Preemptive Apology: I have not taught my usual load of composition and critical reading college courses over the past year because pandemic + (2 x school age kids) + (lifetime x mental health) + adjunct pay - home workspace. So, I don’t have my usual audience for my this-is-the-best-piece-of-writing-happening-right-now schpiel. At least you know what’s coming.
It is rare that I come across an article on the internet that makes me go, “Hey everyone! EVERYONE! Stop what you’re doing and look at this, over here, right now because it’s doing what it’s doing so well we should all spend some serious time appreciating it.” Most of the time I just shove my phone in my husband’s face with my screen fixed on some inane buzzfeed meme. Whatevs. But last night, I came across1 this review of the Chainsmokers workout videos on a new fitness app, written by Dave Holmes for Esquire, and I honestly think this is one of the most effective pieces of writing I’ve seen in a while. I could be biased by lack of sleep or my ongoing struggle with Sanditon2 but I really don’t think that’s it.
The article is well built. This review is long. I didn’t do a word count on it, and Esquire doesn’t offer up one of those sweet read timers that all the cool kids are using these days, but there’s some scrolling. I usually lose patience reading long articles on a screen, often because (imho) because the writers don’t understand the basics of structure that help ground a reader in a longer work. Not a problem here. Holmes starts with a clear premise, established in the title: the Chainsmokers have workout videos, and they work. Then he begins by giving just the right amount of info for us to go on this journey with him: what he’s doing, why he’s doing, what the FitOn app is, and who the Chainsmokers are. Too often, writers offer scant explanations or rely heavily on links to acclimate a reader to their subject. Not here. Instead, Holmes uses this as an excellent opportunity to educate the reader and establish his voice and credibility. (For all my English/Comp 101 students, this is background expertly handled).
The author feels like someone I could trust. I clicked on the article because of the title, and, consequently, skipped right past the byline at the beginning; therefore, I did not realize until I got to the end that this was authored by Dave Holmes, one of my favorite all-time MTV vjs3. And, what with all these lady parts and self-esteem, I’m not exactly Esquire’s target audience, and I never really expected to feel a kinship with one of their writers. However, I was sold on this reviewer from the first paragraph, when he confesses to meeting none of his pandemic goals because “because freaking out about everything turned out to be pretty time-consuming.” As the article progress, he remains a guy I feel like I could hang out with and not roll my eyes until they hurt. More than that, I realized he might actually be someone I could trust, at least about fitness videos. He’s clearly done some research into this app and probably lots of others if what he says is true: “The age of the home-workout app is upon us, and because I have goals to meet and ADHD, I am going to try them all.” So, affinity and trust established. Well done, Mr. Holmes. This is what we in the composition biz call “establishing ethos,” and it’s done expertly here.
This piece is frickin’ hilarious. I laughed through this entire articles–at times, so loud I was afraid I might wake my family. There is so much funny, I’m not even sure where to start. But Holmes’ through-line of refusing to use the Chainsmokers’ actual names is absolute genius. Instead, he opts for increasingly hilarious–not to mention spot-on–descriptors: The Chainsmoker With Sort Of A Beard/The Chainsmoker With A Different Kind Of Beard; Tall Chainsmoker/Also Kind Of Tall Chainsmoker; The Chainsmoker With The Greater Number Of Tattoos/The Chainsmoker With The Lesser Number Of Tattoos; and on and on. Also, his transcripts of their conversations are 1) dead accurate and 2) side-splitting. Of course, humor is the primary way that Holmes handles the fact that “the Chainsmokers are bro-y, bro-y bros,” which is important to acknowledge because it’s a pretty big part of the experience. The secondary benefit for someone like me, who actually likes the Chainsmokers so much against her better judgement4, laughing at them for being interchangeably vapid gave me some needed relief from the never-ending shame spiral of getting songs like “Waterbed” stuck in my brain.
It’s not all fun at the Chainsmokers’ expense. Holmes is also self-deprecating and has impeccable timing. But that tightrope of mocking the Chainsmokers and appreciating their product makes this a truly great review. Holmes offers genuine appraisal for each workout, including the type of exercises, the potential benefits, and how he personally felt afterwards in a way that is totally relatable to those among us who aren’t superfit. In the end, he gives an incredibly thorough and entertaining overview of what to expect from these workouts. And, for this reader at least, it was compelling enough that I downloaded the app and even watched5 one of the workouts.
Which is, of course, the goal of a positive review. Which gets back to why we’re here in the first place. I don’t really like fitness apps, and I certainly had no intention of doing a Chainsmokers’ workout. (In fact, the whole idea of being celebrity adjacent while working out gives me the willies. I can’t even really deal with Fabletics because of the Kate Hudson connection. I know it’s weird.) But, I randomly found this article in the middle of the night a few days ago, and here we are.
That is the power of damn good writing.
Don’t ask why I was googling the Chainsmokers in the middle of the night. Just don’t. ↩
More to come, but basically I’m pretty sure Sanditon is unfinished b/c Austen got as bored writing it is I am reading it. ↩
Seriously. All the music knowledge, none of the sleaze or pretentiousness. Second only to Martha Quinn. ↩
If I have to explain this, you aren’t paying close enough attention to the Chainsmokers, which may be a good thing. Unless of course, you are paying attention to the Chainsmokers and have somehow failed to notice their frequent overt and predatory misogyny. But then again: self-conscious social commentary like Sickboy & You Owe Me & all those super catchy beats. Honestly, the whole Chainsmokers situation is a quagmire. ↩
Remember, this adventure started around midnight. I wasn’t about to get up out of my bed for an ab workout–though, that may have actually helped with the insomnia. Oh well. ↩