Shake your body: Dance sound takes over America

NEW YORK (AP) — In the past, if you wanted to listen to a thumping, European-flavored dance jam on the radio, you waited for that Friday or Saturday night club mix.

Today, you can shake your body on that 7 a.m. drive to work.

Dance and electronic music, part of the fringe just a few years ago, now dominates Top 40 radio, and the culture continues to sprout at festivals as DJ-producers begin to take center stage.

David Guetta, Calvin Harris, RedOne and Sandy Vee are the top masterminds behind multiple hits on the charts, and are heavily sought out by A-list singers for some of their musical magic.

Lady Gaga came on the scene with electro-jamming hits, as did Ke$ha, LMFAO and La Roux. There are many more who have blazed the charts by adopting the electronic dance sound, including Rihanna, Usher, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Flo Rida, Chris Brown, Pitbull, the Black Eyed Peas, Diddy and Taio Cruz, all while DJ-producers like Benny Benassi, Afrojack, Avicii and DJ Frank E gain momentum and get calls to produce hits.

"Every pop artist is taking that direction now (and) it's the new standard of pop music," Guetta said in a recent interview. "You still have some dirty, crazy underground beats that are only for clubs, and then you have that crossover genre that started two years ago ... and it's just exploding."

Guetta made noise in the music world when his song "When Love Takes Over" with Kelly Rowland became an international smash. It topped the charts in several countries in mid-2009, but it only peaked at No. 76 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Then he produced the Black Eyed Peas' No. 1 sensation "I Gotta Feeling" and it helped Guetta conquer America.

Now, the French-born DJ-producer has two Grammy Awards and six top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including three in the top five. His latest album, "Nothing but the Beat" features Usher, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Jennifer Hudson and Snoop Dogg, among others.

"Techno was born in Detroit and house in Chicago and New York, then it came to Europe and now it's coming back to America. It came back really late here, but when (Americans) do something, (they) do it big," Guetta said. "America is finally embracing the electronic culture."

Lady Gaga has talked about how she struggled early in her career with her dance music sound because it wasn't popular. She had her breakthrough in 2008 with electronic-tinged hits like "Poker Face" to "Just Dance," helping usher in a new dance music phase in pop.

"I'm so happy that me and Gaga were the people to open doors for a lot of DJs (and) a lot of people who used to be called remixers, and now they're ... actually producers," said RedOne, who helmed multiple Gaga hits as well as Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor," Enrique Iglesias' "I Like It" and Minaj's "Starships."

Rihanna is another artist who has topped the charts with dance-flavored gems. Her latest No. 1 tune, "We Found Love," was written and produced by Calvin Harris, the London-based singer and DJ. Now he has his own song, "Feels So Close," which is currently a top 20 hit on the Billboard chart.

David Waxman, the general manager for the dance label Ultra Records — the home to acts like Harris, Deadmau5 and Tiesto — says when multiple dance tracks got play on the radio simultaneously, the genre exploded commercially.

"I think there was a big breakthrough a few years ago when Lady Gaga's 'Just Dance,' (the) Black Eyed Peas' 'Boom Boom Pow' and Pitbull's 'I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)' all kind of broke into the top 40," he said. "I think that's the moment that dance music started crossing over."

"It's only radio that's trying to catch on with what's happening," added Waxman, who is also a DJ and producer. "Radio used to dictate, and now it's not. Now the people are really kind of dictating what radio is playing ... and it has to be embraced by radio because they want to keep up with what's happening with the culture."

The Grammy Awards also took note of the growing trend: Deadmau5 hit the stage at this year's show in its first-ever electronic dance performance, and one of the top nominees was Skrillex, a then fairly unknown Los Angeles electronic DJ-producer whose sound is a mix of grunge and dubstep. The 24-year-old won three Grammys, and was nominated for one of the top prizes, best new artist. Two weeks before the awards, his EP "Bangarang" jumped to No. 14 on the charts, a chart high for Skrillex.

"You can never really say why it's popular, but for some reason it resonates with a lot of people," Skrillex said. "With music in general, you can see (the) sort of things that trend and it's all about rhythm and something you can move to and dance to, and I think it's fresh."

Swedish House Mafia, a trio of DJs, recently sold out Madison Square Garden, nearly transforming the famed venue to a smoky, pulsating nightclub. That was all done without a hit on the main Billboard singles chart; their song "Save the World" is an international success, though, and it hit the top spot on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs.

The performance by the group was reminiscent of the ever-popular electronic dance music festivals across the globe. Ultra Music Festival, the three-day event based in Miami which featured Avicii, Justice and more, had the most attendees in its 13-year history for a single day with 165,000 last week; Electric Zoo, another three-day festival, saw 85,000 people attend last September on New York's Randall Island; and Live Nation recently announced its new electronic festival, dubbed I Love This City. The two-day event will happen in San Francisco and San Diego in May and will feature Guetta, Tiesto, Skrillex, Steve Aoki, Laidback Luke and more.

Usher said attending the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last April inspired much of the material on his upcoming seventh album, which will feature Swedish Mafia House, Diplo, Klas Ahlund, Empire of the Sun and others.

"I had been already listening to different genres of music and kind of playing in the area of electronic, but when I went to that festival," he said, "it opened me up to a totally different experience, and my opportunity was then open to create this new genre of music and give validity to it through soul and electronic."

Guetta credits American acts who have embraced dance music with giving it validity — and popularity.

"I think the DJ culture was extremely underrated ... and there was this kind of fake, old idea that house music was for gay clubs and teenagers in raves on pills," Guetta said.

"I remember speaking to some record company people and they were saying, 'Oh, there's no scene in the U.S. for this music,'" he recalled. "And I invited them to come to a show that I was doing ... and there were 120,000 people there. So I was telling them, 'How can you feel that there's no scene when we can fill a stadium?'"


Mesfin Fekadu covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow him at

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