Dance would be, if David Bowie hadn’t swooped in and released an album last spring, the most relevant and au courant David Bowie album. The new album was an event of gargantuan importance, and deeply relevant for a variety of reasons. But the arrival of new David Bowie material may have distracted us from the all the ways other, older material was surging in influence. For one thing, you’ll have noticed that Nile Rodgers is back. Rodgers is best known as one of the engineering figures of disco, though he’d deny it. He claims his music, from his Chic days onwards, was really an amped-up, highly glamorized funk-soul. Whether you think the music of Chic, Sister Sledge, 70’s Diana Ross and others Rodgers produced is funk/pop fusion, or just plain old disco, you can’t deny it was some of the very best of disco. As the producer of Let’s Dance, Rodgers did create a genuine fusion of dance pop, rock’n’roll and funk, along with the usual high style and dark elements of a David Bowie record. It was a surprising, and thoroughly novel, balance of serious artistic vision and escapist entertainment. It was wildly successful, but dismissed by many critics as a bit of a sellout moment for Bowie. The popularity and demand for more of the same did precipitate a period of creative decline, during which Bowie temporarily misplaced some of his cachet. In the meantime, times have changed, and popular tastes have cycled back to all things 80’s. The idea of ‘selling out’ no longer holds meaning for anyone but a handful of nostalgia-minded hipsters. Nile Rodgers’ collaborations with Daft Punk became the year’s most popular – and acclaimed – singles. The influence of Let’s Dance is felt all over the musicsphere. The entire wave of Fake New Wave can be traced to it. It’s become a common goal to combine dance floor catchiness with intellectual gravitas, as indie pop sounds less and less indie and more and more pop. In the mainstream arena, we have Lady Gaga, whose desire to be acclaimed as a visionary whilst working within the confines of mass-appealing pop borders on derangement. The perfect mix of spectacle, emotion, sheer entertainment and artist clout is evasive. Let’s Dance was the perfect vehicle to deliver all the depth, eccentricity, personal demons, cleverness, and unexpected context of a David Bowie album to a mass audience, all in one shiny, irresistible, strobe-light ready package. That’s not a feat readily repeated, even by Bowie himself, but lots of people are out there trying to be all of those things, with varying degrees of success. That Bowie took this exact moment to do something that is the precise opposite of all things Let’s Dance-y may be chalked up to coincidence, but I doubt that it is.


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