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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

On house music and perspective through the lens of "Rain On Me"

A 2020 chart-topper is: 1) the kin of 90s French house; 2) a good starting point for a discussion on interpreting and connecting to music.

Over the past few days, I’ve gone from 2006 (“Crazy”) to 2015 (“Here”) to this year (“We’re Good”) in my Senior Year Soundtrack selections. Today I’m keeping with my trend of more recent music, looking at my favorite Billboard number-one song of the 2020s so far.

I’m shocked I’ve gone up to the tenth day of this blog and playlist without discussing house music. I came to know and love the genre around 2012, when I heard house songs like Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child” on Top 40 radio. From there I dove into a rabbit hole of electronic tracks on YouTube, becoming fully engrossed in the sound in the process.

Among house’s many sub-genres, I quickly found a soft spot for French house. Acts like Daft Punk and Cassius captured me with their euphoric disco-derived (and often disco-sampling) sound. The Chaka Khan-sampling “Music Sounds Better With You,” by Stardust — a one-time collab between Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, Alan Braxe, and singer Benjamin Diamond) — is a perfect distillation of the genre… but it’s not the track I’m covering today, because that was released in 1998. Rather, it’s an excellent pre-listen to help contextualize the sound of today’s selection.

Listened yet? Awesome. Had you not had today’s Senior Year Soundtrack addition spoiled to you by this post’s title, you probably would’ve stood a good chance to guess it out of the pack of 2020 and ’21 chart-toppers. Yes, it’s “Rain on Me,” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Gaga’s album Chromatica (which just had a remix album released today, making this selection even more fitting) is an ode to 1990s house, and “Rain On Me” stands out as a tribute to the French touch of the era.

“Rain On Me” doesn’t have any direct samples, but it does have a replaying of the bass line from Gwen McCrae’s 1979 R&B/soul track “All This Love That I'm Givin’.” That’s a track with some sampling history of its own, having been sampled by artists including the aforementioned Cassius (“Feeling for You”) and Avicii (“My Feelings for You,” with Sebastian Drums). As well as providing the bass line for the chorus of “Rain On Me,” McCrae’s track likely influenced the guitar sound on which producers BloodPop and Burns landed — a funk-like sound that has a bit of wetness through its filtering. The French house sound is further reinforced by the violins in the pre-chorus, which evoke the sounds of Philly soul and disco samples.

Meanwhile, plenty of the current sound of the genre is also present. The drumbeat gives off more more of a modern house sound in its crispness and use of snares in the build-up, and the filtering into and during the bridge section is definitely a 2010s-derived sound. The vocals also sound quite current, as they're very forward in the mix and were given a relatively long reverb; compare to the dry, less forward vocals from 90s house productions. I'm personally glad that the producers didn't go entirely in the retro direction, because then it would've just sounded stale (see: much of the 80s-inspired pop hits of the last two-plus years). Instead, it strikes a modern/tribute balance while also standing out because of its rarer point of inspiration in the current pop scene.

Getting into the lyrics, I enjoy just how many different ways the titular rain can be interpreted. These include:

  • Tears, representing Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande having struggled and battled through substantial pain to get to where they are. Gaga touched on this side of rain in relation to the song at the 2020 VMAs.

  • Others' opinions and negativity, which the artists have become able to endure, if not look past, as they have matured as musicians and as people. The VMAs interview also relates to this interpretation.

  • Absolution/washing away, particularly when relating to sins. Such a viewpoint can also represent a rebirth, at least in a spiritual sense.

  • Alcoholism, evoking the amounts consumed as one battles with alcohol abuse. Gaga has been open on this topic in the Chromatica era, with one notable instance being an Apple Music interview with Zane Lowe.

The simultaneous beauty of and frustration with musical and lyrical analysis is that there's never one universal interpretation. Even when artists discuss lyrics and inspirations behind tracks, that just indicates how one person relates to the music. I like learning about what artists think of their own lyrics, and I happened to highlight part of that perspective above, but each listener's personal connection to the music and lyrics is more important in terms of how the song truly affects and reaches them. As for me, I connect to "Rain On Me" musically because of its house sound more than anything else. Lyrically, I hear it as an ode to perseverance in a world where it's so easy to be brought down, or to bring yourself down. The bad days and the trials are inevitable, but one always has the ability to both transform the experiences into positives and learn from them. It's a lesson many, myself included, have learned the hard way, and it's something I hear celebrated by Gaga and Grande... but I assume each of you reading see things or connect to the music at least slightly differently from me, and that's beautiful (and I'd love to hear about your experiences with this track and others through comments or social channels). That's music at its core: a sound for the masses, but a meaning for the individual.


A two-pronged postscript:

1) In researching for this post, I found a cool version of "Rain On Me" with the original Gwen McCrae sample as backing. It would fit right into a mix with some early house like Black Box and Kerri Chandler.

2) As I mentioned earlier in the article, Lady Gaga just released a remix album, entitled Dawn of Chromatica. The remix of "Rain On Me," by Venezuelan producer Arca, is quite the shift from the original, and I don't know what exactly to make of it yet. I'll leave a link here so that you can start forming your own thoughts on it too.


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