Last August, The New York Times ran a video vignette called " Bieber Diplo and Skrillex Make a Hit," in which the titular trio - Justin Bieber and the producers Diplo and Skrillex - broke down the stages of production for their platinum single "Where Are Ü Now?" Bieber was already working on new music with his songwriting collaborator Jason Boyd (known as "Poo Bear"). When Diplo and Skrillex approached him to contribute to their "Jack U" project, Bieber sent over a piano track and an a cappella vocal: musical elements in search of a song. As is the case with most 21st-century pop, the production took place inside a laptop, which Skrillex manipulates as deftly as any instrumental virtuoso. There were no "musicians" or "instruments," in the conventional sense, involved. In the Times video, the music is visualized with colorful animated circles that scroll vertically across the screen like punch-holes on a roll of sheet music: as good a way as any to give the track some kind of physical presence. The best part of the clip is when Skrillex demonstrates how he used a program called Ableton Live to transform a random Bieber vocable into a sound resembling the keening cry of a cyborg dolphin. This sound, when woven through "Where Are Ü Now?," elevates the tune from catchy bauble to irresistible earworm.
Six years earlier, some similarly weird noises in Flo Rida's 2009 #1 hit "Right Round" caught the ear of New Yorker reporter John Seabrook. In the opening pages of his new book The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, he describes his confused reaction to the track's "jackhammer beats," the bass that sounds like "an undersea earthquake," and its own cyborg dolphin, which Seabrook transcribes as "EEeeoooorrrroooannnnnwwweeeyyeeeooowwwwouuuzzzzeeEE."