It’s possible to overthink things. Sometimes we just need to seize the moment. That’s the main message on “Shut Up and Dance,” a frothy, infectious homage to the music of the 1980s from the Cincinnati foursome known as Walk the Moon.
Frontman Nicholas Petricca says the song’s imperative instruction in the chorus—a woman commanding, “Shut up and dance with me!”—was inspired by his girlfriend. “We were in Los Angeles, trying to write songs, and I was stuck,” he tells Mashable. “For a breather I went out with my girlfriend to the Echo; they have this awesome party where they play Motown and funk. We were at the bar, and it was taking forever to get a drink. I was frustrated because there was great music playing and I wanted to be out there. She was like, ‘Shut up and dance with me!'”
Just like that a song was born. And it’s become the band’s first mainstream hit.
A New Wave-ish beat blends with synthesizers and rock guitar in ways that sound unmistakably early ’80s. “The band had been listening to songs like [Rick Springfield’s] ‘Jessie’s Girl’ and [The Cars’] ‘Just What I Needed’ and [Pat Benatar’s] ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’—these super quirky rock anthems,” Petricca says. “They’re simple and beautiful and in-your-face rock songs, and that’s the vibe we were looking for.”
“Shut Up and Dance” opens theatrically with a back-and-forth conversation between two people who’ve locked eyes at a dance club “‘Oh, don’t you dare look back/Just keep your eyes on me’/I said, ‘You’re holding back’/She said, ‘Shut up and dance with me'”). Our reluctant dance floor hero is quickly convinced their connection is nothing less than fate (“This woman is my destiny/ … Oh, we were bound to get together/ … I knew we were bound to get together/ … Deep in her eyes/I think I see the future/I realize this is my last chance”).
But it turns out her eyes may not be the only thing that’s attracted his gaze: “A backless dress and some beat up sneaks/My discotheque Juliet, a teenage dream/I felt it in my chest as she looked at me.” And another line that hints at his physical response is, “We were victims of the night/The chemical, physical, kryptonite/Helpless to the bass and the fading light.”
Obviously, there’s chemistry here. The kind that has a twitterpated dude spontaneously plotting out the future with the would-be woman of his dreams. But as dance floor rendezvous go, this one never ventures into territory any more problematic than that.
The video, meanwhile, is arguably even more of a love letter to all things ’80s than the song itself, deliberately mimicking visual motifs from The Cars’, Michael Jackson’s and A-ha’s videos, among other influences. Petricca plays the part of an insecure guy trying to work up the courage to dance with a whirling dervish of a girl who’s as passionate as he is initially reserved.
True to the lyrics, she’s got that short, backless dress on. And an overtly over-the-top sequence late in the video finds Petricca doing some suggestive hip thrusts. We also see a passionate kiss … that you could argue leads to the imagined wedding scene serving as the culmination of their attraction.
It’s all in keeping with the flashy-but-superficial decade that both the song and video were modeled upon (even the part showing two guys in the band jokingly acting as if they’re going to kiss, too). “The weird was really celebrated, you know?” Petricca says. “I think bands and so many seminal artists, like David Bowie and the Talking Heads, were really at the peak of their weirdness and kookiness. They were so committed to whatever dreamlike, fantasy world they were adopting at the time.”
Talking with American Songwriter, Petricca adds that it’s all about “encouraging people to let go of whatever it is that’s bothering you and get into your body and out of your head.” And while that can easily be taken too far, the fantasy world on display here is one that everyone who’s ever gone through an awkward phase—which is most of us—will likely relate to (even if its sometimes carnal club scene setting isn’t). “When it comes to writing the lyrics, it’s usually just me emoting in a cave, trying to channel the spirits of rock and roll onto the paper,” says Petricca. “After I had that main bit in the chorus, I started picturing myself in high school because that’s what it really reminded me of. Being this incredibly uncomfortable, awkward adolescent dude, so it sort of became this anthem for the dork who is 100% me.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.