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Like ‘Minions,’ Jack Antonoff is inescapable

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For a man who bought his first large break with a music known as “We Are Young,” Jack Antonoff positive appears fixated on outdated music.

Finally month’s Bonnaroo competition in Tennessee, Antonoff — former guitarist of the pop-rock trio enjoyable., whose exultant (if considerably cringe) 2012 smash about youth topped Billboard’s Sizzling 100 for six weeks on its technique to profitable music of the yr on the Grammy Awards — convened a bunch of musician buddies for an all-star tribute to his beginning yr of 1984.

Final week, he performed Inglewood’s Kia Discussion board together with his present group, Bleachers, which stopped channeling Bruce Springsteen’s time-honored ideas on women and New Jersey solely to cowl Tom Waits’ “Jersey Woman.”

A number of days after that present, the newest “Minions” film landed in theaters with an Antonoff-assembled soundtrack of indelible ’70s hits newly recorded by the likes of Thundercat, Kali Uchis, St. Vincent, H.E.R. and Caroline Polachek. “The Rise of Gru,” because the animated movie is named, set a Fourth of July box office record, which nearly definitely implies that hundreds of thousands extra grade-schoolers have now heard “Fly Like an Eagle” than had the weekend earlier than.

It’s no surprise Antonoff, 38, retains rifling by the used bins: Outdated music is large enterprise today, with so-called catalog materials accounting for 70% of what was streamed final yr on providers reminiscent of Spotify and Apple Music, in response to MRC Information. Thanks largely to TikTok, classic tunes like Fleetwood Mac’s “Goals” and Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” have surged onto streaming charts; Kate Bush’s “Operating Up That Hill (A Take care of God)” sits at No. 6 on the Sizzling 100, forward of Beyoncé’s new single, after it was prominently featured in Netflix’s “Stranger Issues.”

Certainly, “The Rise of Gru” isn’t this summer time’s solely Hollywood blockbuster with a soundtrack of acquainted melodies. For his splashy tackle the lifetime of Elvis Presley, Baz Luhrmann recruited Doja Cat, Eminem, Kacey Musgraves and Stevie Nicks, amongst others, to punch up Presley’s music, whereas “Prime Gun: Maverick” recycles Kenny Loggins’ “Hazard Zone” to accompany an almost shot-for-shot re-creation of the unique “Prime Gun’s” opening sequence.

But Antonoff’s retro leanings have truly made him a significant participant shaping the sound of contemporary pop. Greater than Bleachers — a reasonably profitable alt-rock radio act headlining an enviornment for the primary time on the Discussion board — what he’s finest identified for is his production and songwriting for superstars together with Taylor Swift and Lorde and acclaimed critics’ faves reminiscent of Lana Del Rey, Clairo and St. Vincent. When the Chicks bought again collectively a few years in the past (minus the “Dixie”), the groundbreaking nation trio employed Antonoff to supervise their return; when Olivia Rodrigo revised the credit for her album “Bitter” to acknowledge some essential inspirations (and maybe to stave off a copyright lawsuit or two), Antonoff’s title was amongst these added. At April’s Grammys ceremony he was named producer of the yr — one in all 4 Grammys he’s gained, together with enjoyable.’s two, for his behind-the-scenes studio work.

Antonoff’s contact — his means to mix basic and cutting-edge, cult and mass, intimate and anthemic — has confirmed sufficiently zeitgeist-y that he’s began attracting older musicians keen to attach with followers of the millennial and Gen Z artists who idolize them: Diana Ross and Earth, Wind & Hearth’s Verdine White each seem on the “Rise of Gru” soundtrack, whereas Springsteen himself puts in a cameo on Bleachers’ third LP, 2021’s “Take the Unhappiness Out of Saturday Evening,” which bought no increased than No. 27 on the Billboard 200 however which scored Bleachers a last-minute reserving on “Saturday Evening Reside” in January after Roddy Ricch bailed as a consequence of a COVID publicity.

So what’s it exactly that Antonoff does? In interviews, he routinely describes his manufacturing strategy as an act of emotional availability — establishing a safe atmosphere for artists to precise themselves, then responding in a manner that encourages them to maintain going additional than they in any other case would possibly. No matter association he helps devise relies upon solely, in his telling, on the place the artist has led him. “Manufacturing isn’t somebody with the best snare sound,” he instructed The Occasions in 2019. “Manufacturing is the thought.”

It’s a willful throwback to a extra collaborative, exploratory age earlier than hitmakers like Max Martin and the Neptunes offered pop stars and rappers with almost completed tracks awaiting a marquee vocal efficiency; it’s additionally, within the wake of sexual-abuse allegations towards the once-powerful Dr. Luke, a shrewd assurance of his respect for girls within the office. (Jack Antonoff: the unique gentleminion.) So inescapable did he appear final yr {that a} delicate backlash started forming amongst listeners who felt he’d overplayed his hand as a feminine ally — not less than till he turned up but once more as Florence Welch’s right-hand man on Florence + the Machine’s well-received “Dance Fever.”

Two men and a woman on the red carpet at the Grammy Awards

Aaron Dessner, Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff on the 63rd Grammy Awards on March 14, 2021.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Occasions)

Nonetheless, that framing downplays Antonoff’s reliance on a wide range of sonic hallmarks: booming drums, ethereal synths, snaking guitar traces, reverb-drenched vocals, every rooted in a lifetime of obsessive listening and tinkering with each devices and software program. Which you could detect his fingerprints all through the songs from “Minions” — even in cuts as distinct as Phoebe Bridgers’ winsome tackle the Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love” and Brockhampton’s swaggering run by “Hollywood Swinging” by Kool & the Gang — is a sign of how finely he’s honed his textural palette. Possibly too finely: For Bleachers’ rendition of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma!” Antonoff made the insane option to forgo the late Alan White’s iconic drum fill.

Antonoff, an occasional tabloid presence because of his relationships with actresses Lena Dunham and Margaret Qualley, isn’t alone in his aptitude for barely denaturing sounds acquainted to any music fan. Good, young-ish acts curious in regards to the historical past of pop and rock — your Haims and Vampire Weekends and Girl Gagas — have sought out different writer-producers reminiscent of Ariel Rechtshaid, Rostam, Blake Mills and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, the final of whom teamed with Ross and Antonoff for a standout unique, “Flip Up the Sunshine,” for “The Rise of Gru.”

Taken collectively, these guys’ efforts replicate an period during which the inventive intuition has grown inseparable from the curatorial one — when the one technique to say one thing trustworthy about your life is to acknowledge that every of your experiences was formed by those that skilled after which sang about them earlier than you probably did.

“I miss Lengthy Seaside and I miss you, babe / I miss dancing with you probably the most of all,” Del Rey purrs in “The Best,” a stately piano ballad she and Antonoff co-wrote for 2019’s richly allusive (and endlessly memeable) “Norman F— Rockwell!” “I miss the bar the place the Seaside Boys would go / Dennis’ final cease earlier than ‘Kokomo.’”

What does distinguish Antonoff, who got here up enjoying in punk bands in his native New Jersey earlier than breaking out with enjoyable., is his eagerness to neglect that he is aware of all that. Fronting Bleachers on the Discussion board, he started the present in proudly nerdy media-studies mode, mumbling the band’s “91,” about watching the Gulf Warfare on TV, in entrance of a flickering field; inside quarter-hour or so, he pretended to resolve that the sweater he’d worn onstage had been a foul transfer.

“No f— manner I’m enjoying this music in a cardigan,” he mentioned as he tore it off (alongside together with his Coke-bottle eyeglasses) to disclose a sleeveless T-shirt, his bandmates revving up the monstrous and chiming “How Dare You Need Extra” behind him. And that was the place Antonoff, maybe the unlikeliest rock star since Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, achieved one thing like an escape into the fantasy his music holds out. It’s not that the songs about grief and ambition had been mapping new thematic territory; it’s positively not that the “Born to Run” glockenspiel licks had been doing one thing you’d by no means heard.

However the emotional power felt extremely pure as he and the remainder of Bleachers pushed their technique to a candy spot the place you couldn’t inform the distinction between a blaring guitar and a blaring saxophone. He wasn’t misplaced within the music, precisely, however he didn’t appear to wish to discover his manner again.