Can you mock something and glorify it at the same time?
In the case of the hit song "#SELFIE" from the rising electronic dance music DJ duo known as The Chainsmokers, the answer is a sardonic yes. "#SELFIE"—in its audio and video versions—illustrates how narcissistic and superficial some elements of our culture have become … while at the same time celebrating and encouraging that selfsame superficiality.
Given their vocation as music mixers and remixers, Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart spend a great deal of time in dance clubs, both in New York City and on tour across the country. They know how people in the clubs talk and how they behave. And it turns out that some of that absorbed knowledge from incessant exposure served as the satirical inspiration for "#SELFIE."
"We live in New York City, and we go out a lot," Pall told the Phoenix New Times earlier this year. "I think we're under the influence of many of these girls [who go to the clubs] quite frequently. And, um, we just thought it would be funny to make this song that says 'Let me take a selfie,' right before the drop. Then, when we actually started making the song, we were like, 'Wouldn't it be funny if we did like a whole verse of ridiculous things that we hear people say when we're out. Like things girls say in the lines of a club and whatever.' It ended up being really relatable with a lot of people."
Pall again: "Honestly, '#SELFIE' is kind of a phenomenon for us. We made it and thought it was funny and put it out as an edit. Then Dim Mak wanted to buy it, and they bought it from us and put it out officially and we made a video for it. This was all just because we thought it was fun. And then the song just kind of took on a life of its own."
Indeed. In its first month on YouTube, the track garnered about a million views. In its second month, 40 million more.
"When Jason was at the table, I kept on seeing him look at me while he was with that other girl," a female voice begins to complain against the backdrop of pulsating EDM beats. And in the video, the woman and a friend primp and preen in front of a bathroom mirror at the club. The narrator's friend never really even notices her self-focused companion's stream-of-consciousness prattle, which seems as if it's never going to end.
And, for the length of the song and video, it doesn't.
"Do you think he was just doing that to make me jealous?" she asks. "Because he was totally texting me all night last night. And I don't know if it's a booty call or not. So, like what do you think? Do you think that girl was pretty? How did that girl even get in here? Do you see her? She's so short and that dress is so tacky. Who wears cheetah? It's not even summer, why does the DJ keep on playing 'Summertime Sadness'? After we go to the bathroom, can we go smoke a cigarette? I really need one. But first, let me take a selfie."
And so it goes … and goes.
The social media-mad melodrama ramps up even further in the verses that follow as the young woman tries to bait Jason with the beguiling selfie she's just shot. She wonders which Instagram filter will flatter her the most ("Can you guys help me pick a filter? I don't know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia") and how she should describe herself ("What should my caption be? I want it to be clever. How about 'Livin' with my b‑‑ches, hashtag LIVE"). Then she frets about the lack of response ("I only got 10 likes in the last five minutes. Do you think I should take it down?") and reaches the inevitably obvious conclusion: "Let me take another selfie."
That one gets the job done: "Wait, pause, Jason just liked my selfie. … Oh my god, Jason just texted me. Should I go home with him? I guess I took a good selfie."
On a pinboard full of deliciously stinging satires pricking the vacuous side of our self-focused culture, this one's at the top of the wall. And it doesn't stop with smartphone obsessions. Other activities that take center stage at modern clubs get included here too. Among them: drinking and dancing ("Let's go dance. There's no vodka at this table"), venting judgment and jealousy ("That girl is such a fake model. She definitely bought all her Instagram followers"), overdoing it ("Oh no, I feel like I'm going to throw up") and hoping for a sexual hookup with someone you aren't even sure you like ("What a creep").
The Chainsmokers, though, ultimately can't bring themselves to be too churlish 'n' cantankerous when it comes to the beloved selfie. Even as they poke fun at this cultural pastime, they also wholeheartedly embrace it by asking fans to send in their own. Each time the narrator says, "Let me take a selfie," the video's action (divided between the girls in the bathroom, revelers undulating on the dance floor and The Chainsmokers onstage) gets interrupted by dozens, if not hundreds of selfies people sent in to be included in the video. (They flaunt lots of cleavage, a couple of people in underwear and at least one lofted middle finger. Or at least they did in the version we saw; the video has multiple incarnations.)
The message, then, seems to be something like this: Selfies may be vacuous, superficial, narcissistic and sometimes just plain gross … but we sure love 'em anyway.
And there's one more thing: The video's occasionally sensual send-up of selfies is repeatedly interrupted by quick flashes of the obscene phrase "Go F‑‑‑ Your #SELFIE," an uncensored line that also shows up on T-shirts worn by the DJs. It's a jarring distraction that adds yet another layer of content to a song and video that already give casual nods to casual hook-ups, getting drunk, smoking and never taking your eyes off of your selfie.