Music | Sound Off

Da Pump scores an unexpected summer hit with ‘U.S.A.’

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

The highly coveted song of the summer needs to cut across demographics and unite one nation under a beat. Think Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” in 1999, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” in 2013 or Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” in 2017. Who’d have thought that, in 2018 Japan, the uniting beat would be Eurobeat?

The breakout hit of the season — and the most unexpected smash of the year — comes courtesy of pop outfit Da Pump, which had its heyday in the early 2000s and saw all but one of its founding members split by 2008. The group’s newest track, “U.S.A.,” finds them semi-covering Italian artist Joe Yellow’s 1992 song of the same name.

Expectations didn’t seem particularly high, while group leader (and only original member) Issa Hentona has told Japanese media that when “U.S.A.” was presented as a next release, he was mostly confused. That the release events for it took place at shopping malls and Mega Don Quijote outlets only reinforce the low expectations.

But no other song has generated more buzz this year. Initially, it wasn’t necessarily for good reasons. Early online reaction featured heavy use of the word “dasai” (“lame”). It goes all in on ’90s para-para high-NRG, while the video features men in their 30s and 40s trying to mix up popular American moves such as the dab, the Milly Rock and the Shoot Dance. It’s like watching your dad wax nostalgic and try to become a hypebeast at the same time.

However, the dasai soon mutated into “cool dasai.” The official YouTube video started racking up views (more than 26 million at the time of writing), while the group’s shopping center shows bring out huge crowds. Other songs have recorded more clicks and higher chart positions, but “U.S.A.” has won when it comes to the greater conversation, attracting netizens and variety show panels in equal measure.

A sliver of its surprise success comes from so-bad-it’s-good territory, with more owed to how it taps into Heisei Era-nostalgia (or maybe memories of a time when America was cool, not cruel). Above all else, though, Da Pump charms simply by committing to its Eurobeat-by-way-of-Supreme aesthetic. The members could have played it ironically, but that would’ve grown old quickly. “U.S.A.” is earnest about what it does, even if that’s just moving your fist fast while … wearing a construction vest?

It’s also a refreshing surprise at a time when music is overly managed. Compare “U.S.A.” with the summer’s biggest album release, Hikaru Utada’s “Hatsukoi.” That one is classic J-pop, with songs tied up to ad campaigns for water and a forthcoming tour featuring security measures closer to an American airport than a concert. Da Pump’s latest, meanwhile, came out of nowhere and relied on listeners to share it (even if in a mocking way) and see the group perform for free in large public spaces. It’s a rare viral smash in an age of fake virality.

How long Da Pump can keep mainstream attention post-“U.S.A.” remains to be seen. For this summer, though, they’ve scored the most unlikely of hits.