I’m a middle child, so I’m well-versed in the art of “too much” and its corresponding circuit-breaker “never enough.” As a kid, I would tell anyone who would listen that I was the oldest girl, a tender yet meaningless way to differentiate myself from my other three siblings. Back then, I’d do anything I could to set myself apart from them, it often seemed unbearable to share my parent’s attention with three whole other people. I’d try to be the best, the loudest, the fastest, the smartest — the feeling welled up in me like a bright, hot chorus.
It drove me, and it worked, but the sharp ache of it never went away. The song was never over. Maybe that initial loneliness was part of what drew me to fixate on a single song, and use it as a balm, escape, inspiration, until I wore it out; song as safety blanket, a song as a means of giving myself attention and love. Putting it on repeat meant I could give that feeling to myself as long as I needed it, even if it was “too much” for everyone else.
As an adult, I don’t think about that childhood feeling of “too much” all that often anymore. Actually, I hadn’t thought of it in years until I heard a Chainsmokers song called “Paris.” But I don’t think it ever really goes away. Whatever factor you slot in to explain it away, humans want attention — crave it — and sometimes we’ll do really stupid stuff to get it. The slick satisfaction when that need is met hits with the same lizard-brain jolt that a smash pop song delivers; pure endorphins, no aesthetic hierarchy, all dialogue, no analysis, all high-octane mood, no pretense. The song was made to bring us joy, and we are designed to feel it.
The Chainsmokers are grown men, and most of their songs are about romantic relationships, but they’re driven by this same basic human need for attention, glory, love. They’re over the top and schmaltzy in the way that only humans can be, they’re needy, and clingy and flawed. They’re too much — and that’s what makes them perfect. Over the last couple of weeks I have become a Chainsmokers fan, to the chagrin of many of my friends and peers. But their music gets to the center of that ancient ache, and now that I’m immersed, I have started feeling bad for people who haven’t realized that yet.