Kygo x Donna Summer: the remix no one needed

Norwegian DJ Kygo is known for dance-worthy remixes of classic songs. Photo by Johannes Lovund/RCA Records

By Katharine Swindells
BU News Service

Here’s the thing about Norwegian DJ Kygo’s new release, a remix of 1979 smash hit “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer: it bangs. It’s amazing. It makes me long to be sweating glitter in a nightclub, throwing back mysterious-pink-flavor shots with the best friends I made in the toilets two hours earlier. But the reason it bangs has nothing to do with Kygo, and I refuse to give him credit.

Let us not forget, this song was a No.1 chart hit and was the first-ever winner of the Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Summer doesn’t beg for a man to share her bed; she dares him to take her up on her offer in a bold, exuberant call to arms. Kygo has wisely let the original song speak largely for itself on this track. He’s dialed up the beat to make it even more of a dance track and swapped the guitar solo for a satisfyingly thumping bass drop.

But he’s also smoothed out the edges of Summer’s iconic vocals, taking away the brass and rasp that shows her as a unique and powerful vocalist – because why would we want to know we were listening to music not made by a computer, right? The remix is dance-worthy, for sure, but the grit, the sensuality, and the raw fun of the original are gone. Kygo says he’s paying tribute to Summer, but in fact, he’s diluting her.

The song may be an unoriginal appropriation, but it’s the video that moves boredom into full-blown embarrassment. Disco was a subculture, born of the underbelly of America’s cities, where people of color and queers gathered and loved and danced, free from society’s eyes.

“Hot Stuff” has topped gay club playlists consistently for four decades and heralds a black woman proudly claiming her sexuality and agency. So why Kygo thought it would be at all interesting, let alone artistic, to showcase the most aggressively straight, white couple of all time, Chase Stokes and Madelyn Cline,  in this music video is entirely beyond me.

Stokes and Cline, who are mildly famous for playing good-looking teenagers on Netflix’s “Outer Banks,” stare into each other’s eyes, kiss, at one point – I kid you not – actually do the Saturday Night Fever dance. If it was possible to be the polar opposite of a subculture, this video is it. And the mere fact that Kygo felt his input was required on this track at all (to speak nothing of his other remixes of Whitney Houston and Tina Turner) speaks either to a profound level of obliviousness or, perhaps, white arrogance.

So, if you’re looking for a late-night dance track, leave this in the recesses of generic Spotify playlists where it belongs. Choose instead to celebrate young artists who are trying to make their name the hard way – not by cashing in on someone else’s genius, but by being unapologetically themselves and actually talented.

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