Luke hopes that, if that moment comes, he’ll be the first to recognize it. “I feel like I have a good grasp now, but that could change any minute. Three months from now, my sound could be over. My one hope is that, if my shit ain’t working, I’m not going to try to keep doing it.” He’s relentlessly self-critical, a trait he traces to his father. “My dad’s really critical. So I’m self-critical. There are some people in the music business who are incredibly talented—probably more talented than I am—but they aren’t self-critical at all. They usually don’t last too long.” Luke’s father is currently ill with cancer and on a raw-food diet, so now Luke’s on a raw-food diet, too; “It’s a little bit of solidarity,” he says. And he’s keeping very busy. There is no end of people who want a piece of the Dr. Luke sound. “I often think about secretly producing under a different name. Just to see how it’s perceived.” When he started writing music, his greatest thrill was to hear one of his songs on the radio. Now his great thrill is to hear one song on one station, then turn to another station and hear that same song, or another one of his hits, playing there, too. “That’s pretty nice,” he says. “It makes me feel like what I’m doing isn’t meaningless.”
Driving away from Dr. Luke’s house, I wind down a twisty road and back into L.A.’s sluggish traffic. In just over an hour of listening to KIIS FM while inching toward the airport in rush-hour gridlock, I hear “Tik Tok,” “Right Round,” and “California Gurls,” twice. It’s easy to imagine that, across the city, a million other people in their cars are tuned to the same Dr. Luke songs, all of us alone, listening together. “That defines what’s so good about pop music,” Fennessey tells me. “It can be a lonesome experience with headphones, but it’s also going to concerts, and driving in a car with friends, and an exchanged look when you both hear a song. People still want to go to parties and dance to a record together. It’s elemental, and Luke’s tapped into that.”
During the last leg toward LAX, “Dynamite” comes on the radio.
I turn it up.