Lyrical Analysis: “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk

The lyrics can be found here. You can listen to the song below:

When Daft Punk wasn’t bringing France’s touch on Electronic music to the masses, they were putting their own touch on vocal takes. Daft Punk’s singles have a character to them which feels human. The hooks are sung clear and coherent; nurtured by a funky kick you’d hear once and latch onto. But just how did robots connect into the hearts of red-blooded humanity?

While Daft Punk is made up of the humans Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, their albums are presented as music made by machines. As a robot, there is no sense pretending to be human, for one can see right through the perfection of it all. A machine designed to be flawless in calculation will never err, which is why electronic music sometimes turns people off — it’s too “repetitive” i.e. where’s the human-touch? Where is the flaw that I can relate to, as a fellow human?

The perfect response to this is found in their classic single, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”. “Perfect” may seem like too strong of a word, but any dance song which lasts beyond a decade deserves the acclaim. Indeed, the song maintains particular relevance, having been heard by most of the United States after Kanye West sampled the song in his 2007 #1-charting single, “Stronger”. This is a song which repeats four lines for four minutes and by the end, it’s just as much Soul music as it is House. The song gets so heartfelt, but why? What is it that makes it so appealing?

In the beginning of the song, the lyrics are sung crystal-clear — you, as a listener, can make out every word. By the end of the song, however, the track has elevated in pitch and the robots are no longer reciting a programmed phrase — they are singing. Yes, they are singing, because they are making mistakes. There are pauses between phrases — some phrases are not even sung during “Harder, Better…”‘s frantic peak. Those four lines which the song had repeated with reassuring consistence now fade. It’s difficult to make out what’s being said; to decipher it, one has to rely on memory rather than the music itself.

Removing fractions of vocals to give the impression that this “robot singer” is flawed is, in itself, a robotic approach to making soulful music. This is the Daft Punk aesthetic: Music made not just by robots, but by well-intentioned robots; robots aware of, and trying to transcend, their robotic limitations.

So by the end, you’re in awe. What had been promised and laid before you is now gone. You long for when the song’s vocals were simple and robotic, all the while amazed at how these guys might just be humans after all. The last second of the song are two words from the line “Our work is never over” — “Never Over”. These words are sung in the same vocal style which built the song’s groove. It leaves a reminder: This feeling is never over.

Amongst the background noise, the search for something real will rarely yield anything beyond a glimpse. These robots, in all their perfection, found their voice only as the song was coming to an end. What their “voice” translated to was distortion of perfection. The more chopped-up the vocals became, the more it seemed like these robots were capable of empathy. In addition to impeccable production, this is a major reason the song sounds fresh even eleven years after its initial release (March 2001).

The Fading Hollywood Twilight

As icons and monoliths continue to fall we are left with less and less role models to look to.  Who replaces Michael Jackson?  What about Whitney Houston?  These intense groups of fandom and praise do not just disappear, instead, they hover.  They float aimlessly never to truly be fulfilled.  Who is going to live up to the hype that so many passing legends have generated in their lifetime?  This level of enthusiasm existed once and it implies that the public desires for it to exist again.

Except, there is no one else to live up to these icons.  These people came to popularity in a time of moreorless one-way communication and when what was on the radio was truly an indicator of popular American culture.  The truth is that the future is iconless and that the playing fields are completely level.  Take a look at someone like Lil B and look at how much instantaneous praise he gets on Twitter.  Conversely, look at someone like Rupert Murdoch, who might Tweet something casual only to be greeted by a hostile stream of criticism and backlash.  The public is rabid and there is no longer a barrier that exists to keep our opinions concealed from the celebrated and the popular.

This desire for new cultural messiahs has become vehement and aggressive.  Musical movements and relevant films come and go in the blink of an eye and with every passing day, the hype only intensifies.  The momentum is not disappearing — it’s increasing and it’s growing restless, leading to “trendy/flimsy” culture.  Today, Whitney Houston died.  Who will die tomorrow?  How many more icons will pass before we look around and realize that the field is completely devoid of beloved American role models?  How long before we look to the youth of the moment and find that there is no megaband and there is no universally loved actor to fill the longing void?

The cultural horizon is flat and infinite with absolutely no peaks that can be seen by the objective eye.  The only truth now, the only thing that matters, is your personal opinion and subjective taste.  The future is niche.  Every passing star makes the night that much darker.  However, there will never come a time when the sky shines as brightly as it did decades past.  It will not be long before we realize there is an approaching dawn and we no longer need to wait for the next Christlike cultural figure to emerge.  The new icon is that of eclectic personal choice.  As we learn to embrace every voice, no matter how much coverage has been given upon the radio or the Oscars, we will see a shining sun replacing the once astounding glow of the Hollywood twilight.  While the light that was cast down from the era of one-way communication was certainly meaningful to so many people, in time, I think the populous will begin to see just how glorious the collective brightness can actually be.