Avicii goes (sorta) folk

by

comment

avicii_wake_me_up.jpg
A couple of summers ago I DJed a corporate-type event (the annual rooftop party for my friend's work) and, long story short, the two other DJs experienced technical difficulties and I ended up spinning on a backup laptop whose music collection I hadn't updated in several years to an increasingly inebriated audience that wanted to dance to the latest Gold Coast dance hits. One girl requested something she kept calling "Avicii Levels" before finally handing her iPhone over for me to plug in. As soon as I hit play I realized that it was the megaclub anthem that I had been finding increasingly inescapable.

Despite its thorough blandness—aside from the Etta James sample, which had already been appropriated by a number of other artists—or perhaps because of it, "Levels" became a global smash hit and Avicii became the Scandinavian face of the new EDM ruling class that had begun eating up the pop charts. It was like Tiesto, one of the most successful and corniest DJs of all time, reborn with even more pandering pop instincts and, crucially, a pop audience that was ready to rave its ass off with him.

Hardcore dance music fans have been understandably upset, the same way that hip-hop fans were pissed off in the late 80s when the mainstream spotlight fell on lightweight rappers like Young MC rather than serious dudes like Big Daddy Kane. Which is probably a positive thing—every art form requires big, cheesy, and highly successful artists for edgier artists to revolt against, and thus keeping the creative churn going.

Avicii's latest, "Wake Me Up!," which recently entered the Hot 100 at number 81, should keep the revolt going for a while. Although it's being filed as EDM (it debuted at number 12 on the "Dance/Electronic Songs" chart), there's really very little in the song that reads as dance music. It begins with over a minute of acoustic guitar and bluesy, vaguely gospel-tinged vocals by singer/rapper Aloe Blacc before the beat even drops in, and even then the 4/4 beat sits in the guitar's upstroke, which makes the whole composition resemble the clap-along campfire pop of quasi-folk acts like the Lumineers—down to the earnest exclamation point in the title—more than any actual dance music. It might qualify as risky, coming from an EDM producer, if it wasn't such an obviously mercenary move to capture some of Mumford & Sons' market share.

My prediction is that "Wake Me Up!" isn't going to stay at 81 for long. Avicii's fan base is massive, and his brand alone is probably enough to push it into the Top 40 at this point. And the last time someone landed a deplorable folk-techno single on the charts it made it all the way up to 25.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

Add a comment