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 “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.

Time Is Absurd

It’s interesting to think of time as being genuinely relative depending on which level of life you choose to focus your attention upon.  The Aquatic Mayfly lives but 30 minutes, while the Aldabra Giant Tortoise is on record for living 225 years (liver failure is what got him).  The human, on a worldwide average, lives for around 67 years.  Yet, each species lives life in the same general manner.  They are born into reality, and then they die, fading into non-existence.  The processes in-between are also similar, as each of these three species consumes food (the fly and the tortoise, primarily plants) which is processed into energy which is essential for life.  Is it so far-fetched to suggest, that if the fly and the tortoise were consciously aware of their lifespan, all three species would perceive the duration of their lives in the same relative amount of time?

Every individual process in any lifespan, has a beginning, and has an end.  Each system, however, is designed to be perpetual and infinite, fueled from collective sub-processes.  The processes within these systems are things which perish/cease to exist, but each process is always working towards the purpose of the grander system which it serves.

Think of the cells within your body forming tissue, forming muscles, forming body systems, forming you, forming the human species and finally forming the earth’s ecosystem.  Each process (let’s say, the tissue) is preceded by that which forms the process (the cells), and succeeded by the system which said processes (the tissues) form (the muscle).  Each individual system formed within this existence is the result of one singular path — one path of repeatedly successful micro-systems.  Collectively, these systems can join together, to become processes for an even grander system.

The fascinating thing about being human is that we are consciously aware of our own existence.  We can contemplate upon the very structure of such a thing.  We can gain an ego, simply because the human being is a pretty impressive thing, just like any mammal, organism or system.  We are really capable of quite a lot, but our conscious awareness allows us to get wrapped up in a perceived significance in our individual life.  Clearly, the human is just another process, resulting from several micro-systems, and the macro-system which it serves is that of the human species.

This concept is found many places — your computer, the numerical system, the formation of stars and galaxies, a musical album, cities within a state/country/etc.  You can keep filling that sentence with a plethora of examples, but the point will remain that this is a pattern which pops up all over our conscious existence.

If each process (each process resulting from succeeding micro-systems) — essentially everything — is just serving a macro-system of a grander nature, would not the details within every single process share a certain universality?  You would certainly start to see many similarities between seemingly random and non-connected processes.  Between an asteroid and computer byte, between a human and a galaxy; what each process served would certainly be very different, but everything still follows the basic “/micro-system –> macro-system/micro-system –> macro-system/” loop.  If smaller creatures and various animals could perceive existence in a similar manner to the human species, their perception of their individual lifespan would likely be extremely similar to that of a human’s.

Smaller creatures appear to move extremely quickly, and the universe as a whole seems to move very slowly — from human observation, at least.  Sure, the earth revolves around the sun at around 67,000 mph, but what does that even realistically translate to from our micro-systematic perspective?  We say “1 year”.  This really just sounds like saying “1 successful completion of a process”, in this case, the earth fully revolving one time around the sun.  On a whole, one year for the earth is quite a long time from our point of view — and this is not subjective, as our timescale stems from the Earth’s revolution around the sun.  Under this timescale, the Mayfly lives but half an hour.  We are measuring our micro-system by a macro-system’s standard, and this is clearly an absurd way to calculate our existence.  In this respect, Sun Worship would naturally make the most sense as a religion to subscribe to, as Father Time is certainly a Pagan.

Judging a micro-system’s time from a macro-system’s perspective is certainly the most natural way to perceive time, but while functional, it is philosophically delusional.  True perspective of existential duration stems from the perspective of the individual process, in relation to surrounding processes upon the same level as itself.  To really get a grasp for how significant a human being, as an isolated process, has in correspondence to known universal existence, think of things in terms of “1 Human Life” — the average worldwide lifespan is, again, 67 years.  Going back to my initial examples, a Mayfly would then live for 7 Billionths of 1 Human Life.  Our sun then, exists for about 184 Million Human lives.  When you look at things in this manner, you get an immediate understanding for the true duration-based value of your existence.

And from this, we also see that there is no way to measure time without relying upon a reference point.  This reference point, being, whatever individual process you choose to judge from — and in this we see that time as a concept is imperfect.  Completely, completely relative, and therefore one should place no philosophical or contemplative weight upon “minutes”, “hours” and “years”.  Existence is existence, regardless which system you find yourself a part of.  Hypothetically, if you could view every individual process, consciously and independently, I would imagine every lifespan to pass by with the same relative duration.