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Pandemic on the Dancefloor: The Resurgence of Disco

The history of disco’s recent revival.

Collage picture of Troye Sivan, Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Jessie Ware, Dua Lipa, Rina Sawayama, and Lady Gaga in respective order.
Credits: Artist Stills from Shutterstock / Collage made by Ajani Noel

When the pandemic started in 2020, it coincidentally saw a lot of artists release disco music during the most desolating and isolating times, when countries mandated lockdowns to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Bars, clubs, restaurants, and other places that encouraged social gatherings were closed. People were aimlessly wandering around their houses, endlessly doing the same chores they did yesterday, bereft of real-life human interaction.

Everyone wanted some sort of escape and they were only limited to the things they could do in their homes, and the aforementioned genres offered a dent of relief.

The fist-pumping, groovy, pulsating, and hallucinating nature of disco enabled people to feel transported back to the clubs. It allowed listeners to let loose in such a tense time when people were in solitude, freely dancing around their homes without judgment.

The music resonated with people so much that it laid the trajectory of recent pop music, and possibly the forthcoming years of the current decade.

Two girls sitting on a staircase littered with confetti in a party.
Credits: oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

Pop music in the Decade of 2010

2010’s pop music can be defined by electronic, EDM, house music that blended pop elements into its structure and its minimalistic and hush vocals.

As described by Nick Canovas, who goes by Mic The Snare on YouTube, Skrillex helped popularize the genre of EDM music in pop by creating a formula that allowed “the drop”, a sudden change of production that heightens the intensity of the song, to be emphasized in the chorus section without the need of lyrics.

Artists such as Justin Beiber with his song “Sorry”, a summer house track, utilizes “the drop” in the song as well as Sophie in her song “Faceshopping” where the chorus drops into an abrasive, industrial sound with lyrics that are sung in a heavily distorted and staticky way.

Meanwhile, the moody and atmospheric sound that also captured the state of pop music in the decade of 2010 was popularized by Lana Del Rey. Lana was able to “combine orchestral production with hip hop accents” while using “a more hushed, intimate approach to [her] singing.”

Although she was the person who started the “whisperpop” trend, it could be argued that Lorde popularized it with her song “Royals”.

Other artists followed suit like in Selena Gomez’s “Hands To Myself.” Because people have become so accustomed to this type of singing, Billie Eilish was able to capitalize on it while still being able to build her own aesthetic from the singing style. 

Credits: Justin Bieber / YouTube

An amalgamation of reasons could be made as to why Disco music became popular. The EDM and House music that were so prominent during the 2010s are genres that evolved from Disco, so the resurgence has long been anticipated.

It’s not foreign to the already familiar. However, the disco tracks that have come out in the past few years that saw its resurgence are labeled as nu-disco.

Nu-disco is a genre that has been around for quite some time. Compared to its predecessor, nu-disco “will usually have the typical song structure of a pop song, with verses, a chorus, and various breakdowns” that include more electronic sounds.

Nu-Disco Throughout The Years

The genre has had a following of people since its origins after disco’s decline, but gained popularity during the early 2000s with many pop artists releasing songs that fully embody the genre. 

For instance, the song “Murder on the Dancefloor”, by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, is slicked with the style of nu-disco. The song contains melody changes with a pumping groovy beat, a very catchy chorus, and incorporates different breakdowns throughout.

Its recent success is thanks in part to the disco resurgence that 2020 saw and its feature in the movie Saltburn, despite the song releasing in 2001. From then on, a larger subset of people started making nu-disco-inspired songs in underground clubs, evolving in different ways from varying scenes.

Credits: Sophie Ellis-Bextor / YouTube

Another reason that could be attributed to the newfound popularization of the genre is Daft Punk. The release of their Grammy-winning album Random Access Memories in 2013 included their single “Get Lucky” which features Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, a song that also peaked at No. 2 during the year of its release, influenced nu-disco’s recent resurgence.

Although this is not to say that they solely were responsible for its resurgence, nor their album RAM since they have been making nu-disco since the late 90s, they just had a bigger name, and it happened to gain much more popularity compared to their peers who make the  music in the same genre.

Credits: Djeevs / YouTube

Artists Who Made the Resurgence Happen in 2020

With all of the build-up that was happening for nu-disco, it was about time for pop artists to adopt the genre, and in 2020 it saw a lot, with some even shifting their sound for it. Jessie Ware, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Roisin Murphy, and Dua Lipa became major contributors to its revival.

Jessie Ware, who is known to be an R&B artist, came out with her album What’s Your Pleasure? an album that makes it clear what era of disco it’s borrowing from while incorporating new elements into it.

Take the title track in What’s Your Pleasure? where her voice seductively saunters throughout the song while having it paired with a hypnotizing beat, reminiscent of a Donna Summer track.

Although this change of direction from Ware is clear compared to her previous works, in an interview with Anthony Fantano she describes it as a return to her former self because she used to make dance music but found that she had quickly left it too early in her music career. 

Credits: Jessie Ware / YouTube

Another one would be Roisin Murphy in the album Roisin Machine where the album is more similar to older versions of disco like her song “Simulation.” The track has a constant and hypnotizing beat with a syncopated bassline, close to the elements that can be found in traditional disco.

Other artists such as Lady Gaga in her album Chromatica, Kylie Minogue in Disco and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, with some musicians releasing singles that are nu-disco like Rina Sawayama’s “Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys),” all encapsulate the genre with different breakdowns throughout their singles or songs from their albums while incorporating the pop song structure into it.

Credits: Rina Sawayama / YouTube

Artists that Followed

Because of the trend, different artists started to release music of the same genre. Beyonce in her album Rennaisance celebrates the originating group of people that made disco popular during its peak in the 70s, which were Black, Queer, and Latinx people. It’s an album containing different genres that are not just nu-disco but have dance hall, ballroom music, and house mixed in it as well. 

Troye Sivan in Something to Give Each Other is another example that contains elements of nu-disco, like in the track “One Of Your Girls” and as well as Ariana Grande in her recent song “yes, and?” 

Credits: Ariana Grande / YouTube

Future of Disco

Despite its vehement demonization during the 70s which ultimately led to its decline in popularity because of homophobia and racism, the genre will forever evolve.

Artists will find a way to incorporate modern elements into it, making its sound more contemporary. And if it does become unpopular again, the underground scene will continue its progression and will eventually have its resurgence in pop music in the upcoming future.

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