EDM has struck a popular music chord and many of the genre’s songs are big time crossover hits. Take note the next time you are in a club and hear Swedish House Mafia come on—look around at the guaranteed sing along that ensues. People know the words—that’s a semi-given considering the repetitive nature of the lyrics—but rarely can they attribute them to the talented artist behind them. The guy singing in “Don’t You Worry Child” could be standing next to you at the bar and you would have no idea.
There are a lot of reasons why this is the case but the largest is that DJs/producers are the stars in the EDM world. The vocalists are generally, and sadly so, an after thought. Thankfully, one of the few exceptions to this oversight is Avicii’s “Levels,” an iconic EDM song that begins and ends with an Etta James sample.
Since Etta instances aren’t likely the norm, here is a tribute to the lesser known serenaders who have provided the backing track for many a night out on the town (editor’s note: at the end of this article there is a Spotify playlist where you can listen to every song mentioned):
In the last three years, John Martin, the main vocalist for Swedish House Mafia, has made himself a perma-presence on the EDM circuit. His most known side artist appearances are:
Song – “Don’t You Worry Child”
Artist/Producer – Swedish House Mafia
Song – “Save the World”
Artist/Producer – Swedish House Mafia
Martin is a singer/songwriter from Stockholm. While working in the studio with his writing partner Michel Zitron in December 2010, he met Sebastian Ingrosso for the first time. Before they left the studio that day, “Save the World” was born. From there he met Avicii (Martin co-wrote “Fade Into Darkness” with Zitron) and has continued to work with Swedish House Mafia. He is dropping an album with Zitron later this year.
Steve Edwards has been around the EDM scene for a long time. He has given it a go as a solo artist but hasn’t had much success despite his vocals on several massive hits:
Song – “The Sound of Violence”
Artist/Producer – Cassius
Song – “World, Hold on”
Artist/Producer – Bob Sinclar
Song – “Watch the Sunrise”
Artist/Producer – Axwell
There was a two-year period a few years back when you couldn’t leave the house without hearing Bob Sinclar’s “World, Hold On.” If the song gets played in a club today, the majority of the people in the club still know the words, but if asked who sings the song? Blank stare. Well, the answer is Steve Edwards.
Sia Furler should be a star. It may still happen for this super talented singer/songwriter but there is no question her Q rating (Q rating is an entertainment industry standard that identifies the familiarity of an athlete, celebrity, licensed property, TV show, or brand) is way lower than it ought to be. She provides vocals on two massive club hits:
Song – “Titanium”
Artist/Producer – David Guetta
Song – “Wild Ones”
Artist – “Flo Rida”
If that isn’t enough proof of her lack of proof, she also wrote the lyrics to Rihanna’s wildly popular “Diamonds.” She’s worked with Madonna and Christina Aguilera as well. The Australia born Furler had some relative success on her own with an album that reached the Billboard Top 30. In fact, she’s released multiple LPs, performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and appeared on stage with David Guetta—to sing “Titanium”—at Coachella in 2012. The 37-year-old has been in the industry for a long time (she started off in the Acid Jazz scene in the early ‘90s), but again, she could sit down at your table and chances are you wouldn’t know who she was (unless you’re a huge fan of the movie “Crash”).
Everyone between the age of 13 and 45 who likes popular music should know who Skylar Grey is.
For the 1-12ers and 46+, here’s all you need to know: she wrote and performed on songs with Dr. Dre (“I Need a Doctor”), Eminem and Rihanna (“I Love the Way You Lie”), P Diddy (“Coming Home”) and Kaskade (“Room for Happiness”). That is pretty much as baller as it gets. (BTW – If you are a fan of these songs, you should pick up her EP, “The Buried Sessions of Skylar Grey”). She is beautiful, has a tremendous voice and writes.
It is hard to say why she isn’t a big star but hopefully that will come in time. It could just be the politics of the music business but something seems off. This past weekend at Kaskade’s performance during Ultra (click here for a little Kaskade at Ultra), “Room for Happiness” was one of the high points. Thousands of revelers sang along. However, if Grey had just served them a Red Bull and Vodka, they would have had no idea.
Vaughan Mason is a pioneer in electronic music. He was a key member of the group Raze and was an instrumental part of the post-disco, funk era of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Mason performs vocals on two of the biggest club songs of all time. Both are from a different era but each still resonate with the club crowd.
Song – “Break 4 Love”
Artist – Raze
Song – “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll”
Artist – Vaughan Mason and Crew
Neither song is EDM in the traditional sense of the term (although Raze is considered by many to be one of the first EDM groups). That being said, both songs will 100% be played as part of someone’s set at Miami Music Week this year. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an old-school House music aficionado, you have likely heard ‘80s club anthem “Break 4 Love” (most likely, during late-night escapades). “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” is more for the hip-hop and roller-skating crowd, but it pops up as a sample in EDM sets nonetheless.
This is a bit of a trick entry. Calvin’s image is quite known in the EDM world given his status as a mega-DJ. From a pop music perspective, he is probably most known for his Rihanna “We Found Love” collaboration. He has risen to superstar status pretty quickly and is known for his hit-making powers. He probably has the most “sing-along” tracks in EDM with “Feel So Close”, “Bounce”, “We Found Love” and “You Used to Hold Me” in his repertoire. In all but one of these, he has recruited vocal talent to help him out – sometimes famous and sometimes not.
However, the Scot got his start in the music industry as a singer/songwriter so he recognizes vocal chops. It is only appropriate that Harris himself is the vocalist on his biggest hit, “Feel So Close.”
Nas’ ex-wife, “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” yes, that Kelis. She pops up on Calvin Harris’ “Bounce” and very few people put 1+1 together, but this is the milkshake girl. Hopefully, this won’t be her last foray into the EDM world.
In today’s music world, the EDM vocalist is generally ignored. If there is a big name involved, then they get credit but otherwise, it is almost as if they don’t exist. Back in the late ‘80s it was worse. Producers for big dance hits hired models to lip-sync and take credit as vocalists. The most famous example was Milli Vanilli. The next most egregious mistake was the disrespect the club set showed Wash. She let loose her tremendous soprano on the following tracks:
Song – “Everybody, Everybody”
Artist – Black Box
Song – “Strike It Up”
Artist – Black Box
Song – “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”
Artist – C+C Music Factory
Her low point was the swap-job Italian house music producers Black Box pulled. Wash got album credit, but French Caribbean model Katrin Quinol, who was on the album cover as well as lip-synced the songs in videos and in concert, received the notoriety.
Wash has had a long and successful career and is an icon in the gay community, mostly due to her club classic “It’s Raining Men.”
Unlike many on this list, Dutch singer/model Do (pronounced like “Doe”) may not have the musical chops to pull off indelible stardom. However, she is the vocalist on uber-pop EDM song “Heaven” by DJ Sammy. Believe it or not, that song is over ten years old now. She released a few albums and had some success in her native Netherlands. She also graced the cover of Playboy. Here is a situation where the EDM vocalist is a looker and the song is a massive crossover hit but the singer is still a complete stranger.