On dance music

In today’s culture of bombastic beats and heavy synthetic drones, lyrics are going by the wayside in popular music, and bass is speaking in ways language never could. Words now are chosen more for their cadence than their emotive value, and while I enjoy the refrain from songs like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” enough is enough. This dance music trend needs to stop.

At its best, bass-driven dance pop is a primal and visceral experience; at its worst, it’s a cheap way to entertain college drunks. The synthetic groan of a bitcrusher may be great in the heated sweat of the dance floor, but dance pop rarely resonates beyond the confines of the club. The experience is too electronic; it lacks a human element: lyrics.

Dance raves are great if you’re European, but Americans listened to Bruce Springsteen long before they had heard of DJ Shadow. From The King to the Beatles to Bob Dylan, music’s poetic lyricism has long been a force of social change and internal exploration, and no recent music has had more effect than Dylan’s “The Times, They Are a-Changin’.”

Make no mistake, the world is full of talented electronic artists. On St. Patrick’s Day, I experienced electronic music at its finest with STS9 performing at Mr. Small’s Theatre. Critics are right: STS9 is “making electronic music relevant again,” and I was happy to see a strong Carnegie Mellon presence at the concert. People — artists and listeners alike — just need to delve into the lyrics as much as the beats. It is as simple as listening to Radiohead merge abstract lyrics with electronic dissonance. And if you’re looking for something new, try exploring the lyrics of Matt Berninger as he sings for The National. No one conveys the looming potential of loss better than he does:

We expected something, something better than before. We expected something more / Do you really think you can just put it in a safe behind a painting, lock it up and leave / Do you really think you can just put it in a safe behind a painting, lock it up and leave / Walk away now and you’re gonna start a war.”

-Stephen Epple