Celebrity Culture:

Moments before igniting a crowd of 12,000 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Alex Pall and Drew Taggart, the DJ duo known as the Chainsmokers, check off the last items on their green room to-do list: a run-through of the first song’s chorus, tequila shots, instructions for Pall’s nearby golden retriever. “Mooshu,” he hollers to the dog, “take care of the house!”

With that, the pair heads into the tunnel and onstage for an explosive 90-minute set featuring Under 30 alums Kelsea Ballerini and 5 Seconds of Summer, a motorcycle trio zooming around a metal globe and more tequila shots. The show is the latest career departure for Pall, 34, and Taggart, 29—a 2017 30 Under 30 alum—who are wrapping up their most lucrative year ever on the back of a recently-extended slate of more intimate shows at the Wynn’s XS Nightclub in Las Vegas. The performance was art. The shots were business: the Chainsmokers are the biggest non-founder stakeholders in a small batch spirit brand, JaJa Tequila.

“You want the product to stand up on its own two feet, and I think long term,” says Taggart. “That’s what we’re in this for.”

The tequila investment is one of several pre-IPO equity positions they have accumulated through cash investments or as compensation for performances. And at the moment there is no shortage of either. The Chainsmokers have banked $130 million over the past three years, defying a plateau for DJ earnings and dethroning Calvin Harris as the highest-paid act in electronic music. They tallied $46 million before taxes in the past year alone, landing them at No. 24 on the Forbes list of highest-earning musicians.

“[They] have an amazing handle on pop culture and are all about running a successful business, so they understand what it takes,” says Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks who Pall and Taggart met in Las Vegas. “It makes total sense for them to contribute their expertise and fame for equity.” 

Pall and Taggart met about a decade ago through their manager Adam Alpert. Taggart was fresh out of college and began commuting from his home in Maine every week via Bolt Bus to craft tracks with Pall before moving to New York. After years working small clubs and frat parties they landed a coveted gig at Liv in Miami in 2013 and celebrated with the song “#Selfie,” which they released as a free download and spread it around to South Florida blogs in hopes of driving crowds to the show. It quickly went viral, helped by a carefully orchestrated social media push. The official video has since attracted more than half a billion views.

“#Selfie” and its snarky take on Millennial club culture gave the duo some much needed momentum, but a breakout required more chart-friendly fare, which led them to experiment with mixing elements of alternative and dance music. They had their first multiplatinum single, “Roses,” the next year and quickly followed it with “Don’t Let Me Down,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016. “Closer,” a duet that featured fellow Under 30 alum Halsey and Taggart trying his hand on vocals for the first time, was released that same year, landing them their first No. 1 hit.

A Las Vegas residency followed, but so did the media backlash, most of it tied to the “frat-bro” ethos at the core of their act. In a 2016 Billboard cover story they bragged about drinking prowess and discussed penis size; the same piece derided them as “tech bros.” Esquire mocked them as “the Nickelback of EDM.” Others were more blunt: Stereogum labeled them “endlessly quotable douchebags” while Jezebel dubbed them “a couple of dicks.”

To take back the narrative, they released a self-deprecating mashup of their song “Paris” and Nickelback’s “This Is How You Remind Me.” More recently they’ve traded boasts of inebriation for more sober analysis of JaJa’s commercial prospects and lewd interviews for chummier chatter about the dog. Mooshu has since finished as a runner-up for the 2019 iHeartRadio Cutest Musician’s Pet award.

“We’ve come a long way,” says Taggart. “It hasn’t always been perfect, but I think we’ve each worked hard to become better people.”

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And, with Alpert’s help, better businessmen. Pall points out that tequila is the fastest-growing spirit in America and the brand a natural fit for its alcohol-loving fan base. They are JaJa’s two largest investors besides founders Maurice Tebele and his brother Elliot, who is better known as meme machine F*ckJerry.  

Other investments include Uber, Wheels and Ember, as well as Epi-Now, a startup that delivers allergy emergency kits and recently raised $9.2 million. They received WeWork shares in exchange for a performance, and recently launched Kick The Habit, a production company whose first offering will be a film based on “Paris.”  Up next: a VC fund called Mantis. The idea was spawned by their investment in YellowHeart, a blockchain-based ticketing company they hope will put a dent in the $15 billion scalping industry.

To try and keep the music profits that pay for it all flowing, Taggart has taken hundreds of vocal lessons while Pall is practicing piano for several hours per day. They added a drummer who shares their affinity for pyrotechnics, sporting flaming drumsticks in the middle of one song in Nashville. They now have their sights on landing their first stadium tour.

“When ‘Roses’ blew up, we still didn’t know what would happen,” says Pall. “We know our fans still want us to keep putting out songs ev