When it comes to EDM, Zedd is the star that the scene needs. He went from being courted by Skrillex on MySpace to the title track from his debut album, Clarity, thrusting him into the limelight. He’s out to preserve the “music” in Electronic Dance Music, and is on track to achieving that goal, even if that means that his sophomore follow-up, True Colors, does more in the way of revisiting those heights than taking us on exciting new adventures.
If there’s one thing we know that Zedd can do, it’s craft a huge hit. Many who followed EDM knew that his breakout hit, “Clarity,” had pop appeal, but no one was expecting it to not only go 2x platinum in America, as well as win a Best Dance Recording Grammy. Following in those footsteps is the lead single from True Colors, the Selena Gomez-featuring “I Wanna Know,” which marries festival-ready melodies with stadium-sized hooks…a.k.a. the definitive EDM crossover hit. Which is cool. Why we’re immediately hit with the “ba-ba-ba” of “Beautiful” with Jon Bellion is confusing. It’s not a total retread, but one of the constants of True Colors is Zedd’s ability to craft huge sing-alongs. And while we established that Zedd’s the star that EDM needs, that’s not to say that this is all we want from him.
He does throw some solid curves into the mix. The long-awaited collaboration with Logic, “Transmission” (which also features X Ambassadors), is a world of sound that marries rapid-fire hip-hop lines with driving, intense electro beats. Sure, it’s still marred with those flourishes that would sound perfect in a movie scene featuring an outcast finally bossing up. The segue from the title track into “Straight Into the Fire” is a thing of beauty; we get a true, epic moment, sweeping a more melancholy, somber moment that climaxes into ecstasy.
The album’s true gem, though, isn't even vocal-driven. Zedd lets his hair down, links up with Botnek, and crafts a ferocious number titled “Bumble Bee.” For all of Zedd’s magic when it comes to crafting radio-ready singles, it’s in tracks like “Bumble Bee” that one might realize how vocal-heavy this album is. Maybe it’s the album’s length; an 11-track LP isn’t uncommon, but having 10 of those 11 bits featuring some kind of vocal in them? Hell, Clarity spanned 10 tracks, but even then we got four solid non-vocal tracks. That’s not to say that EDM albums need to “get back to basics” and be purely instrumental-based—that’s not the way anyone should be thinking when EDM continues to build a space in the mainstream conversation. It’s an intriguing conundrum: You can’t fault a guy for striking while the iron’s hot, right? For Zedd to a) maintain his position on the Billboard charts and b) continue to reap the benefits of being a bonafide EDM star (ranging from song credits on Lady Gaga tracks to Budweiser endorsements), he has to keep these uplifting tunes in abundance, for good or ill.
The problem might be that Zedd’s too good at crafting these bangers that will get your mom jamming on her way to Pilates.
The problem might be that Zedd’s too good at crafting these bangers that will get your mom jamming on her way to Pilates. For those of us who know how fierce Zedd’s material can be with cuts like “Shave It Up” or remember how brilliantly he can remix bits like the Legend of Zelda theme, it can be difficult to get mostly the vocal-driven songs. In True Colors’ closing track, “Illusion,” Zedd might as well be speaking to us through Echosmith: maybe “this love is your illusion.” Maybe we “should’ve known better.” Maybe the bitter pill of artist growth is hard to swallow. Or maybe we’ve lived through the “Clarity”/“Stay the Night” era of Zedd and want to see both sides of the coin emerging.
Ultimately, Zedd’s True Colors shows the guy is brilliant at what he does, and for those who want to get all in their feelings on the way to a festival or to soundtrack a beach date with bae (or a group of friends), this will be the disc to keep on repeat. Clocking in at a hair over 50 minutes, True Colors could become the proper definition of mainstream EDM for years to come.