You don't have to listen hard to hear the dancing. Taio Cruz came to dance, dance, dance, dance. He hits the floor 'cause that's his, plans, plans, plans, plans. A DJ's got Usher falling in love for the second time in the past few months (as he initially explained in "O.M.G.," he fell in love with shawty when he seen her on the dance floor). Akon and David Guetta feel the same and they want to meet the one in there that everyone girl wants to be. The club can't handle Flo Rida, but he's going all out anyway. Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are too busy in the club sipping that bub to be bothered with outside communication. Ke$ha wants to know if you want to have a summer party in her basement. Katie Perry's got such wonders of representing and having things on lock to reveal once you party with her. Enrique Iglesias (singing through his nose like nostrils are the new Autotune, by the way) likes the way you move on the floor. Black Eyed Peas wanna rock your body and do it and do it, let's live it up and do it and do it and do it, do it, do it, let's do it, let's do it, let's do it, do it, do it, do it.
The dance music renaissance is in full swing on pop radio. The current commercial viability of the genre is so great, it's revising careers (Kelly Rowland's, for one). Turn on any Top 40 station in the U.S. and within 10 minutes, you should hear something approaching a house beat. Funnily enough, for something so matter of fact in pop music, it smacks of fetishism. It revels in itself. Top 40 dance music is no longer something made just for dancing to -- it's something for the artists to talk about dancing in. Or actually, as there's little explanation going on (hello, it's pop music!), it's something in which to merely state that you're dancing, creating a sort of hedonistic empathy with your legion of listeners. Who says the spirit of rave is dead? Unity lives on in the heart of David Guetta!
(This phenomenon holds for the just-under-the-surface pop acts like Robyn, who's dancing on her own, Kelis, who'd like to welcome you to the 22nd Century where the most remarkable observation is that everybody's dancing and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, who rhapsodizes drunk girls sarcastically in a song that has to work straightforwardly on the dance floor, and in fact, mostly cater to the women he's singing about. Everyone knows moving the crowd means first moving the girls and alcohol lubricates it all nicely. No amount of snark could make "Drunk Girls" anything but a tribute.)
The history of dance music is full of meta-commentary, from the days when dance music existed to tell people how to or just to dance ("The Twist," et. al.), through disco, which had plenty of the aforementioned type of instruction ("The Hustle," "Le Freak") and even more of a type of discourse that was wrapped up in the scene it was intended for, in kind of a genre narcissism (Chic's "Good Times," for example, was a song about Studio 54 made to be played at Studio 54). But since disco went on to become the pop music of its time, there was plenty of topical variety within. For every "You Should Be Dancing," there was a "Stayin' Alive." Massive disco hits like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way," Blondie's "Heart of Glass," Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell" and even the Village People's "YMCA" had nothing lyrically to do with dancing (there's nothing about the latter's lyrical content that suggests bending one's arms to make letters -- it was clearly an afterthought).
Dance music's turnover from disco to house saw plenty of songs about clubbing and dancing, too -- true, classic, enduring floor fillers like Marshall Jefferson's "Move Your Body (House Music Anthem)" and Steve "Silk" Hurley's "Jack Your Body" (and any other of the countless "Jack" tracks) and (a bit later and to the north) Inner City's "Big Fun." But as house became a commercial force in the early '90s, there was less of a need to verbalize that this uptempo, pounding, soul-reaching music was for dancing. After all, shouldn't the music be saying as much without words? It's not like you're dancing to vocals (unless you're white). Sure, there was plenty of stuff that explicitly beckoned people to the floor -- Madonna's "Vogue" and C&C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" and Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam" -- but the vast majority of popular '90s dance music amounted to high-energy ballads or fast-paced celebrations of human interaction (CeCe Peniston's "Finally," Robin S.'s "Show Me Love," Black Box's "Everybody Everybody," Haddaway's "What Is Love?," the Real McCoy's "Another Night," Captain Hollywood Project's "More and More," Billie Ray Martin's "Your Loving Arms," Jomanda's "Got a Love for You," Kym Sims' "Too Blind to See It," Livin' Joy's "Dreamer" and the KLF's "3 A.M. Eternal" and and and...) Some of it even had a socially conscious angle, like Crystal Waters' "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)," Aly-Us' "Follow Me" and Tracie Spencer's "This House." Even still, a lot of the pop-house that referenced the party at hand focused on celebrating the cause (the music) instead of the desired effect (dancing) -- see Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch's "Good Vibrations," Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart" (and "Good Beat," for that matter), Corona's "Rhythm of the Night," Snap's "Rhythm Is a Dancer" (whatever the fuck that song is about anyway!) and Black Box's "Strike It Up" (a song that's about the assembly of a song more than anything, although no one seems to know what they're doing as Martha Wash informs us that this band is gonna play her tune...and the "band" is clearly two dudes in front of a drum machine and a keyboard). Pulsing throughout this music's beats was a conscious enjoyment of what was being presented, yes, but it was more exploratory than expository. This music, while far from intellectually stimulating, showed signs of brain function.
(Contrast this all with freestyle. Despite spending its early days providing an intentional breakdancing soundtrack -- see Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's "Can You Feel the Beat," Shannon's "Let the Music Play," and Debbie Deb's "When I Hear Music" -- it evolved to being almost all very fast, very emotional electro-balladry -- see Stevie B's catalog, TKA's "Louder Than Love," Corina's "Temptation," Lisette Melendez's "Together Forever," etc.)
Fast forward to 2010 and it's all so dumb. In a culture that encourages us to state the obvious by crushing us with 140-character restraints, our music follows suit. Admittedly, there have been some tracks this year that use the genre for more than expressing exactly what you should be seeing if the song is doing what it's supposed to (in a word: DANCING). Taio Cruz's "Break Your Heart," Mike Posner's "Cooler Than Me," Justin Bieber's "Somebody to Love" and Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" ("Alejandro," too, but it may be too slow to count) all get away with containing four-on-the-floor beats without explaining them (video choreography aside). But those are exceptions to the current rule. In a way, dance pop's current one-track mind is unpretentious (I mean, as great as "Gypsy Woman" is, it's kind of silly to invoke the plight of the homeless while asking people to move their asses). In another way, it's mindless, and if there's one thing that dance music and dancing people don't need help with, it's coming off as dumb.