French electronic duo Daft Punk has declared their official breakup after nearly three decades. But the melancholy of this fact isn’t in the breakup itself, but rather in the announcement. With four years having passed since their last release and six more before that since they last performed, stating a breakup does little to change the day-to-day reality of the group for their fans: Their metaphoric kids are off at college now, and they could have lived their lives separately but together on paper without the trauma of divorce. Instead, they made the rather dramatic decision to announce their split through a video of one of them committing suicide via explosion, followed by the other watching the sunrise in the desert.
The theatrics of the statement do seem in line with the Daft Punk artistic ethos, but it’s the reality of it all that’s making fans feel so devastated: It’s one of the rare occasions in the duo’s career that you could actually say something concrete about them.
Who is the Daft Punk fan, exactly? To be a “Daft Punk guy” over the last several years is to be in somewhat of a neglectful relationship, but although the band’s output has remained minimal, their capacity for staying relevant hasn’t diminished. In part, this might be by virtue of their unique positioning in the music world: They’ve maintained the clout of hip Parisian house musicians while putting out universally acclaimed pop, something they only bolstered with their collaborations with Kanye West, Pharrell and the Weeknd. To be a Daft Punk guy is also to be a Kanye or Weeknd guy, but without the social signifiers that straightforward fans of someone like Kanye carry.
As my boyfriend, somewhat of a Daft Punk guy himself, says, “Daft Punk is ethereal.” In many ways, that makes being a Daft Punk guy easy: You get to enjoy pop music, even controversial pop music, without any of the strings of liking something wholeheartedly mainstream. This is a big part of the success of Daft Punk — while they don’t actually have complete anonymity, their commitment to the robot bit and lack of verbal statements both in their music and beyond has made them successful in staying relatively identity-less. Underneath those helmets, the group really could have been anyone, and countless tweets and memes have already been generated to this effect. “I really wish Daft Punk had not told us they were splitting up,” tweets @Caissie. “Just give a new guy the helmet & let us think everything is fine. I also wish my parents had worn helmets & done this. Maybe this is more of a conversation to have with a therapist.”
To be their fan, then, was to be relatively identity-less, as well. It offered an escape from the self and the messiness that comes with it. This, from a most optimistic perspective, is the hope of the music they made: It’s universally fun, sexy, meaningless but still intellectual, vaguely depressing but in a way that makes you want to party. Daft Punk created music that is recognized and danced to globally, but, by design, there was never much you could actually say about them. Now that they’re broken up, there is, and that ethereality has been eroded. The illusion is gone.
“Although I love their music, they were always so mysterious,” says @sonny5ideup, meme maker and musician, before adding, “In five years when they announce a new record and an actual tour, everyone will be excited and jumping for joy.” Indeed, it’s certainly possible that this is another PR ploy to stay relevant, and one that would indeed be on-brand for them. By breaking up, they’ve managed to become the subject of cultural conversation without saying anything at all.
Online though, many fans remain decidedly heartbroken. The announcement hypothetically seals off the opportunity that people will ever be able to take drugs and see them live again, but then, nothing about the last decade of Daft Punk’s career — or our collective state of affairs — indicated that would ever be a possibility in the near future, anyway. Their breakup effectively changes nothing: Just as we were before, we’ll be confined to pretending to grind our teeth to “Around the World” in our bedrooms.
Daft Punk could have let things remain as we knew them. By giving it finality, Daft Punk has transformed the intangible into the concrete. Now, of all times, they could’ve left us in a state of childish innocence instead.