The Story Behind “Instant Crush,” a Stroke of Genius by Daft Punk Featuring Julian Casablancas

The Daft Punk-Julian Casablancas collaboration “Instant Crush” is, as its title suggests, about a boy who falls madly in love with someone in the span of a moment. However, the song itself was hardly made in an instant. The French electronic music duo and The Strokes’ frontman came together to work on “Instant Crush” in 2010—three years before the song would show up on Daft Punk’s final studio album Random Access Memories.

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But there was more to the making of “Instant Crush” than the collaboration between Daft Punk and Casablancas. The song had a life of its own prior to Casablancas’ involvement, and Daft Punk had already been working with a lyricist who was behind several major pop hits from the 1970s. “Instant Crush” would have likely been a dramatically different composition had Casablancas not been involved. Here’s how he managed to team up with Daft Punk and help shape one of the more popular songs from both artists’ discographies.

Started with a “Summer Crush”

The idea for Casablancas to co-write and perform on a Daft Punk song came not from the duo themselves, but from the video director and art director Warren Fu. He had collaborated with both parties previously, and while working on the art for Random Access Memories, and he suggested to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo that they should work with Casablancas. They presented him with two pieces of music, and Casablancas had the idea to merge them into one song.

Bangalter and de Homem-Christo already had a concept for the song. They wanted it to evoke memories of a “summer crush”—the feeling you might get when looking back on someone you were infatuated with. They had already enlisted Paul Williams to write some lyrics to fit this theme. Yes, that Paul Williams—the songwriter behind ‘70s hits such as The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night, “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born)” by Barbra Streisand, and “Rainbow Connection” by Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog.

A Less Literal-Minded Approach

Initially, Casablancas tried to work within the framework presented by Bangalter and de Homem-Christo and Williams’ lyrics. He ultimately found he wrote better lyrics if he wasn’t trying to be on the nose with the “summer crush” theme. As Casablancas noted in the Daft Punk’s Memory Tapes video series, “The way music works sometimes, it’s almost like gibberish made more sense.” So instead of writing literal lyrics like “I saw you on that beach that one summer day”—a hypothetical example that Casablancas gave—he wrote lyrics that were vaguely suggestive of someone who was thinking about his one-time “crush.” Though it’s devoid of details, the opening lines let us know exactly what the song is about.

I didn’t want to be the one to forget
I thought of everything I’d never regret
A little time with you is all that I get
That’s all we need because it’s all we can take

Casablancas found this approach worked well, so he scrapped his original lyrics, plus the ones previously written by Williams. He focused more on the concept of an “instant crush” rather than trying to capture a specifically summertime feel.

Casablancas also strayed from Daft Punk’s playbook for the song when it came to his vocals. He said the helmet-clad duo “wanted me to kind of do my Strokes-y [singing], and I was like, no, no, no …I wanna be a cyborg.” The end result is distinctly unlike Casablancas’ work with The Strokes, as his vocals are processed through a vocoder. Casablancas also played the guitar solo and co-produced the track.

The Impact of “Instant Crush”

“Instant Crush” was one of three singles from Random Access Memories to be certified Platinum. Both “Instant Crush” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” (featuring Pharrell Williams) received certification in 2023, 10 years after “Get Lucky” (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers) went Platinum. “Instant Crush” went to No. 20 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart and No. 16 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart. It is Casablancas’ most commercially successful song outside of those recorded as a member of The Strokes.

Natalie Imbruglia covered “Instant Crush” and made it the lead single from her 2015 covers album Male (which consisted of songs initially recorded by male artists). Explaining her choice to do her own version of the song, Imbruglia told Entertainment Weekly, “I wanted to cover something very different than what I sound like. I didn’t actually know what this song was about, so I went online and read the lyrics. I had no idea it was this beautiful love story! I wanted to strip it back so you could hear that.” With more than 4 million streams, “Instant Crush” is one of Imbruglia’s 10 most-popular songs on Spotify.

Cage the Elephant also released a version of “Instant Crush” on their 2017 live album Unpeeled. They did not issue “Instant Crush” as a single, but with more than 21 million streams, their cover is the second most-popular track from Unpeeled on Spotify.

While “Instant Crush” wasn’t one of those songs written in a single 20-minute burst of inspiration, its melancholy melody and longing lyrics were inspired nonetheless. Casablancas’ vocal performance is worthy of accolades, too. It can’t be easy to sound convincingly like a lovesick cyborg, but he pulls it off.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

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