For a straight man, Jack Antonoff has impeccable taste in knowing what the girls and gays want.
You might know him as the lead singer of Bleachers, the guitarist from the band Fun., or maybe even Lena Dunham’s ex-fiancé. To me and other pop music stans, Antonoff is today’s No. 1 pop star — even though we rarely hear his throaty New Jersey accent.
He’s the bitch that has us spending too much money on crop tops while listening to Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” The guy to send your therapy bill to because Lorde’s “Liability” reminded you of all the awkward things you did at that one party before the quarantine. And the dude to point blame at when the cops asked why left your cheating ex a threatening voicemail after listening to the Chicks’ “Gaslighter.” Your newfound weed dependency after listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Venice Bitch”? Yeah, that’s Daddy Antonoff’s doing.
On Friday the 24th, Antonoff’s leading artistic partner Ms. Swift dropped her surprise eighth album, Folklore. In her announcement, Tay mentioned Antonoff among the “heroes” she worked with on the record, saying he’s “basically musical family at this point.” This is their fourth consecutive album together, after 1989, Reputation and Lover. They won Album of the Year in 2016 for 1989.
So where did this pop music mastermind come from? Antonoff, whose high school ex and 2002 prom date was Scarlett Johansson, first broke out as the guitarist for Fun., every Tumblr girl’s favorite 2008 band, alongside the Format’s Nate Ruess and Andrew Dost. The trio released two albums, Aim and Ignite and Some Nights. They won Best New Artist at the Grammys in 2013, then never released an original album together again.
Antonoff started producing more, writing on and EP-ing albums for Lorde, Swift, Lana Del Ray, Kevin Abstract of Brockhampton, and the Chicks. He’s also worked on tracks for Sara Bareilles, Pink, St. Vincent, Banks, Troye Sivan, Carly Rae Jepsen, FKA Twigs and Sia. This is all in addition to being a member of the bands Red Hearse and Bleachers.
One fan playlist on Spotify calls him the king of synth pop. (Somewhere in the East Village, Stephin Merritt is smirking.)
This isn’t to say other producers aren’t putting out hit tracks. Leland is giving us crying-in-the-quarantine-club thanks to his work with Selena Gomez and Troye Sivan. Finneas said “Let’s get spooky” with his sister Billie Eilish’s music. There’s also Max Martin, Charlie Puth, Rick Rubin and J. White Did It.
Still, Antonoff occupies a specific niche in pop. He evokes a timeless teen spirit. So the best way to understand the Jack aesthetic and why every Top 40 artist wants to go off with Antonoff is listening to the soundtrack for Love, Simon — the “groundbreaking” 2018 gay rom-com about a suburban kid who loves iced coffee, chalk bedroom walls and sherpa jackets. Antonoff curated the album, featuring music by Bleachers, Troye Sivan, Normani, Khalid and the 1975.
Antonoff, who isn’t gay, told Entertainment Weekly in 2018 that he wanted to give my generation a teen soundtrack as iconic as Reality Bites was for him in 1994. “Any of those songs, if I hear them anywhere, I can be in a fucking mall, I could be in the airport, and I just get rocketed right back to a moment and a feeling,” Antonoff said.
That’s how I feel about Antonoff. Be it Lorde’s breathy depression-crooning on Melodrama or Kevin Abstract’s queer halcyon rapping on Arizona Baby, Antonoff’s productions don’t sound like they’ve been offered up to the highest bidder. There’s something recognizable and comforting about his ability to encapsulate the feeling of being young, aspirational and thinking you have some wholeheartedly original to say — even if all you have to say is “You know I love a London boy.”