When Lorde released her highly–anticipated sophomore album in June 2017, she delivered a blue–tinted project embedded with pop party revelations and crooning heartsick ballads. What set Melodrama apart from her previous work, however, was that it didn't solely come from her imagination—it was, instead, a collaboration of sorts.
Her self–proclaimed “work husband” was Jack Antonoff. Brought to the public eye as one of the founding members of Fun., those who hadn't tracked his career since the days of “We Are Young” may have been surprised that he was the co–producer of Melodrama. Between the two projects was the rise of his own band, Bleachers, most notable for tracks such as “I Wanna Get Better” and “Don’t Take the Money.”
But his rise as a producer didn’t stop there. He has been accredited on other works by several dominating female pop artists, inclusing St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Want You in My Room.” He’s been in the spotlight lately for his work on Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey, and the past three studio albums released by Taylor Swift. It's no secret that he is partially responsible for the dreamy, teenager–ish sound that permeates today’s pop scene.
But amid all of this success there may have been a sacrifice made—the quality of his own work. Bleachers’s 2017 album Gone Now only delivered a couple of tracks with replay value, and did not chart nearly as well as many projects Antonoff has helped produced. Its lead single, “Don’t Take the Money,” felt like the crux of his musical persona, with its 80s–reminiscent melody, synthesized vocals, and witty yet romantic narrative. The rest of the album fell flat, and since its release the band has put out no new albums. His return to nostalgia does well on other people’s projects, but not his own.
Here lies the issue at hand: does a good producer have to be a good artist themselves? The immediate answer is no. To be stellar at even one of those professions is already a rare quality. However, when examining the work of Antonoff, his production acts more as a unifying aspect of the albums and tracks he’s worked on. Gloomy threads of “Venice Bitch” off NFR might remind you of “Writer in the Dark” from Melodrama; the synthesized punches of “The Man” on Lover feel almost distractingly similar to the chorus of Jepsen's “Want You in My Room.”
Antonoff is embedding his own confectionary pop sound into the sounds and works of other artists, and while it may be a new direction for them, it is nothing new for him. He’s diversifying a musician’s discography and reshaping their artistry, even if for just a single track or album (see 1989 by Taylor Swift). Yet when looking at the pop scene through a wide–angle lens, his work takes the major figures in music and gives them similar sounds, song structures, vocal effects, images, and themes. He is the gateway to the intimate house party sound, and although it is a coveted trope, it should not be the only one prevalent in the music sphere.
His own artistry is so concentrated that it dilutes those of who he works with. Coupled with this is the lack of quality content he can claim as his own. His latest project was Red Hearse, a trio with two other notable producers. They put out an album last month, and it played less like a coherent project, and more like a series of sporadic studio sessions from three extremely distinctive minds. Antonoff continues to prove his capabilities under the names of others, but falls flat on his own accord—which, for fans, may be frustrating.
There's no denying all he has done for the pop genre, and the many Grammy nominations his production has received over the years. But as he continues to build his repertoire and resume with each ongoing project, he is also homogenizing the sounds of many artists, leaving telling signatures on each track that trace back to him. Jack Antonoff's sound will continue to permeate the field, but it'll lead to an inevitable sameness—and that may do more harm than good.