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).

“Modern Art” In Contemporary Society

Ask the average twenty-something what ‘modern art’ is and apart from an indifferent shrug, the response heard most often will be along the lines of “Oh, you mean Warhol and the soup cans?”

Warhol’s take on art was considered by many to be “the end of art”. Within the last year I have begun to realize the unintentional meaning this phrase carries in the ’00s.  To the average consumer, kid, adult and American, “art” is whatever is on television, our favorite films and the video game of the moment.  Traditional art, paintings, sculptures and the idea of a museum has become completely irrelevant apart from those who actively seek it out.  Art has faded into the background as a hobby at best and an unnecessary, exclusive, expensive and outdated luxury at worst.

Some might say, “Well, it’s simply been redefined” — this is ignoring the issue.  Paintings and the idea of putting art upon a pedestal for viewing has vanished from contemporary society and from the practical consumer’s mindset.  Sure, it has been replaced by flashier culture, but it’s only on a metaphorical pedestal, not a literal one, that we view video gaming and television.  What does a painting mean now?  If the term “modern art” means something that is half a century old (‘soup cans’), it’s clear that the very term is hypocritical.

Personally, art has meant album artwork.  This is a medium which many could toss up to containing a cohesive and beautiful statement once every 300 album covers.  Regardless, I have thrived off of my last remaining attachment I have to traditional paintings, even though the pedestal said album art is viewed upon is my laptop.

There is a poster on my wall containing the album artwork of Animal Collective’s 2009 album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”.  When moving from college dorm A to college dorm B, I had forgotten to take down my posters.  My friend, Ryan, kindly took the posters down and stored them in his car, where they collected dust all summer long.  These posters were rolled together in a messy clump, rendering most of them ruined from being stuck together for such a long time.  However, there was one interesting effect to the Merriweather Poster.  In addition to several white tears, the sunlight had created a fantastic faded blue streak across the bottom of the image.  It gave a precise effect that looked as if it could have only been created digitally — or perhaps by leaving a poster exposed to three months of sunlight.

With no real desire to seek out far-less stimulating culture, the place for massive and vibrant paintings, sculptures and installations has been moved to one of two places:

  1. There are enthusiasts, many of them, who will never say goodbye to the wonder and subtlety that “true” art, found in a museum, provides.
  2. The second place this art has gone to (and the place which gets far more attention) is upon Flickr accounts, various impersonal Tumblr pages and occasionally upon a Google Image search.

If art was an experience to help transcend the trivialities of daily life, if even for a moment, and said experience no longer takes place outside the stream of our lives — what does that say for art?  We no longer have to visit museums to experience a plethora of styles; all we need is StumbleUpon and perhaps a search string.  Such ease allows us a whirlwind of culture, but at the same time, it is easy to under-appreciate the magnitude of the culture itself.

Conceptually, the artist is dead, because there are no longer pedestals for each artist to showcase their work upon.  All art created gets thrown into the digital void, upon one unified pedestal.  This pedestal is shared amongst all artists and with this sharing, artistic individuality has been lost in the digital stream of consciousness.  The artist is no longer relevant so much as the audience, i.e., you, as you have the power to skip to the next image or share it on your Facebook wall.  This is about as much praise as one can practically expect as an artist on a mass scale, apart from the occasional PR puff piece and blogosphere commentary.

The poster on my wall does not ask for my attention, yet it exists outside the internet, in its own museum (my room) on its own pedestal (the wall).  The audience (I and whoever is in the room at the time) is not forced to look upon this poster, but when they do, it captures the overstimulated attention span, if just for a moment.  Modern art is individually-oriented and based around personal narratives — one glance upon the poster reminds of a story.  It calls attention to something I have no control over (sunlight, the forces of nature, destroying my perfect replica of a favorite album) and in its own subliminal way, reminds of my own impermanence.  One may think that this is all a bit hyperbolic, but that’s just it!  There is nothing that is going to exist in our lives which will live up to the mythical shadow cast upon by pre-internet society, when it was impossible to fathom the audience even touching the pedestal, let alone controlling what was seen upon it.

This is why I can look to a sun-faded Animal Collective poster as the highest example of contemporary art imaginable.  This is why the definition of art in practical, contemporary society is exactly what you as a viewer, view it to be.  While artists will continue to make thought-provoking work to be seen in small scales, the masses are still left scratching their head, thinking to 1962’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” as the only example of modern art — before tuning back into the daily programming.  Today, artistic relevance depends completely on what you personally find relevant.  Traditional art made by others will always have beauty, but it will never catch the eye as the heirlooms our lifetime will, however insignificant to an outside observer these may be.

The end of art meant the end of established artistic norms, of an invisible world telling you what you could and could not find aesthetically pleasing.  It began with Warhol realizing that art could be found anywhere, even in the supermarket.  If a supermarket is a pedestal, then it’s obvious that the museum is the human mind and whatever we attach ourselves to can be transformed into a gallery, flimsy posters included.

The Crossroads Of Indecision

There are two mindsets we take as human beings every day.  There are actions which benefit the immediate physical self.  Such things such as absurd sexual relief, indulgent eating, experiencing the meta-real (virtual reality/video games) and thus pro-longed detachment from the real — all of these things isolate us from the reality outside of ourselves.  The second mindset is that which benefits the long-term self.  It is this side which benefits the perception of how one will be seen outside of one’s individual bubble of self-stimulation.  However, to dedicate one’s self to more noble “ethereal”/spiritual purposes is to deny life and to dedicate one’s self to more tangible “immediate now” physicality is to self-indulge.

At the crosswords of these choices is that of pre-choice.  At this point is that of contemplated decision and where we are very much aware of both roads, but choose to take either the left or the right.  The one thing these roads have in common with one another is that when both are pursued long enough both lead to isolation.  If one lingers at the foreground, feels the sexual pulsating feeling of lingering pleasure and the mentally enlightening rush of absolute knowledge, but pursues neither, one experiences the place where they know themselves the most.  The longer you delay the decision, the closer you find yourself at home.

It is in this in-between place of indecision that we find our personal enlightenment, nirvana, “God”, as this is where all potential exists but none has been taken.  It is an open road in all directions.  Spend some time in this place every day and realize that this is where all decisions stem from which very directly affect the course of both the left and the right path.  We can choose either path — business or pleasure — but if we take the right path down the road, the further and further removed from the left road we become.  Choices are permanent once made and paths and roads which we walk upon carry us to very real homes of decision.  We can move, however, whenever we like and place ourselves back at the root point of the short-term and long-term and, if desired, simply float there and contemplate our choice.  It is in this contemplation which we find the deepest peace.

Falling back into disarray

During contemplation (and after ‘finding our center’) the most appealing thing to us is being lured OUT of the contemplation.  Whatever drives us out of this state, the fastest, is what turns us on the most and thus we pursue these decisions with no hesitation.  In our delighted success of finally finding “purpose” we live in leisure and at ease with our decisions.  All uncertainties are answered and we feel alive — on top of the world.  This is of course until something from beneath (within the actual world) pulls us back down to remind us that something is not quite consistent with our “we have found our purpose” notion.  At our own clumsiness, we fall once more into the cycle.  The pursual for the escape eventually becomes the norm with no additional realization gained and once more we find ourselves at a loss, out of balance and in need of some serious decision.  The cycle perpetuates…

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.

A Tragic Dilemma

Lately I’ve been seeing rather frequent headlines for plane crashes with many fatalities. The nature of this news and it’s morbid presence amongst the rest of the news inspired the following write-up.

Background:

Every day, people die. Despite the obvious, it would seem that we view death with a rare and uncommon eye — but the advent of unprecedented connectedness throughout the world allows us to see otherwise. Many choose to ignore these headlines, primarily under the logic that dwelling on such a thing is only sure to generate negative and depressing thoughts and attitudes. What many fail to realize is that to hide such information is to delude reality. You cannot simply pretend that these horrible events do not happen, despite how hard it is to empathize with that which seems impossible to one’s own lifestyle. News-based media reports on tragedy for that reason, as it generates attention because I think, deep down, that we all wish we could make our peace with the very simple fact: “You will die.”

A Tragic Dilemma:

  1. Not everyone wants to read about death in the first moments of their mornings.
  2. However, you cannot exclude tragedy, because above everything else it’s inhumane not to, at the least, acknowledge the existence of the suffering of fellow human beings.

The Solution:

Offer a website devoted to tragedy, thus implying that other media outlets should perhaps devote a portion of their own medium to tragedy. Create an outlet that consistently reports on tragedy, as to allow news to cater to things that affect the reader on a more localized level (and in the year 2011, localized means everything and anything anywhere on the globe that either impacts or interests you). Having a separate medium ENTIRELY for tragedy would have the potential to increase overall empathy to humans in other parts of the world, without adding a deathly slant to what’s immediately relevant to your day. This is why I’d love to see someone start a project of this nature, or at the least see news websites move tragedy to it’s own section. Such a project could easily come to life online, posting links to various tragedies currently generating discussion throughout the global community. Ideally the aim would be to provide an archive of relatively significant tragedies available to the general internet public, while being self-aware of how taboo the concept is viewed when facing such an open audience.

Organizing The Taboo:

The question is, how Meta do you take such a concept? I believe that is possible to allow for a rating system prioritizing certain tragedies over others if we are not looking at such a thing in a personal manner. If you step back and realize that death is a very common concept that seems to have been tucked away into taboo discussion, it quickly also becomes apparent that there are non(/hardly)-preventable, uncommon deaths that generate a higher interest level simply due to their uncommon nature. Why not categorize? Why not make the navigation of an archival of such events easier? It is in this light a rating system comes off less amoral and more logical. This hypothetical website could present this medium with a slight hint of self-awareness, as if to say the events reported upon the website are clearly excellent examples of unexpected tragedy that remind us of that very fact — you, will, die.

Profit:

The only way the website would be able to maintain a sense of moral standing is if all future (if any) successful profit from ad revenue would be given to a reputable charity (which genuinely gives all of its money to those in need). If there is to be any profit off a website which maintains its existence by reporting upon loss & injury, it should go directly into the pockets of the victims in need. This is why to report upon death in such a way and not donate at least a portion of one’s profits to charity is absolutely amoral.

Conclusion:

Why share this idea?  Why not simply start the website on my own?  To truly make this a successful project, one would have dedicated a significant amount of time each day to aggregating tragic news, sorting through what is most significant.  I feel that such a task would be too depressing to come back to day-after-day.  However I throw it out into the open because I believe that if someone with a decent moral standing were to undertake this idea, the end result could potentially benefit charitable organizations and thus those whom these tragedies directly affect.  Additionally, the initial observation itself (“A Tragic Dilemma”) which inspired the idea for the website is worth pondering.