Thought Catalog

Why We Should Make M83’s “Midnight City” The #1 Song In America

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Last week, the song “Midnight City” by M83 was officially released as a single on the Billboard Hot 100 and is currently sitting at a modest #74 on the chart, not yet Adele-stellar but far from terrible.

If you somehow missed out on the massive outpouring of critical love for “Midnight City” last year, let me catch you up on why you should love this song: “Midnight City” placed at #1 on PopMatters’, Stereogum’s and Pitchfork’s lists of the Best Songs of 2011, at #2 on Paste’s list (after “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes) and at #4 on the Village Voice’s massively influential Pazz and Jop poll (behind three songs with far more mainstream pull). In equally important matters, it placed on my very objective list of ludicrously overplayed songs my iPod, and most of the music nerds I know developed an unhealthy obsession with it. A friend of mine claims to have logged over 20 hours listening to it, and I almost can’t challenge him on that assertion. It’s a natural reaction to such blissful musical brilliance.

M83 is a great band and has been putting out consistently stellar work over the last decade, notably the tracks “Graveyard Girl,” “We Own the Sky” and “Kim and Jessie” from 2008’s Saturdays = Youth and “Don’t Save Us From the Flames” from 2005’s Before the Dawn Heals Us. Although the latter is my personal favorite of their tracks — a song that I feel is arguably the track of that decade — none of these have quite struck a chord with listeners in the way that “Midnight City” has. The song is surrounded by terrific tunes on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and the 80-minute, 22-track double album features the dance-party ready “Reunion,” the gorgeous ambience of “Steve McQueen” and the Zola Jesus-assisted “Intro.”

However, nothing quite stands out as starkly or as radiantly as “Midnight City,” a triumphant, almost symphonic tune that blends shoegaze, dream pop and New Wave with the current trend of electronic pop to create what will be remembered as one of this decade’s masterpieces. As Pitchfork mentioned, the song most recalls “1979,” the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1996 ode to youth—a song that really pushed the Pumpkins out of their alterna-rock niche to create a popular classic.

And like “1979,” which captured the mixture angst and hope of its generation in the same way that “Midnight City” does so perfectly, “Midnight City” has the potential to become a massive crossover hit. “1979” had incredible critical backing at the time, placing at #3 on the 1996 Pazz and Jop list and later at #21 on Pitchfork’s songs of the decade. Helped also by the band’s large and dedicated following and the wide support for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, this perfect storm of factors helped “1979” become a sleeper hit and break the Billboard Top 10, an impressive feat for introverted critical darlings.

However, such success for alternative bands was hardly unprecedented, as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Beck’s “Loser” had accomplished earlier in the decade, when they reached #7 and #10, respectively. Two of the most widely-acclaimed songs of they decade, they approached the summits of the chart during a time when R&B and ballads dominated the charts, churning out hit after hit by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. In 1994, the year “Loser” landed in the Top Ten, the R&B/pop bands Boyz II Men and All for One spent a combined 26 weeks at #1. (For our friends counting at home, that’s half of the year.)

Other critically championed songs throughout the decade would show similar success, including Oasis’ “Wonderwall” (#2), The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” (#2) and Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” (#21). However, high-profile indie hits and critical favorites routinely underperformed throughout the aughts, despite the deafening buzz surrounding them. Although The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” went to #10 and Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” reached all the way up to #5 with critical backing—both landed on Pitchfork’s end-of-the-decade list—they performed far better than songs even more acclaimed than they were. Beloved tunes like Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” (#66), The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” (#76) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” (#87) all failed to get even close to the top 40. Elsewhere, indie faves like Modest Mouse, The Vines, The Hives, The Strokes and Death Cab For Cutie found success in the Alternative, Modern Rock and Heatseekers circuits—but not on the Hot 100, the benchmark of crossover success.

However, the fortunes of critics’ bands and indie favorites have changed considerably in recent years. Although singles by Phoenix, MGMT and Animal Collective never quite got the wide mainstream recognition they deserved — Phoenix came closest with “1901” (at #84), which had been featured in a car commercial — Florence and the Machine, MIA, Fountains of Wayne, Cee-Lo, La Roux, Feist, and Mumford and Sons have all spawned tracks in or right outside the Top 20, while earning great reviews for their work. Of course, Adele is the mother of all of these cases, nabbing three number-ones off a hugely acclaimed album whose titanic sales basically saved the music industry. (Also of note, indie acts fun. and Foster the People have recently reached the Top Five with almost no initial critical buzz behind them, and their albums currently hold fine-but-not-great respective scores of 66 and 69 on Metacritic.)

What changed during this time span? You did. Although putting a song in a car commercial or covering it on Glee, a program I personally hate, but that’s no matter, can help a song reach a wider audience, it cannot continue to find success without wide listener support. Due to such outlets such user-driven outlets such as iTunes, Amazon, Sirius XM and music streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify, the ways in which we consume, share and raise awareness about music have revolutionized. With the recent inclusion of data from music-streaming sites in Billboard statistics, we (the listening public) have more critical power than we ever did. What we blog about on the internet, what we think about culture and what we choose to listen to matter; we vote with our ears, and if we choose to listen to songs we deem to be masterpieces, that’s what we will get back. (Surely, there must be room in the Top Ten for both the LMFAOs and M83s of the world.)

Thus, if you — like many pop-culture savants I know — adore M83, don’t just listen to “Midnight City” on your iPod a hundred times in a row. Share the video on Facebook or listen to it on Spotify. Make an M83 Pandora station. Tweet or blog about it. Start a Facebook group to help get “Midnight City” to #1 and ask others to join. Request it on your local radio station. Because however you are listening to music, you have the power not to listen in a vacuum. You have the power to change what’s on the radio and what America listens to, one masterpiece at a time. TC mark

image – farm3

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    • Brideshead

      I agree, this song is just so perfect, it makes feel a certain way about myself, the kind of feeling I never thought I could ever have.

    • peet

      this is a shitload of bombast for a really annoying track that sounds like mgmt did 4ish years ago

      • Ari

        lol mgmt tho

      • Elyse

        I must say, this comment makes you sound completely ignorant about the musical genre in question. While I will agree with you that what MGMT was doing circa 2007-2008 clearly opened the door for similar artists following after them to be heard and accepted by a wider audience (not necessarily “mainstream”, but at least “indie/electronic mainstream”), and therefore it can be said that M83’s success mirrors the success that MGMT enjoyed a few years ago with “Oracular Spectacular”, I have to say that this is where the similarities end. Their style and execution couldn’t be more different. Both bands are brilliant, but the differences are clear and appreciable.
        So, in short, sorry, but I disagree. I think most would.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYDVROKY4PUBOKUHB3QF42FH2Y Paul S

      I find this song annoying and borderline incomprehensible. But that’s just me and my weird thing with music aesthetics (I don’t do well with layers of over-production); I can see why someone less discriminating would like it. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28110150 James Lippens

        “someone less discriminating”

        LOL @ jackassery

    • http://www.facebook.com/dylan.jonasse Dylan L. Jonasse

      Chuck Klosterman would be proud of you for this one, Nico.

      • Katie

        Ha, he was all I could think about when I read this.

    • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

      The sax outro on Midnight City is amaaaaaazing.

    • ADOLF HIPSTER

      ‘the gorgeous ambience of “Steve McQueen”‘
      What? 

    • Plasmatorture

      The song is mediocre at best and extremely generic. The fact that you even dare to call it “almost symphonic” proves your own ignorance. There’s absolutely nothing symphonic about it whatsoever. It’s 4 minutes of generic music. Great. Let’s all masturbate about it now

      • Serena

         Agreed. I’d be interested to see an ‘alternative’ group actually do anything remotely alternative. It’s EDM for life for me

      • HeCardsReadsGood

        This might be the most generic M83 song ever made. Whatever emotion can be elicited from his other tracks is nowhere to be found here; just a 4 minute malaise of formulaic pop- not a bad thing, but certainly not “one of this decade’s masterpieces,” not even this week’s.

    • Kylehalv

      i dont understand the hype so i guess im not cool.

    • http://theopenend.com/ herocious

      repeat!?

    • http://twitter.com/spoustaj Josef

      I love this song but it never even made it higher than #30 in the UK so there is no way America will respond any better. :/

    • http://www.facebook.com/yamahaboss Yamaha Boss

      Eh, I’m indifferent about this tune.  But “Wait” from the same disc is an audio orgasm.

    • Slop101

      That saxophone gives me douche-chills, and not the good kind – it’s like something out of a bad ’80s commercial.

      • Age

         That’s funny. I love the song for that very reason. The saxophones give me the feel of the 80s and I love every minute of it.

    • Anonymous

      Lets not forget that this song was also used in a Victoria’s Secret commercial. Puke.

    • jmd620

      “Intro” and “Steve McQueen” are much better tracks, imo, BUT “Midnight City” does have the most mainstream appeal…for whatever reason

    • Dj Dingus

      Clearly the track holds a special place in your heart. I’m not exactly sure why you feel it is necessary for a song to be subjected to mass approval.  Where does this desire stem from? If it were to be fulfilled, which is not unforeseeable, the manner in which you perceive the song would change drastically. Mainstream approval typically denotes excessive play: be it on the radio, MTV, the loud speakers at some horrid Old Navy or Gap, the song will be everywhere for a noticeable amount of time, inevitably destroying your initial relationship with it. In short, your desire for “Midnight City” to become the #1 song in America is simultaneously the desire for it to lose its appeal and become trite. Whatever idiosyncratic memories you affixed to the song will be displaced by the excess of contexts in which the mainstream repeats it ad infinitum. 

    • http://twitter.com/shallowechos TRES

      Someone already said this but you do realize the beauty of having music like M83 is that you radios will not abuse it. I would never ever want M83’s songs to become the next “Someone Like You” or worse: “Rolling In The Deep”

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYDVROKY4PUBOKUHB3QF42FH2Y Paul S

        What are you talking about? My local radio station’s been playing the shit out of this song for months!

    • Anonymous

      It’s like the theme song of hipster ghosts Disco-ing in a roller rink. I’m down.

    • mfjonny

      Anybody else read this in the voice of Patrick Bateman?

    • Myemail

      I am a huge M83 fan (they are bowel-puckeringly amazing live) and listened to this song nonstop for about a month almost exactly one year ago (yeah, I went there). It’s undeniably awesome, but fails in comparison to “Steve McQueen”. That song should be the national anthem.

    • Anonymous

      Am I getting trolled? 

    • Cheyney

      I also really love the Mandy Lee & The Knocks cover. That’s been my getting-ready music for the past month.

    • Aaron

      The song’s okay but nothing special; the video is quite good. 

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