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.

“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.