UPDATE: After this post went live another new song from Ansel Elgort has surfaced online. Click here to discover “All I Think About is You” and hear the song we did not have an opportunity to cover in this feature.
ORIGINAL POSTWith Baby Driver rolling into theaters this summer there has been an increasingly amount of attention on the film’s star, Ansel Elgort, and his quickly rising notoriety. Elgort was far from a nobody when production on the project began, having already contributed notable roles in The Divergent Series and The Fault In Our Stars, but the early response to this film from Edgar Wright looks to put the twenty-three year old actor on a new plane of celebrity that he has not yet experienced. Doors are opening and with them comes options. Ansel will ultimately choose his own path, but if there is any good in this universe it will convince him to spend more time on his music as it could potentially put him in the same rarified air of crossover success that names like Jennifer Lopez, Donald Glover, and Will Smith inhabit.
Back in 2014, shortly after making his acting debut in the reboot of Carrie, Ansel launched a Soundcloud page under the name Ansølo to publish electronic dance music, including a number of high profile remixes. His first original release was a collaboration with Special Features titled “Unite,” which was posted online with a free download that remains available to this day:
Elgort’s music quickly began to spread online, thanks undoubtedly to his rising profile in Hollywood, and by the fall of 2014 he was performing at some of the most popular EDM events in the world. He never released a proper album or EP, but the four original tracks released under the Ansølo pseudonym are still available for free today, as well as several of his remixes.
By the end of 2015 Elgort’s life had forever changed. He was no longer the next big thing in young Hollywood, but one of the faces representing young Hollywood. His face was plastered on Billboards and movie marquees all over the world. He had become a bonafide star in a world other than music, which came with a new set of demands that lessened his time for music. If Island/Universal had not taken notice of his underdeveloped music career and signed Ansel before the year was out he may have eventually walked away altogether. Instead, Elgort got a second chance in a business where such opportunities are rare, and he chose to make the most of it by any means necessary.
In early 2016 the Ansølo moniker is laid to rest so that Elgort could reintroduce himself as a pop artist under his real name. His first single, “Home Alone,” debuted in the middle of July and showcased Elgort’s singing voice for the first time without completely abandoning the electronic sound that helped him first get established. The world of pop at large did not take much notice to the track, but fans of Elgort were excited by what they saw to be a positive change. The young man who had become famous for playing other people and making noise was finally starting to reveal more of the person he really was and those who appreciated that fact could not get enough.
Professionally speaking, “Home Alone” was probably not the best choice for a debut single, or at least not for the time it was released. The production is great and Elgort’s voice is powerful as ever, but the accessibility for the average pop music fan is a different discussion altogether. The kind of EDM meets pop sound the masses were craving in the summer of 2016 came from The Chainsmokers’ smash hit “Closer,” which “Home Alone” is definitely not. This is something that goes bit further, experimenting as most mainstream songs never do. It’s a catchy song, but not necessarily a hit.
Elgort had already completed his work on Baby Driver by the time “Home Alone” was released, but there was a full slate of additional projects awaiting his time. As such, “Home Alone” came and went from the public eye without as much as a proper music video. Elgort also did not tour, nor has he made any live appearances since reemerging in his current pop music form.
In February of this year Elgort was released arguably his best single to date with “Thief,” a driving dance track about love and the heartache of a heartbreaker that better balanced the pop sensibilities of the lyrics with Ansel’s passion for electronic music. His tone on the song conveys a deep turmoil in the wake of complication relationship troubles instigated by his own foolishness. It’s as if he’s conveying to the listener the thoughts most would save for their journal, and in doing so sharing a vivid story the plays like something you might find in one of his films.
It could be argued that, again, the sound of “Thief” does not align with anything currently topping the charts. The song is catchier and far better structured than “Home Alone,” but it’s missing that intangible bit of magic that turns otherwise great songs into ear worms that people spend weeks or even years trying to forget. They do this not because they hate the song in question, but because their obsession with it lead them to listen again and again until they inevitably burned out from overexposure. That’s the sign you have a hit, and “Thief” might have been able to get there with a bit more promotion from Ansel or his label. The video is a step up, but it’s still underwhelming in a time where unsigned artists are practically creating original media content daily in an attempt to be cared about by the world at large. It’s another case of being good, but not good enough to be great, largely for reasons that have little to do with the music itself.
Elgort’s latest single, the Logic-assisted song “You Can Count On Me,” was released at the beginning of June. Elgort’s voice has been manipulated ever so slightly to better match the mid tempo house production, but the themes are familiar. Here he’s once again singing about love and romance, only this time it is with the desire to develop a deeper connection with a single individual. It’s the modern love song equivalent to the remix of “I’m Real,” which makes Elgort Jennifer Lopez and transforms Logic into Ja Rule. The song feels the closest to what is already popular at radio out of everything Elgort has released to date, but it is also the worst at showcasing him as an artist. This is more of the same, just another generic pop song that could have been created by any singer/rapper combination. It what gains in accessibility it loses in originality, as it lacks practically all the theatrics and vocal work that made “Home Alone” and “Thief” feel like a breath of fresh air.
The funny thing about the music business, and in fact all of entertainment, is that it is rarely the best version of something that becomes the most popular. Most musicians will tell you their biggest song is not their personal favorite, it’s just the one people seem to like more than the others for reasons they may never fully understand. The same goes with movies. Filmmakers can pour their hearts into a project that only a few hundred people see and love, but if they take a major studio offer to join some kind of cinematic universe their work – regardless of passion or originality – will be seen by exponentially more people. The easiest stuff to sell is the stuff those in power like to sell, and as far as Ansel Elgort’s music career is concerned “You Can Count On Me” may be the path of least resistance when it comes to becoming a pop star. It’s just enough like everything else to get added to regular rotation and important playlists. If a song can do that, all Ansel needs to do is empower his already devout followers to keep the song trending in various music circles until he has time to share something a bit more in line with his true solo material.
With “Thief” having been out for nearly four months now the likelihood Island/Universal will push it to radio or other promotional avenues any harder than they already have seems minimal. If any song is going to propel Ansel Elgort to the top of the music business in the wake of Baby Driver’s success it has to be “You Can Count On Me.” It may not be his best work, but it is his most radio friendly, and that can go a long way in this crazy business of music. With the right push and a little bit of luck Elgort could easily have his highest charting week in music at the same time his first true leading role arrives in several thousand theaters around the globe. Not only would this be a great accomplishment that few can claim, but it would further solidify Elgort’s impending status as the next big superstar of his generation. In a time where all forms of popular entertainment are constantly ridiculed for their predictability we have here a young man with a voice unlike anything in music who is crafting catchy, original pop songs constructed with the latest production technology. He is, in short, the future, and anyone with half a brain would be wise to recognize that sooner than later. Don’t get left behind.