Review Summary: “I don’t want to be, like, an aging DJ. That’s not very cool.”
“Culture is meant to be fused. That’s how culture moves. It’s complicated, but I don’t fucking care,” says Diplo in a recent New Yorker profile; minutes later, the Floridian producer tries to order Dominican food at a Cuban restaurant. This bit of irony summarizes Wes Pentz’s latter-day career fairly well: the “accused Caucasian ‘culture vulture’” tends to interpolate sounds from the Americas and West Africa without doing the legwork required to make sure those sounds are on the cutting edge of the culture there. (Rihanna once snarked a song of his as “sound[ing] like a reggae song at an airport,” and I think that about sums it up.) It’s why he can blithely dismiss non-American pop as having “a bleak future,” as he told the Guardian in an interview published yesterday, that he “can’t see it going further than” the wave of “Latin music” that dominated the charts last summer and fall. Given that it’s been about half a year since “Mi Gente” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100, this blanket statement seems to be true, so long as you’re not clued into the crossover success of Bad Bunny and Ozuna from Puerto Rico and Wizkid and Patoranking from Nigeria, the unprecedented American impact of BTS from South Korea, the meteoric rise of Kris Wu and VaVa from China, and so on and so forth. (In the Guardian interview, Diplo also said that “people just remember that [Justin Bieber] made a great album in Purpose” and have forgotten “the bad music” he ostensibly made before, which, like, “Boyfriend,” but that’s neither here nor there.)
Point is, Diplo’s perception of “global pop” doesn’t seem to be particularly consistent with the sort of “global pop” actually succeeding today, and nowhere is that clearer than California
. Make no mistake, the EP is indeed a “global” release. “Color Blind” takes inspiration from Australia, in that it sounds like a Flume song from 2013. “Suicidal” takes inspiration from Norway, in that it sounds like a Cashmere Cat song from 2012. “Look Back” takes inspiration from Nashville, in that it sounds like a Jack White song produced sometime after 2009 or so, when his monumental narcissism overwhelmed his ability to make worthwhile music. “Get It Right” is truly international, in that it sounds like every single song produced by a mainstream DJ in 2015, during the height of the “future bass” craze.
If this is what Diplo imagines intercontinentally-successful pop sounds like in 2018, then no wonder he thinks it’s a pile of garbage. On one level, California
is a dull, listless examination of the slightly less conventional bits of the U.S. pop charts, featuring hip-hop artists doing exciting and innovative things with the genre while incorporating absolutely none of that innovation into its production. On another level, California
is a copy of a copy, a watered-down imitation of sounds that (aside from Jack White, who will at this point likely never change his attitude) every artist he’s imitating moved on from years ago. On a third level, California
is, for all Diplo’s bluster about fusing cultures and such, an EP that entirely ignores any non-American movement that hasn’t already been fully assimilated into an iHeartRadio-palatable sound. “Honestly, I’m waiting to be irrelevant,” says Diplo in the aforementioned Guardian piece; he might not have to wait long.