Q&A: DJ Earworm Talks Melodies, Mash-Ups, and “United State of Pop” VI
You may not know the name DJ Earworm, but you definitely know what he does. He’s the guy who started the year-end song mash-up craze. Back in 2007, Earworm (real name Jordan Roseman) spent four days compiling the 25 biggest hits of the year into a 5-minute super-song. The San Francisco-based DJ followed up with a music video mash-up the following year before blowing up in 2009 with his third “United State of Pop” offering (total views on YouTube as of this writing: 42.5 million).
Roseman is in the middle of crafting his sixth “United State of Pop,” but the Evanston native took some time away from the music to talk about his thought process behind this year’s mash-up.
Let’s start with why you first made a mash-up of 25 songs back in 2007.
I was experimenting with making mash-ups with more and more parts. Most mash-ups are done with two parts. I was experimenting with cutting them up more and seeing how many I could fit into one song. I was doing this one that had 22 parts, but it was random songs. I was kind of playing around with it, and then I noticed that the end of the year charts had come out. A lot of the songs in this mash-up I’m working on [were on it]. It wasn’t a big plan to do this annual, year-end tie up, it just happened that the mash-up I was working on was similar to this chart. My manager said, “Make it a nice, even number,” so we chose 25.
What happened in 2009?
Once I realized this was an annual thing, then [the song] got an extra significance of of tying up the year’s experiences. The third year I tried to make it into something that was more reflective—a mix of nostalgia and happiness and celebration.
Which one is your favorite?
I think I hit it best in 2009. It had just the right mix of realistic optimism. It’s hard to be optimistic without being cheesy. That one managed to do that, and it just worked very well musically. [And] a lot of the similarities between the songs were remarkable, like the Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus duet in that year—it was meant to be.
So which songs are actually going to be focused on this year?
I’m going to try to be a little fairer this year, but it never works out that way. I feel like melody is back big time, and emotion is back. It might not be as much of the dance floor feeling, but it’s too early to tell. It still could go that way. I’m focusing more on melody and hooks and making sure the structure is a nice pop song rather than making sure that the message is saying exactly what I want to say. It’s always a balance of letting the hooks breathe and changing them into something new and fresh.
So you’re not going to say how much “Call Me Maybe” will be in there?
I think very little! Very little. She’ll get in there, little bit of “Gangnam Style,” but I feel like other songs are more expressive of what I’m feeling.
In terms of message, there’s a lot of awakening. “Wide Awake.” “Somebody That I Used to Know,” even, with this sort of realization. Even Maroon 5’s “Payphone” where he’s talking about the fairy tales and happy-ever-after that doesn’t exist, then Adele talking about all the things you said that were never true. There’s a lot of disillusionment and reawakening themes. I want to go more towards that, than with a blowjob theme with Flo-Rida’s “Whistle.”
Do you see that awakening theme playing out in the rest of the country?
It’s got to be. I don’t think these things happen in a vacuum. There’s lots of darkness, there’s lots of fire. You see themes that are fading. The apocalypse theme is still around, but it’s fading. Ke$ha’s talking about dying young—well, that theme’s been around for a long time. “We’re going to live tonight like it’s the last night,” “this is all there is”—for a few years that’s been going on. I see that fading a little bit.
But you think it’s on the way out now.
I can’t believe they’re still doing it. Yeah, [the current theme is] not necessarily uplifting, but a little more thoughtful. Little more introspective, pensive. And the music, there’s just so much more melody. A few year’s ago, it was “On the Floor” or “Tik Tok”—these songs that were not depending on the melody at all, just the rhythm. And now [you have] melodies with “Payphone,” or “Somebody that I Used To Know.” Even “Starships.” The ultimate example is “We Are Young.” You know, “Ton-i-i-i-i-i-ght.” Excuse my singing, but these notes are very specific to the melody.
Why is melody coming back?
Melody is more able to express emotion, and so the pendulum is swinging from just body music back into head and heart music. Then there’s the resurgence of folk, with Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers and Fun. The pendulum is swinging back to simplicity and melody.
How much time are you devoting to the mash-up every day?
Right now I’m not in crunch mode, so four to six hours a day. It will go up to every waking hour some time soon. I do about a month of solid work, two weeks of super hard work on the audio and then two weeks for the video.
When will it be released?
It’s come out on Christmas every year. The field is getting more crowded, so I might bring it out a little early. I don’t want people to be burnt out on all the different mixes by the time they hear my mix. I don’t want to promise, because I want it to be done. I would rather it be done than meet some arbitrary deadline.
Top 25 hits aside, do you personally have a favorite genre of music?
Geez. I just listen to so much of everything. I listen to so much of pop culture that I forget to figure out what’s my favorite.
Editor's note: Earworm's manager emailed Chicago on Monday to say the song will “hopefully be released this week.”
Photograph: Stephan Morais