One could say Kygo has managed to avoid a musical step backwards in his latest album, Kids In Love, but that’s exactly the issue—he hasn’t moved anywhere at all. When he first began releasing tracks publicly in 2014, Kygo’s melodic, tropical, and atmospheric remixes on Soundcloud of popular tracks took many by storm. His remixes of “High For This” by Ellie Goulding, “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye, and “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran had racked up 12 million, 30 million, and 60 million plays on Soundcloud, respectively.
In late 2014, Kygo released his single “Firestone,” a simultaneously melancholy and jaunty tune featuring Kygo’s signature tropical house sound. Three months later in early 2015, Kygo’s “ID” was featured in the official trailer for Ultra Music Festival and one month later, he released “Stole the Show,” another tropical house anthem. Success after success, Kygo seemed to be everywhere—including the 2015 Spring Fling Lineup. The Norwegian musician was on a fast–track to success, and his debut album, Cloud Nine, peaked at no. 1 in Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums and no. 11 in the US Billboard 200.
But at the same time, the widespread success of Kygo’s debut album was potentially skewed by the album’s inclusion of his massive singles that were released a year (or more) before Cloud Nine, including “Stole the Show,” “Firestone,” and 2015’s “Stay” and “Nothing Left." Indeed, all one has to do is look at the number of streams on each song in the album to see that the four most–streamed songs on the album also happened to be those aforementioned four singles, all of which were re–released within Cloud Nine. Already, Kygo was beginning to show signs of repetitiveness with the inclusion of four singles in a debut album. From a marketing perspective, one can understand placing the most popular songs of an artist on their first full–length album. But Kygo’s main issue has been repetitiveness of another kind, namely the sound of his music itself.
Although Kygo’s popularity hasn’t decreased, his (publicly released) musical creativity has. It seems that Kygo has found a musical “brand” where he can can thrive in, but at the same time, it has stifled his ability to create new and interesting melodies. Part of the appeal of his remixes of songs like “Sexual Healing” and “I See Fire” was because they offered a new, unique sound to songs people know and love. But the appeal of Kygo in 2014 and 2015 has decreased come 2018. Kygo has made few, if any, attempts to change his “sound” from the days of “ID” and “Firestone.” And while he still racks up the streams on Spotify, his newest album, Kids in Love, seems more like a “Pop Melodies 101” course than an album from a former game–changer of tropical house. As Kygo has become more popular, it seems his music has only become more formulaic. And while there are many (this cannot be stressed enough) exceptions to the rule, a disappointing amount of popular electronic dance music in the past few years has fallen into the same trap as Kygo.
There will always be the geniuses at the top of electronic and dance genres that figure out a way to tweak their sound without losing the appeal to their fanbases—Daft Punk, Above & Beyond, Calvin Harris, deadmau5, among others—and there is a reason why many of these artists are still at the top. But the majority of artists in EDM today have seemed to experience a lull in creativity. Some have continued to pursue combining EDM with other genres, such as Diplo, Walshy Fire, and Jillionaire’s foray into reggaeton/dance through Major Lazer, or Calvin Harris venturing into hip–hop production with a number of rap features on Funk Wav Bounces Volume 1. Some, like Swedish House Mafia, decided to step away from the game while they were on top and pursue individual careers. But many others have struggled to pursue a new sound at a time when fans are getting sick of their favorite artists releasing what feels like the same batch of songs each year. There are some, such as Tiësto, who have simply been huge players in the game for too long to be able to continually change their sound.
But most talented electronic and dance artists, such as Kygo, have hit a wall in musical creativity. The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” was the go–to NSO song in 2016 for a reason—there simply aren’t too many accessible, crowd–friendly dance songs coming out anymore. This is not to be confused with the notion that there isn’t any good EDM coming out anymore, because that simply isn’t true. Many young artists, such as Flume, Porter Robinson, Mura Masa, and Jamie xx (to name a few) are still putting out quality music. But with the potential exception of Galantis’ upbeat progressive house and Seeb’s tropical/melodic house (think “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”), there has been a clear lack of creative, purely EDM crowd pleasers coming out in the past few years. Part of this phenomenon is due to hip–hop’s continued dominance of the college demographic, and some songs toe the line between multiple genres, but part of the reality simply falls on the fact that artists can make a lot of money releasing the same style of song year after year.
The Chainsmokers have been deemed the epitome of “formula EDM” because they haven’t done anything that Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, and many others haven’t done before them. But last year, the best we college kids could get were “Paris” and “Closer,” simply because there aren’t as many good options as years past. At NSO in 2013, then–freshmen staggering from frat house to frat house would have had the pleasure of hearing repeated instances of a song off Zedd’s Clarity, Calvin Harris’ 18 Months, or maybe Disclosure’s Settle, all of which were within the Billboard EDM Top 10. The current Billboard EDM Top 5 albums belong to the following artists, ranked from one to five: The Chainsmokers, Calvin Harris, The Chainsmokers (this is not a typo), Lady Gaga (also not a typo), and Kygo. Outside of the Top 5, thankfully, there are some more creative artists out there, including Illenium and Odesza. But while Odesza’s sound is certainly a breath of fresh air, the fact remains that The Chainsmokers appear twice within the Top 3, and Kygo’s stagnant sound has still propelled him to the no. 5 spot. Both of these artists have clearly found a recipe for success, and they understandably have an economic motivation to continue making the type of music that they’re making. But the recipe for success in EDM has simply become so uninspired that fans (like myself) are beginning to question whether listening to recent music by artists such as Kygo is even worth the time.