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 Infinite Hallway (Fate vs Free Will)

  1. We are biologically alive and
  2. We are mentally conscious of this fact which
  3. Allows free will.

Yes, when analyzed, we are but a whirlwind of quarks bouncing upon quantum foam.  We have no knowledge of why quarks behave the way they do – it is intrinsically random.  If we were self-aware of every aspect that makes up who we are as a biologically living, mentally conscious, “free” individual, we would see the foundations of our thought processes are sealed in that of unexplainable synchronicities.  We are not those fractals.  Beyond a base level, do these constraints matter?  Do you first look at the top of a skyscraper, or do you analyze its foundation?  The answer is obvious – in every practical consideration of the term, we have free will.  Yes, there are societal constructs (these are breaking) and there are physical constructs.  However, even though we have no control of the rules in life, it is ultimately up to us how we play (or if we play).

Free will is embraced in optimism, while pessimism takes logical refuge in fate.  Both pessimists/optimists stand in the same hallway, with billions of doors to explore.  The pessimist realizes there are multiple floors and that only one door (which may not even exist) holds access to exploring the other hallways.  This mindset is intensified with the realization that there are also multiple buildings containing even more hallways, all contained within multiple cities, found on multiple planets, etc. etc.  The pessimist focuses on the repetition of constantly exploring the same hallway over and over again; creating a mindset revolving around life’s limitations and the “cruel fate” we have been subjected to.

The context of what’s behind each door is ever-changing.  Those who believe in fate see the limitations and recognize that life plays out like an experiment in a laboratory.  Replace the rodent and the maze with a human and the aforementioned infinite hallway.  The point?  How long before we run out of curiosity?  How long do our most intense moments of discovery last?  How long before the desire to free ourselves from ignorance becomes too repetitious and we grow weary of constantly opening new doors?

The optimist does not focus on this heavy realization.  Yes, while aware of our limited potential, free will ultimately understands that without this existential suffering, we could never experience the revitalization felt when discovering something truly holy, sacred, revolutionary or loving.  The mindset which embraces free will shall walk the hallway and admire its never-ending layers in silenced awe, never bothering to worry about an upstairs or a downstairs floor.

The optimist lives for the next moment; every moment like a lottery in which one picks their own numbers and draws them from a spinning pot.  Being that the ink is abrasive and easy to detect, with enough concentration, the optimist hopes to pull only the numbers found upon their own ticket.  This process of matching and selecting the best of life’s randomness continues until they have found themselves entirely and intentionally lost in plain sight; dancing in the realization of infinite potential and ever thankful for the experience.

This experience is the same experience which pessimism (and fate’s mindset) views as a cold and unrelenting experiment – all for the amusement of some distant observer.  Free will sees the observer as the true experiment.  This mindset finds freedom through transcendence of the boundaries; finding never-ending space and place to rest and contemplate.  The optimist knows that if the question is being thrown toward us (How long before we stop caring about finding novelty?) that an observer is awaiting an answer.  The joy and lifeblood of any optimistic mindset comes from the loving feeling of wanting to live up to human potential and being gracious to have even had the chance.  As this is an extended metaphor, the observer of this experiment and the one within the experiment of conscious (but limited) life are but the same person.

As children, the world is novel and even tragic moments come with the ecstasy of a truly new experience!  Fate says we are confined to search for novelty until we grow tired of the never-ending futile quest, but if we are confined and conscious, we will always have free choices to make.  Moments of shared transcendence continuously occur in reaction to progressive culture.  This essentially proves that when faced with the challenge to explore a billion doors or give up and become self-destructive (escapism), collectively, we have chosen to explore.

Fate and free will, optimism and pessimism – these are both sides of the same coin.  We are whole and feel different from day to day, inexplicably, like quarks (the foundation of our experience).  Today I am an optimist and tomorrow I will no doubt face thoughts of purposelessness.  The point is not that we “contradict” yesterday’s mantra in today’s actions, or that we can detect patterns of disappointment.  The truth is we do have the capacity to listen.  With this capacity comes potential for a love of life, that which goes beyond positive/negative thinking and that which is for transcendent purpose – to embrace every perspective, to attempt to empathize and to share our findings with any open ear.

A final thought:

If given immortality and omnipresent wisdom from birth, what would be the motivation to explore the hypothetical hallway, if one knew what was behind every door?  Knowledge of surroundings would not necessarily indicate transcendence from fate and if anything, it would lead to a desire to create an experiment the likes of which we now find ourselves metaphorically within.  From this perspective, it would appear that we are freer as mice in a maze, than the observers themselves.  It becomes obvious how true free will does not only occur when one is free of responsibility, but as an embraceable mindset possible in any circumstance.

The “Messiah” Complex

With enough self-confidence, we all begin to view ourselves, in some degree, as “messiahs” in our own respective fields and in our minds.  Why would you not base your actions around your ideal life philosophy?  The “Messiah” complex — the notion that “I believe, despite subjective nature of my rationality, that I am RIGHT and that you should trust my judgment.”  We base everything, from positive and negative interactions, around this belief — until it changes and we become empathetic to the grander and more selfless ideas based in love.

But do we, really?  Frankly, the ones who continue being right continue to do so due to a combination of having a sense for what the whole is thinking, at least in their particular location on the planet, and being charismatic enough to convince everyone of their own reality.  The thing about conscious awareness is that we are always trying to get the most out of every situation, simply because we are aware of choice.  Additionally, we at least have some idea of what would be a better outcome relative to our own personal tastes and personality/mindset.  Thus, every action, in our own minds and at said moment, is the right one to take.

Think about how you rationalize your choices at their core — “Because I like it”, because you believe it is ‘right’, the only natural option of the moment, the only embraceable decision.  If your chosen action is proven to not be as perfect as your perceptions allow, be prepared to show the world your negative side.  Selflessness allows you to see past this, but only to a certain point.  The more you break down your actions, what you are doing, the more likely deep, core motives are actually contradicting what you would perceive to be selflessness.

If you are helping people because that genuinely makes you happy, then are you helping people to help people?  Is it possible that because your experiences with helping people have been positive ones, that the feeling is what you seek — not the charity itself?  True selflessness is not even acknowledging favors or kind acts you are doing for another — it’s considering these actions STANDARD — the DEFAULT.  To never expect a “thank you”, because anything other than selflessness is derived pervertedly from your default “HELP ALL HUMANS” outlook.

In other words, the messiah complex is an oxymoron.  Those who are genuinely selfless would never acknowledge such a thing.  Those who acknowledge their charitable actions in a manner which encourages an ego or elevates their being above the rest of the world are clearly not selfless.  There can never again be a true messiah, as if he/she exists, we would never hear from him/her.  The minute you hear of a messiah’s existence, you know it to be false, because true godliness (my definition of godliness = striving to operate at peak human potential) understands that living up to your potential is what should be expected, not something that is beyond the norm or deserves compensation.