If you’ve listened to a Top 40 radio station sometime in the past year, you’ve likely heard the latest go-to electronic dance DJ, Marshmello. The helmet-wearing producer has become the latest electronic artist of mainstream fame, and in early July, he released the album “Joytime III.” Does the LP match his popularity?
Marshmello, or Chris Comstock, is a DJ on the rise since 2015. He’s best known for his production on “Wolves” with Selena Gomez, Anne Marie’s “FRIENDS” and “Happier” featuring Bastille. Marshmello’s music doesn’t stray far from the mainstream. He lays festival-friendly synths and pop elements over some trap drums, maybe has a classic Dr. Dre-inspired G-funk breakdown and collects a check. He’s basic, and for the larger listening public, he seems like just another dance beatmaker.
Pop EDM producers are easy targets: they make silly dance songs where lyrics are unimportant, and most instruments are synthesized. The larger listening public doesn’t get attached, and the highbrow snobs poo-poo the genre. Most DJs must content themselves with a quick 15 minutes of fame and some work behind the scenes.
Marshmello is an exceptionally large and slow-moving fish in the barrel. He wears a gimmicky mask, but unlike Daft Punk’s campy robot faces or Deadmau5’s uncanny mouse head, it’s a big, dumb marshmallow with a doodled face. Nothing makes that cool, especially run-of-the-mill EDM. Alternative band Chvrches called him out for collaborating with Chris Brown and Tyga, two rather terrible people. He DJ’ed a virtual concert in “Fortnite,” the most popular video game to hate at the time. He has his own phone game: “Marshmello Music Dance.” Marshmello is void of respect.
Neither Marshmello nor any other pop EDM artist should be immediately dismissed on the grounds of genre. Musicians from any field can craft a good piece of music. Who can deny the power of Afrojack’s beat for “Give Me Everything?” Could society hold fast and true without Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be?”
Plenty of enjoyable, excellent tunes pervade the genre. EDM and most electronic music simply have different metrics from most pop music. As electronic “dance” music implies, EDM is about dancing and having fun with some synths, and if Marshmello can do so, he shouldn’t be especially derided.
Marshmello cannot do so. He is a bad EDM artist. He does not make good music. “Joytime III” underwhelms at every turn. Almost every moment feels less like a song and more like a royalty-free pump-up track used in a middle school end of the year montage.
Despite every beep, bop and boop Marshmello blares across the 38:48 runtime, his music fades into EDM clichés. Song after song is atmospheric pop instruments or dime-a-dozen electronics that build up with a standard issue drum machine to an ugly drop, a formula familiar to the larger listening public. “Trite” barely describes “Joytime III.”
Even by the measurement of other pop EDM producers, Marshmello is bland. He has nothing to compare to Calvin Harris’ funky fun, the Chainsmokers’ ambition, Zedd’s prettiness, the late Avicii’s boldness, Skrillex’s aggression or Kygo’s aestheticism. David Guetta’s mediocrity and will.i.am’s clashing sound palettes best fit “Joytime III.”
The synth riffs are derivative, while the percussion and drums have no drive, and the bass is nonexistent. Marshmello’s music is flat and annoying. But if he merely made boilerplate EDM, “Joytime III” would not be worth a full review. Marshmello has some other tricks up his sleeve, be they just as uninspired as the EDM for which he’s known.
Marshmello seems to have listened to pop-punk at some point, or at least Hot Chelle Rae of “Tonight” fame. On “Run It Up,” “Sad Songs,” “Proud” and “Rescue Me,” the track grabs a nasally vocalist and some basic guitar work to yell about partying and feelings. Judging by the credits, SoundCloud rapper/rock enthusiast Lil Aaron and rock band A Day to Remember are partly responsible.
These songs have a shallow appreciation for pop-punk. The lyrics could be from any pop song; Marshmello takes the most notable and basic sounds of the genre for his own use. The pop-punk elements leave “Joytime III” in the same sonic doldrums as his EDM material, simply with a mild “huh” attached.
Dubstep was also mentioned in Marshmello’s vicinity at some point. He incorporates overdramatic drops with some industrial-like synths at several points on the album. Notable offenders include “Put Yo Hands Up” featuring Slushii, “Earthquake” featuring TYNAN and “Falling to Pieces” featuring Crankdat.
Marshmello and his friends certainly broke some keyboards and found a dial-up internet modem to craft some senselessly ugly noises, but they forgot to add bass or edge. These drops are annoying and disappointing without the breakneck force of a good dubstep drop. Marshmello’s blatant commercialism rules out some avant-garde stylistic choice. These sections are bad.
To be fair to “Joytime III,” not every song is unsalvageable. “Let’s Get Down” featuring YULTRON has some nice, big chords, and “Set Me Free” featuring Bellecour incorporates some smooth house grooves. The bells and percussion of “Anklung Life” featuring Wiwek stood out, but they swiftly wore out their welcome.
Marshmello also doesn’t act pretentiously. “Joytime III” operates at a simple level: lay down a beat, maybe say something about love or fun, and be satisfied. I’m not tempted to call Marshmello’s style a high art approach, but he makes the album that much less painless with his low-effort approach. He may be unoriginal and ugly, but at least he’s not arrogant.
“Joytime III” is not a good album. Marshmello lacks personality, ideas and skill. His nods to music outside of basic EDM are superficial and poorly executed. The LP is not even enjoyable for its low quality. If you want to laugh at some bad electronic music, go listen to the disastrous “Sick Boy” by the Chainsmokers, or embrace the cheese of Darude’s “Sandstorm” and “Cotton Eyed Joe” by Rednex.
Marshmello as a public figure can provide a chuckle, but musically, no enjoyment — ironic or unironic — exists because Marshmello does not try. He is the single marshmallow dropped on the way to the bonfire: inedible and without a grotesque char. Just plain, sugary and bad.