The two tracks my friends requested most this year were “Everything Now,” the first single off Arcade Fire’s forthcoming album, and “Want You Back” from Haim’s sophomore album, which came out in full last Friday. We listened to both an absurd amount of times, the latter enough to convert a Haim-skeptic such as myself into a full-fledged Haim-believer. A week and a half later, they’re still replaying in my head—so much so that their respective hooks and melodies have recombined to form one new, sort-of-same song. It’s weird.
But it’s also not. There’s a consensus amongst writers and critics who know more about music than I do that “Everything Now” borrows heavily from ABBA—especially the opening riff and high-pitched piano from “Dancing Queen”; Haim consistently gets the Fleetwood Mac comparison, and this new album in particular, with its tales of heartbreak, seems to owe a great debt to the properly poppy Rumours. Rumours and Arrival, the ABBA album featuring “Dancing Queen”, are not super similar, because Swedish europop and classic American rock are two different genres. And yet, as Barry Walters wrote in NPR a few years back about ABBA: “When all four pooled their talents and experience, the outcome couldn't help but be densely packed. They were what Fleetwood Mac was to soon become — double-lovin' ladies and dudes who sang of romantic rumors.” Keep in mind, also, that both albums came out within one year of each other, in 1977 and 1976 respectively, exactly 40 (or, well 41) years ago. So maybe there’s something here that amounts to more than a casual coincidence.
Obviously I don’t think Arcade Fire and Haim are in musical cahoots to revive this particular period of late 70s pop. And neither could’ve predicted their respective singles would become a “song of summer”—although it would be naïve to think they hadn’t considered the possibility. It’s important to consider, too, the fact that other recent “songs of summer” have had a decidedly 70s-ish quality to them: both Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” borrow from the decade, albeit more in the vein of soul and disco.
Still, there is an earnestness to ABBA and Fleetwood Mac, and by extension “Everything Now” and “Want You Back,” whose appeal may reflect a collective longing for sincerity and simplicity, both in popular music and culture-writ-large. There’s a reason, I think, that Miley Cyrus, one of the most complex (and convoluted) pop stars of our generation, went from Flaming Lips provocateur to T-Swift wannabe, with this summer’s treacly and bland pop-country tune, “Malibu.” Perhaps in light of her many personas, people didn’t know who she was anymore; perhaps she didn’t know who she was anymore. So she stripped it back. Made herself plain.
Lyrically, “Everything Now” and “Want You Back” take as their subjects wildly different things. In the former, it’s the empty consumerism of our on-demand society; in the latter, it’s simply an ex-boyfriend. Yet both narrators are pure in their desire for these things. You can hear it in the music. You can sense it, too—that the feeling you’re feeling when you can’t help but sing along is something real.