Here’s a fun little game for you: Think of a hit song from last year, any hit song. Then go to Google and type in the name of that song, along with “Levels” and “mashup.” We’d lay even money that you come up with at least a couple results of people who have already tried throwing the lyric and/or hook from that hit song over “Levels,” the Avicii chart-topping club jam that seems to sound good under just about anything. Something about those anthemic, trebly synths, interspersed with the occasional Etta James sample, just sends whatever vocals are laid on top of them soaring into the stratosphere.
Flo Rida was one of the first to realize this, getting a top five hit out of his otherwise unremarkable “Levels”-sampling “Good Feeling,” but now any enterprising DJ with Audacity and a couple seconds to spare is throwing any and every contemporary song they can think of against the beat of “Levels” to see what sticks. So we decided to see how our top five songs of the year—and yes, each of them have received the “Levels” treatment from at least one source—sounded when mashed up with the indefatigable dance floor anthem. Which would fare best? Could any compete with Flo Rida? Let’s examine.
1. NICKI MINAJ, “SUPER BASS”
Works: The verses. Nicki’s rapid-fire delivery is a natural fit for the propulsiveness of the “Levels” hook—not dissimilar to her performance on David Guetta’s “Where Them Girls At,” albeit with significantly superior rapping and a much less tired-sounding musical backdrop.
Not So Much: The chorus. Once Nicki starts to sing, the keys of the two original songs don’t really mesh, and the feeling of pure release that comes when the “Boy you got my heart beat…” kicks in on the original “Bass” just feels weird and off here.
Verdict: Could be worse, but really just makes you wanna listen to the two originals.
2. ADELE, “ROLLING IN THE DEEP”
Works: Most of the song, especially on the verses, which prove a good melodic fit for the “Levels” backdrop when pitch-shifted up slightly. The best part, though, comes with a particularly creative use of Avicii’s original Etta James sample by dropping out the second chorus of the Adele song at the “I can’t help but feeling…” lyric, and quickly countering with Etta’s “Ohhhh, sometimes I get a good feeling…” hook. Well played, Mr. EAVS.
Not So Much: The “You’re gonna wish you / Never had met me” backing vocals on the chorus do stick out as being a little dissonant, unfortunately.
Final Verdict: Surprisingly solid, though perhaps not quite preferable to the mashup with Robin S.’s similarly well-circulated-in-2011 dance classic “Show Me Love” that made the internet rounds about a half-year back.
3. JAY-Z & KANYE WEST, “NIGGAS IN PARIS”
Works: It’s hard to argue with two of the best beats of 2011 going head to head, and it’s a pretty viscerally exciting thing to hear portions of the “Levels” synths slotted in between the primary hook for “Paris.” Plus, the “got my niggas in (Sweden)” interjection is a nice touch, as is the undeniably appropriate dubstep breakdown section at the end.
Not So Much: Well, it’s a little bit of a bummer that no one seems to have done a straight mashing of the “Paris” vocals with the “Levels” hook, since you’d have to fantasize that two such aggressive crowd-pleasers would complement one another brilliantly that way. And does this really need to be seven minutes long?
Final Verdict: Probably better than it has any right to be, but still mildly unsatisfying.
4. FOSTER THE PEOPLE, “PUMPED UP KICKS”
Works: The chorus sounds so natural wrapped around the ringtone synths of “Levels” that you instantly forget that you ever heard them in any other context. The “Kicks” chorus is already so anthemic that no dance beat could be too fist-pumping for it, and “Levels” certainly is a worthy adversary for it. Plus, DJ McFly may not have used it here, but “Pumped Up Levels” is by far the most natural mashup title of any of the concoctions mentioned here.
Not So Much: The “Kicks,” verses are a little laconic to keep up with the momentum of “Levels,” and you almost wonder if the mashup would’ve been better off excising them entirely. Also, the Etta James insertion is a little awkward, and no whistling?
Final Verdict: Even if it doesn’t all work, that chorus combo is so undeniable that it’s certainly worth at least one listen for any fan of either song.
5. CHRIS BROWN FEAT. BUSTA RHYMES & LIL WAYNE, “LOOK AT ME NOW”
Works: The parts that don’t involve “Look At Me Now.”
Not So Much: The parts that do. “Look At Me Bustin’ Levels,” awesome title aside, does kind of disprove the notion that anything sounds awesome mashed with “Levels,” as neither Busta nor Weezy’s “Look At Me Now” verses sound particularly natural over the Avicii beat—something about the meter of the “Look” vocals doesn’t quite fit fit over the very purposeful 4/4 of “Levels.” Exception that proves the rule, perhaps.
Final Verdict: Blugh, though if you think this is bad, you should check the straight mashup that Adam “DJ Bear” Dely did of the two songs, uncreatively (though appropriately) titled “Look at Me Now Levels,” which makes no apparent effort to make the songs mesh together any more than absolutely necessary. Maybe stick with “Yeah 3x” next time, Adam.
Ultimately, our favorite of the five is probably either the “Rolling in the Deep” or “Pumped Up Kicks” mashups—the Adele if we absolutely had to choose—though “Niggas in Sweden” definitely gets the Spirit Award. But that’s just of our 2011 favorites—we’d be willing to bet money that of your own personal top five, at least three or four of ‘em probably got the “Levels” treatment themselves. Check around when you have a minute and let us know your “Levels” mashup of choice.