Major Lazer: or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Diplo

Diplo is a machine. He’s not human. Prolific and sporadic, he produces for musicians as diverse as Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Marina and the Diamonds and No Doubt. He releases music on his own and with Major Lazer. Hell, he played shows in four different cities in one day (traveling by helicopter between them) and then took a sailboat to the Caribbean to play some Major Lazer shows. Additionally, these tours were called “Trap Hawk Down” and “Mutiny Aboard the Molly Roger,” warranting extra super-human cred for getting people to take him seriously with tour titles like that.

He tours the world and still manages to put out songs way faster than I can keep up with them. As an artist, he carefully straddles the fence between aggregator and appropriator. It’s hard to figure out exactly where to place Diplo on a scale of artistic integrity­—or whether someone who licenses their music to Doritos and Blackberry belongs on that scale at all. Some of his songs are god-awful: the new Major Lazer single “Bubble Butt” reeks of Will.I.Am-style cheap club hits. It’s clear that he can do better (his Florida mix-tape proves his competence beyond the walls of EDM and dancehall) but it seems that he’s realized that there’s more money, and groupies, elsewhere. Still, Express Yourself (a song released a few weeks ago that inspired a dance/twit pic phenomenon) reminds us of Major Lazer’s early, Pon-De-Floor-era tunes. It’s still dance music, but there’s something going on behind it—Diplo’s attention to detail and ear for the hits show through. His music is also accessible–despite the complex dancehall/moombah inspired beats, even the most rhythmically challenged (read: me) can’t help but jump around to tracks like Bumaye.

When Major Lazer took First Ave, vuvuzelas were thrown, asses were shaken, and someone probably threw up in a parking garage. Twerking went down too, whatever that is. Undoubtedly, it was a spectacle. Diplo was joined by Jillionaire and Walshy Fire (the other members of Major Lazer, who I understand to be hypemen/props) and dancer Mela Murder. City Pages said of the evening, “Diplo’s team put on an insanely live show that was startlingly unique.” Perhaps it is “startlingly unique” when compared to other dance music acts, but anyone who has been to more than one Major Lazer show in the past year (read: me) or seen reviews online could tell you that there isn’t much difference between one Major Lazer show and the next—they follow a pretty rigid template. Diplo comes out in a suit, the vuvuzelas are distributed, Diplo runs around in a hamster ball, there are some cheesy club songs in the mix, everyone takes off their shirts (including Diplo, who probably enjoys parading around shirtless the most out of anyone there), girls come on stage to dance to Express Yourself, some guy comes on stage and gets danced-on for Hold the Line, they play the Drop it Like it’s Hot remix, Diplo waves a flag and plays some cheesy nostalgic song (Smells like Teen Spirit, most likely) and the show’s over. Much like his recorded music, his live shows take a novel idea and try to wring as much as possible out of it.

Diplo is more than just a musician; he’s a carefully crafted character and a master of personal branding. Everything about him, from his live presence to his twitter feed, is deliberately put together, packaged into palatable doses and sold. But behind the product, there’s still an artist. Diplo said it best himself in an interview with The Phoenix: “I made so much headphone music, I’ve always done that even when I started out. And making club music, that was when I realized that I could get fucking paid, get money.” A Major Lazer show isn’t one of a kind; it’s not a transcendental experience that showcases Diplo’s musicianship. It’s a collection of cheesy dance-music signifiers that sells. I like to think of Major Lazer as the breast implants of the music world– big, fun, attention grabbing, but undeniably synthetic. What I’m trying to say here is that I know Major Lazer is a gimmick. But guess what? I had fun anyways.