June 13, 2020

Even Disney darlings did dance-rock in the late 2000s

As a sign of just how extensive the late 2000s dance-rock phenomenon was, even singers who had first broken into fame as Disney actresses were making it. The style was not only coming from indie bands with art-school pretensions. Nor were the Disney stars merely jumping on the bandwagon -- they began and ended in parallel, as two manifestations of a single underlying trend, mixing rock with dance.

During the restless warm-up phase of the excitement cycle, it doesn't matter whether you're a Disney-watching teen or a dance club regular. Everybody feels like coming out of their vulnerable-phase cocoon and mixing it up with other people again. Having slumbered for so long, they need to perform simple exercises first, and a rhythm with an accented offbeat is perfect for that, marking the winding-up motion on the offbeat, before the main beat marks the delivery-of-force motion.

Most of the Disney-derived acts had a rock background, whether power pop, soft rock, country crossover, or pop punk. There was no rap, minimal R&B, and only a bit of club dance music. As such, they were not part of the backlash against UNH-tss techno music of the '90s, which was confined to the club music scene ("electropop," which replaced drums with synths to set the rhythm). They had no problem using a disco rhythm with accented offbeats, since they were using rock instrumentation that could not have been confused for UNH-tss drum machines.

To begin the survey, it's worth noting that one of the bands discussed before had a strong Disney connection. The two founders of Metro Station ("Shake It") had younger siblings who were acting in Hannah Montana at the time, and they themselves were only in their late teens. So while not Disney stars in their own right, they were still very close to that domain of cultural production.

First the songs, then some remarks. As before, not all have a percussion instrument dedicated solely to accenting the offbeat, as in a true disco rhythm. But most do, at least in parts -- and that was far more than could be heard in the electropop club music of the period.

* * *

"Beat of My Heart" by Hilary Duff (2005):

"Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)" by Ashlee Simpson (2007):

"Potential Breakup Song" by Aly & AJ (2007):

"See You Again (Remix)" by Miley Cyrus (2008):

"Falling Down" by Selena Gomez & the Scene (2009):

"Remember December" by Demi Lovato (2009):

* * *

The purest example is the earliest, "Beat of My Heart," with its irresistibly bouncy hi-hat offbeat. When the cymbals really ring out continuously for that long, rather than just sounding a quick discrete tap, it's as though they're carrying your limb along for a ride. Your leg feels picked up when the hi-hat begins, then guided through its full delivery motion during the rest of the offbeat interval, until it lands on the main beat. With quick taps, the hi-hat is more like a metronome that feels apart from your body, although helping it keep time. Combined with the shooting-star whole notes from the synthesizer in the first verse, this way of playing the hi-hat gives the song a soaring feeling. But it's not uniformly bubblegummy, turning dissonant during the bridges, which sound like they're from a mature brooding song by Franz Ferdinand. It's amazing that this came out in 2005, before the dance-rock trend had become firmly established.

Ashlee Simpson was not technically a Disney kid, but still was famous for acting on a teen-audience TV show. "Outta My Head" does not accent every offbeat, but it does for those before the backbeat on 2 and 4. And it's not a hi-hat followed by a snare, as usual, but a strange pair of crashing sounds -- like a giant maraca with chains inside it. As with standard percussion, though, the offbeat is higher-pitched and quieter, and the main beat is lower-pitched and louder. Familiar pattern, yet exotic timbre. Way better than anything else she did.

Electropop is more the style of "Potential Breakup Song," with its heavy reliance on octave-alternating synth notes to set the basic rhythm. But there is a hi-hat playing the main and offbeats for most of the verse. The first part of the chorus does not have offbeat percussion ("You're not living..."), but the castanets do this in the second part ("This is the..."). There's a double-hit before 2, and a single hit before 4, setting up the backbeat only, rather than all main beats. Another interesting choice of timbres, mixing castanets with a mainly electro/synth sound. A different song from the same album, "Like Whoa", does use a hi-hat to accent the offbeat, and the instrumentation is mainly rock, but it's too low-key to be a dance club song -- more of a foot-tapping rock song.

In "See You Again," the verses after the first have a hi-hat playing both main and offbeats, while the chorus uses shakers to accent the offbeat. The original recording from 2007 did not have as much dance-y percussion, which seems to be the main change made for this remix. During bouts of dance fever, the goal is to make it more danceable, not less.

In the verses of "Falling Down," the offbeat is mainly accented by a rhythm guitar, although there is a cowbell on the offbeat before 3 (and also the one before 4, for the second verse only, for some reason). Tambourines play during the main and offbeats of the chorus. The way that the percussion builds in danceability from verse to chorus, they should have put a clear hi-hat offbeat at the end of the chorus to make it climax ("When you're falling down, you're falling down").

"Remember December" is hard rock during the chorus, similar to Paramore of the same time. But the verses tap the hi-hat on the main and offbeats, inviting you to move your feet around, unlike other songs from the heyday of scene music. Also worth noting the surf guitar riff toward the end, recalling a signature sound of an earlier restless phase, the early '60s.

Honorable mention to "Lovesick" by Emily Osment (2010), which does have a hi-hat to accent the offbeat during the chorus, but is not rock enough to fall under the dance-rock trend. It's more pure club music, just being an anomaly for having a disco beat when the rest of its peers avoided it. And there's "Make Me Wanna Die" by the Pretty Reckless (2009), fronted by Gossip Girl actress Taylor Momsen. It flirts with an accented offbeat, but does not get groovy enough to mix dance in with the rock. A real missed opportunity -- they could've made another intriguing fusion of dance with post-grunge, a la "Paralyzer" by Finger Eleven.

1 comment:

  1. Heather, this is scene kid erasure. :) "Very resentful of Gen X that they got to be the last generation with cool subcultures"


    The scene kids may have been a little too-online, but at least it was just MySpace -- before the parasocial shift toward feeds, timelines, takes, likes, subs, and patreons. They were still very much an IRL subculture, you couldn't help but notice them in the late 2000s, especially out West. They were so innocent, carefree, fun-loving -- and very distinctive culturally.

    A wistful deep cut to remember them by:



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