Getting Down and Funking Up: Why Disco Is Taking Over Pop
The 70's have taken over the fashion world while simultaneously topping the Billboard charts. High-profile pop artists are taking electric beats and pairing them with smooth bass lines to revive disco and funk us up.
Most notably, Dua Lipa's early 2020 album Future Nostalgia and follow-up remix LP Club Future Nostalgia channels OG disco and its modern descendants nü-disco, electro funk and French house. Single "Don't Stop Now" is especially full of classic disco elements like synth, funky bass lines and cowbell. Tracks "Love Again" and "Levitating" sound like they could be right off an ABBA album. Future Nostalgia is exactly the feeling we get listening to this album.
Just prior to Dua's release was Doja Cat's "Say So," which boasts similar guitar riffs and groovy beats. In May, Lady Gaga's album Chromatica sounded reminiscent of packed 70's dance floors. Now, Miley Cyrus' old-school covers and single "Midnight Sky" live rent-free in our minds with their synth and power vocals. But why disco? And why now?
Disco originated in the 1970's during an economic crisis. Sound familiar? After World War II, the economic boom came to an end and the U.S. began to endure a depression that included a stock market crash, an oil crisis and a recession that caused high unemployment and high inflation rates. Just a few years earlier, the Civil Rights movement was disrupted by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Deputy Chairman of the Black Panthers Party Fred Hampton. Mass shootings and labor strikes popped up around the country. Disco became the music for overworked, marginalized people — especially queer, Black and Latinx people. Songs like "You Should Be Dancing" by The Bee Gees and "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor provided uncomplicated messages about feeling good and empowerment.
It's not hard to see the parallels between the era that made disco popular and now. We're facing a public health crisis and its subsequent recession, as well as a reinvigorated movement for racial justice calling for societal changes to bring long overdue equality. Women's rights and LGBTQ+ rights are at stake while millions struggle to find jobs. It's a lot to take in.
"When shit’s going bad, people like to indulge in happier music," says Ian Kirkpatrick, the producer of "Don’t Start Now," and Lipa’s 2018 hit "New Rules." "These songs are so uplifting. This is a way of escaping."
An experience of dance floor escapism actually influenced "Don’t Stop Now" in the first place. In January 2019, Kirkpatrick and his "New Rules" collaborators Caroline Ailin and Emily Warren were working at Warren’s place in Wyoming and went out to a disco night to blow off some steam. "It was a bunch of white people in plaid shirts dancing to 'YMCA' in a weird bar," he says. "That night we got completely wasted and the morning after we were like, 'F*ck it, let’s do something disco-y.' I wish I could tell you I had a vision and I knew exactly that it was going to work, but, no, we just went to disco night."
Miley Cyrus' "Midnight Sky" music video is full of dance floor disco. In a mini-documentary about the making of the video. Cyrus says she referenced 70's icons like Pat Benatar and David Bowie as visual inspirations. She also notes that the video is acid-inspired: "You went to a Blondie show at CBGB with a hit of acid for later [in tow], head to an afterparty at Indochine, and pop the tab when you know you'll be at Studio 54," she says. In the spirit of disco, the song is about her own liberation and "taking back your own narrative."
That feeling of empowerment, of feeling happy, and of just feeling good is why disco lives on. What disco pop songs liberate you?