Guetta is a house DJ turned mega-producer. If you’ve been in a club in the past decade, or turned on a radio, or just gone out in public, you’ve heard one of his songs. “I expand=1] Gotta Feeling,” “Sexy expand=1] Bitch,” “Memories expand=1] “Club expand=1] Can’t Handle Me”—those are just the recent hits.
How do you pronounce Guetta, anyway?
Like Jetta, not like beta. He’s French.
French? Then why is he so big here?
Years of paying dues. The son of a Moroccan restaurant owner, Guetta started out DJing in Parisian clubs and worked his way up to host club nights in France and Ibiza. Then came a series of mix albums named Fuck Me, I’m Famous (yes, it’s a joke) after one of his more successful evens, as well as progressively more successful solo albums and club stalwarts like “The World Is Mine,” “Love Don’t Let Me Go” and “Love Is Gone.”
When did Guetta break through?
In 2009 with “When expand=1] Love Takes Over,” featuring ex-Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland. Guetta’s songs usually managed to chart somewhere, if only in France, but this one went top 10 almost everywhere and reached No. 1 in the U.K. It’s easy to see why. Guetta sets the stakes high from the beginning with a cascading piano riff—one that kind of rips off Coldplay’s “Clocks,” but hey, it worked then. Then he builds things up as far as he can, the better to showcase the pipes everyone forgot Kelly had. It sounds as massive as it became.
Okay, now why do all his songs sound the same?
Hey, be fair—they don’t all sound the same. Yes, “I Gotta Feeling” is a lot like “Love expand=1] Is Gone,” which is a lot like “Gettin’ Over You” and “Club Can’t Handle Me” and so forth. But take Rowland’s “Commander expand=1],” a dance-floor anthem with all the crushing force you’d expect from the title. Or check out “Acapella expand=1]” (which isn’t in fact a cappella—metaphors, you know) by Kelis, which proves Guetta really is capable of a light touch. But even that oft-recycled “I Gotta Feeling” riff serves a purpose. You might not be able to call up Guetta’s face (it’s kinda scruffy and boyish, for the record), but you sure know his sound when it pulses in. It taps into something hardwired. The piano-to-fortissimo, tension-and-release structure Guetta loves is arguably as old as music itself because it’s satisfying—beginning, middle and end built right in. If it’s formulaic, it’s only because it works. And on the dance floor, nobody cares how often they’ve heard the song.
But there are tons of DJs out here. What makes him special?
Well, largely being in the right place at the right time. Guetta caught fire just as the U.S. charts became much more receptive to dance-pop, a trend that Cascada and Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas gladly rode and that Guetta has done a lot to prolong. But you’ve also got to credit his smart choices in collaborators. The charts’ current mélange of dance and R&B is in part his doing. Guetta turned Rowland from a faceless non-Beyoncé to a dance diva with an identity and made Kelis relevant post-“Milkshake.” The Peas owe much of their so-3008, next-level visual schtick to him. And even Fergie, in Guetta’s hands, becomes a credible vocalist. If that’s not talent, it’s something.
What about this Chris Willis guy? He’s on, like, half the songs.
A former gospel singer, Willis branched out into pop in the ‘90s after a crisis of faith. He sung backup for Ricky Martin and American Idol and met Guetta while on vacation in France. That’s how he became the voice of Guetta’s bigger hits, lending his powerhouse vocals to “Love Don’t Let Me Go,” “Love Is Gone” and, most recently, the Fergie- and LMFAO-assisted “Gettin’ Over You.”
What’s Guetta’s life like outside the studio?
David Guetta has been married since 1992 to Cathy Guetta, a club owner/promoter (and restauranteur, and perfume designer…) who’s organized events both with her husband and solo. They have two children, Tim Elvis and Angie. In interviews, he’s always pretty laid-back and earnest: as he puts it, he just wants to make the world dance—or rather, make the world into dance. By all accounts, he’s succeeding.
So what’s next?
Guetta’s working with Leona Lewis and U2—who, judging by fellow collaborators Danger Mouse and RedOne, really want a new sound. He’s tweeted from the studio with the Neptunes, Ludacris and Akon. And it’s a fair bet that he’ll team up again with will.i.am at some point.