A brief note before you listen to the song mentioned in the headline: you’re initially going to be very confused. You might be like, “what is this garbage that sounds like the contents of Max Martin’s Bad Ideas folder?” Listen, I totally get it. Just be patient. Play the track a couple of times. Really let it sink in; try to absorb what you’re hearing. If, after a few spins you’re still convinced you hate “Rave in the Grave,” feel free to come sit by me because I hate it too. Unfortunately, however, it is my duty to inform you of its existence. You’ll see why.
Last week, taking a cue from a Twitter thread initiated by journalist Adrian Chen, The FADER published a piece praising “Rave in the Grave,” a very specific type of popular song that could only blow up under very specific circumstances.
At first pass, “Rave in the Grave” is completely confounding. In the music video, a lengthy introductory scene depicts a small family huddled around an opulent dinner table in an even more opulent castle that looks as though it could be situated in Siberia.
The pretty, dark-haired vocalist, who happens to be AronChupa’s little sister Nora, investigates a disturbance in the night and descends stone dungeon steps to discover her deceased grandmother, seemingly resurrected and wearing sunglasses, sitting placidly in the center of an enthusiastic crowd of revelling elderly people. “Holy fuckin’ shit,” says Nora, and off we go.
How to describe the musical elements that comprise “Rave in the Grave?” The first sensation the listener experiences is discomfort bordering on disgust as a springy, polka-like melody bloops in over a tinny drumbeat so obvious it might as well be branding your forehead with the word CATCHY. The lyrics are simple. A chorus of EDM voices cries that they don’t want to be alive, they want to die, so they can rave. It’s mostly the words “rave in the grave” repeated over and over, and then the song ends. Frankly it sucks, but what should be an abject flop is, somehow, a hit.
The Swedish electro-swing dance track is by musician and DJ AronChupa, a former professional soccer player who first struck gold on the charts with 2014’s “I’m an Albatraoz,” which currently has 951,984,451 views on YouTube. That’s nearly a billion hits; Ariana Grande’s video for her smash song “Into You,” which peaked at number 13 on the US Billboard rankings and spent 24 weeks on American radio charts, only has 609,998,793 views.
“I’m an Albatraoz” is within spitting distance of the top 100 most-watched YouTube videos of all time. For reference, Katy Perry’s “Firework” video (number 99) has been viewed 1,113,168,784 times (number 1 is the music video for Despacito, which has a staggering view count of 5,381,160,273).
“Rave in the Grave” isn’t performing on the same level as “Albatraoz” yet, but it definitely still qualifies as a hit; a listener on Twitter reports that he heard the song on the radio in Poland “several times a day” when he visited last month, and streaming statistics confirm that the song is also doing big numbers in Slovakia and Norway. Why?
To answer this question, first consider the song that originally put AronChupa on the map. “I’m an Albatraoz” is better than “Rave in the Grave,” but only slightly.
The signature EDM bass drop whomps into your bones in a good-natured, routine sort of way, and the vocalist (Nora again) sounds bratty and infectious when she taunts “Fuck that little mouse / cuz I’m an Albatraoz.” The song’s subject matter is straightforward pop fare: screw you, I’m better than you, etc. The combined effect seems unique, but AronChupa’s sound is actually savvily culled from influential trends of the recent past.
Firstly, the EDM punch-swing first exploded into global consciousness over a decade ago with early viral hits like “Now You’re Gone“ by Basshunter, which helped to establish the ironclad links between online video views and chart success which persists to this day. Listen to “Now You’re Gone” and all the AronChupa trademarks are there: a kicky beat; soaring, skittery synths; and a chorus that’s set in a register easy for everyone to sing along to.
But Swede pop melody excellence isn’t all that’s going on here. Consider the subject matter of AronChupa’s ridiculous songs, which don’t seek to establish any deep meaning, and it won’t take long for you to realize how much of his success is owed to trolling, AKA doing or making something with the sole intent of getting people riled up; causing a reaction for causing a reaction’s sake. Trolling is very popular on Twitter.
Trolling, of course, is an ancient pastime as integral to human nature as breathing which only got more sophisticated with the rise of the internet. When parody masters The Lonely Island sing “I just had sex / and it felt so good,” that’s a joke. When AronChupa’s vocalist Nora sings “I got a llama in my living room,” to which you can only say “um, what?”—that’s trolling.
AronChupa’s embarrassingly earnest music is on the same family tree as the massively successful troll song “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?),” which delightfully parodies all the Europop tropes audiences know and love (dramatic lyrics, bouncy beats, lilting vocals) while also managing to create a work of art (it’s true, sorry) that stands on its own.
Ylvis (the comedy duo behind “The Fox”) and AronChupa are both aware that they’re trolling. “It’s just some stupid song, pretty much,” AronChupa told VICE in an interview about “I’m an Albatraoz.” “The plan was just to show it to friends, really. Then it happened in Borås, right by Gothenburg in Sweden where we’re from, and then to the whole country. I thought ‘Man, that was easy…'”
And thus we can understand the thinking that went into “Rave in the Grave,” a moronic few minutes of electronic hiccups and blips which adheres cynically to well-established melodic patterns that are guaranteed to get stuck in your head. In the established tradition of a troll song, its catchiness will haunt you for decades to come. Remember “The Gummy Bear Song?” Remember “Axel F?” Yeah, I wish I didn’t either.