It's only after repeated listens that the subversive nature of " Hold Each Other," the sterling new single by Grammy-winning pop-rock duo A Great Big World, creeps in.
Melodically, the tune puts a fresh, uptempo spin on the piano-driven harmonies the band introduced in their signature tune, "Say Something," which became a smash after being re-recorded with Christina Aguilera. But it's the lyrics of the song, which features a guest rap by Futuristic and is the first cut from A Great Big World's as-yet-untitled sophomore album, that are generating the most buzz.
"Something happens when I hold him/He keeps my heart from getting broken," Chad King sings in the chorus, making "Hold Each Other" a rarity in mainstream pop music as a love song featuring lyrics sung by a male artist specifically addressed to another man that isn't a cover. The duo's other half, Ian Axel, is straight, and uses female pronouns in his verses.
King, who came out as gay eight years ago, told The Huffington Post in an interview that he and Axel didn't intend for "Hold Each Other" to be a political statement. Instead, he hopes the pronoun swap will resonate among listeners who have experienced the strides made toward gay and lesbian equality over the past several years. Axel echoed those sentiments, noting that the duo's aim is simply to write songs "as honestly as we can for ourselves … that move us first." Having his musical partner address his lyrics to a man, he added, "made sense for him."
Still, King experienced some personal trepidation when he arrived in the studio to record the song after Axel suggested he switch "her" to "him" and "she" to "he."
"I had a moment of doubt, because you don't hear that in pop music," King said. "It was a little uncomfortable for me, even as someone who is gay, because you're just not used to hearing that in a pop song."
Once that recording session had wrapped, Axel and King brought their new music to Epic Records CEO and industry stalwart L.A. Reid, who they said was adamant that "Hold Each Other" be the first single from the new album, currently slated for a November release. Whether or not the lyrical content of the song could impact its critical or commercial success, they said, didn't occur to Reid.
King won't name names, but acknowledges that "Hold Each Other" has encountered some resistance from radio programmers, some of whom have called the lyrics "too progressive" for their tastes.
That pushback, he said, "only makes me want to push the song out there even more. I should be comfortable singing about another guy. There should be no problem."
The pair sees "Hold Each Other" as representative of the new album, which they describe as "more joyous, more mature and a little more beat-driven" than their 2014 debut, "Is There Anybody Out There?"
As to whether or not they feel pressure to top the success of "Say Something," both Axel and King admit that it's easy to get caught up in sales and airplay figures. Nonetheless, Axel said the pair is working "on not tying [our] happiness to commercial success. If we can connect to one person, if we can help that one person…what an amazing gift."
In regard to his place in a pop music scene that has embraced out performers like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean, King noted, "It's hard to say that I even want to be on that level. It's more about telling my truth in this place I am in life. I can't go wrong with being true to myself and true to the world when I'm spreading this message in song."
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