Avicii is dead. Long live Avicii.
Editor's note: since the publication of this article, Avicii's death was confirmed to be a suicide. If you or anyone you know is struggling, you aren't alone. We urge you to call 1-800-273-8255 or text "home" to 741-741 to speak with a counselor.
The brightest stars in the sky burn out too fast. On Friday, Avicii joined them.
After 28 short and impossibly brilliant years on this planet, the Swedish DJ and producer was found dead in Muscat, Oman.
No cause of death has been released so far -- that closure will likely arise in the days to come and make all of this either more tragic or more predictable or both -- and maybe those answers only really matter because we want to believe they do.
In the end, explanations don’t erase losses.
Whatever the reasons for his untimely passing may be, all they can do is color the ways in which we look back at what he left behind for us. And what he left behind is already more than enough.
Life moves fast and the music industry moves even faster and all of that can make it hard to appreciate just how much an artist matters in the moment. But that’s what hindsight is for. And looking back at 2011, Avicii ruled the world.
You couldn’t walk through a university dorm or go to a club or sit at a bar or even take a damn taxi without hearing Levels -- and for good reason.
There’s a very real chance this could be the greatest EDM song ever composed.
From first listen, it had everything: there’s the way the simplicity of the synth hook rushes through your bloodstream; there’s the way that synth hook fades out into an eerie echo and you don’t know what’s coming next but you do know that your night is never going to be the same once it gets here; there’s the way Etta James’ vocal sample exactly and perfectly captures what everyone wants to feel during a night out -- because we all want to get a good feeling that we’ve never, never, never had before.
But Levels was Avicii at his most iconic -- minor chords and uplifting rhythms with hooks that persuade everyone in the room to belt out the words and then immediately do another shot.
Nearly seven years after its release, the brilliance of that track hasn’t dimmed. Its simple structure and soaring vocal sample shine on in the way all timeless anthems do -- effortlessly and infectiously.
Looking back, it feels scripted and obvious that the song would launch Avicii to stages no DJ had seen before.
He performed at renowned global festivals like Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Lollapalooza. He was the first DJ to headline the storied Radio City Music Hall in New York - and did it twice. He was among the first EDM artists to sell out an all-arena North American tour.
“As a dance music icon, he touched the lives of millions around the world, and broke down barriers between genres like dance music and country,” Pasquale Rotella, founder of the Electric Daisy Carnival, said in an interview with Billboard. “He helped our culture make an impact on the mainstream that will never be forgotten.”
He was a pioneer, an innovator, and an icon. Yet somehow, recapping his accomplishments and the ways in which he pushed the genre’s boundaries doesn’t sufficiently capture the resonance of his impact.
Avicii set moments on fire.
Where those moments happened never mattered -- in dorm rooms or on dance floors, at festival stages or at wedding venues -- his anthems had the power to snap people into the present and lift them to a place where any night felt full of life and like it could be the kind you'll look back on as part of the good old days.
Relistening to those anthems now that he’s gone is a different experience altogether.
The moments you first heard them in are gone, as is the potential for them to be part of the good old days because, as it turns out, they were.
Going through that list of hits brings you back to the way you felt in all those memories you can’t quite remember -- the nights spent sharing sweat with strangers whose names you forget right after you’ve met, the dimly lit house parties and the brighter than life wedding dance floors, summer days on the highway with the windows down and the wind in your hair, cottage nights around a fire sitting next to old friends and the stars.
There are only a handful of artists who can bring out the best in a moment, and then bring you back to those best moments years later all with the same song. Avicii was one of them.
That’s uniquely cool. And powerful. And also something that’s hard to properly appreciate until you realize the man who scored the soundtrack to your good old days will never add another song to his catalog.
During a farewell letter he released after announcing his retirement from touring, Avicii wrote “the next stage will be all about my love of making music to you guys. It is the beginning of something new. Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.”
We did. And we still will. Artists live for a lifetime, but art lives forever.