Alex Pall and Drew Taggart should have been celebrating on Sunday night at the annual Billboard Music Awards. Good things were on the horizon. In addition to presenting with Halsey, the duo were nominated for six awards themselves. One of those nominations was complicated, however. Seeing Avicii’s name in the list of acts in the running for Best Dance/Electronic Album hit close to home.
But The Chainsmokers (Pall and Taggart) couldn’t focus on themselves alone. Instead, Avicii’s memory seemed to permeate their entire evening. On two separate occasions, Alex Pall spoke about the late Swedish EDM icon who passed on April 20, 2018, and contributed so much to dance music.
Avicii was a 28-year-old Swedish DJ who achieved astonishing crossover success. He was easily one of the most talented and profitable performers in the genre. Tragically, Avicii was found dead while visiting Oman. His family later confirmed that his death was a suicide.
Alex Pall, Drew Taggart, and Halsey Honor Avicii Before Presenting
Alex, Drew, and Halsey, all friends, fans, and colleagues of Avicii, presented the award for Top Hot 100 Song. They won last year’s award in the same category for their smash hit, “Closer.” Before they got down to business announcing this year’s winner, they got personal. Speaking about the value Avicii brought to the genre, they shared touching, emotional words on the impact of the tragedy in the music community.
Alex Pall leaned to the microphone and said, “Before we get to the next award, we’d like to take a moment to talk about our friend Avicii.” These few simple words struck straight to the heart of the matter. “His passing was a great loss for the music world, and for us,” Drew continued. “He was an artist who inspired so many and in so many ways. And, simply put, he meant so much to us and everyone in the EDM community.”
Halsey echoed this adding that the talented producer was known as a ‘joy’ to work with. She touched on the loss on a personal level, speaking about Avicii as a human and not simply a musician. She also referenced the opportunity to embrace our loved ones and those close to us who struggle with mental illness.
As they spoke, a video of Avicii displayed an image of him looking openly into the camera. He seemed serene, if not somewhat sad. It drove home the weight of the loss and what he meant to fans and fellow musicians.
— Billboard Music Awards (@BBMAs) May 21, 2018
The Chainsmokers Dedicate Top Dance/Electronic Artist Win to Avicii
Shortly after their touching tribute, The Chainsmokers prevailed in the Top Dance/Electronic Artist category. They graciously dedicated the award to Avicii. Yet again, they shared heartfelt words about the artist’s influence on pop and EDM.
“We want to dedicate this award to Avicii,” Drew added after giving the usual thanks. “None of us would be here. Everyone who was nominated for this award was massively influenced by him. He is someone who made us believe this is a realistic career and something we could do with our lives. He inspired all of us, influenced our music, influenced pop music and music in general, and he will be missed. I hope you’re somewhere, I hope you found peace, and we love you.”
By evoking Avicii’s influence on the category itself, The Chainsmokers breathed life into his memory.
During the speech, the camera touched on the audience where many also appeared emotional. Drew’s words were simple but to the point. And when he finished, Alex Pall solemnly followed him from the stage. It was touching to share such a raw moment with the usually playful Chainsmokers.
Alex and Drew even took a subdued approach to fashion for the evening, embracing the somber tone of the evening. Dressed in button-down shirts and trousers, they looked a more grown-up version of their usual fashion-forward selves.
It is a profound thought to consider: how many of this year’s nominees would exist if not for Avicii? His influence is glaringly apparent in the styles and idols of the current wave of dance music heavy hitters.
— Billboard Music Awards (@BBMAs) May 21, 2018
Who was Avicii?
Avicii was born Tim Bergling in Sweden in 1989. His mother was a Swedish sitcom actress and his father a businessman. Avicii’s rise to fame came from a pure place just like The Chainsmokers. He just loved dance music and wanted to be a part of the scene related to it.
As a teen, Bergling began creating tracks in his Stockholm bedroom. He would then post them to popular EDM sites. His unique style is the cornerstone of his reputation, and fans quickly started craving his cutting hooks. His way of layering vocals and producing upbeat songs was infectious to his audience.
He took the stage name Avicii after a friend introduced him to the Buddhist concept of a purgatory where sinners are reborn after death. He explains it as a sort of fortuitous and random occurrence.
The name Avici, it means ‘lowest level of Buddhist hell.’ I think a friend of mine told me about it first for something completely different, and I was kind of choosing my MySpace page at the time. Everything else was taken, my real name was taken. I really like it now, though. I’ve really gotten accustomed to it. Avicii- Elite Daily
It’s worth mentioning that Alex Pall has frequently said in interviews that the name The Chainsmokers stuck because, in part, ‘the domain was available.’ This is the first of a few interesting similarities between The Chainsmokers and the idol they honored at BBMA 2018.
Welcome to music in the post-social media age.
Tours and Tribulations
Between 2009 and 2011, Avicii went from modest success with his first single, “Ryu,” and appearances at Miami EDM parties to the white-hot subject of a contract bidding war. His 2011 single “Levels” put him at the top of the radar of multiple labels. He eventually signed and began touring.
“Levels” was his first Grammy nomination and his collaboration with David Guetta, “Sunshine,” earned him his second a year later. He was the first EDM artist to headline New York’s Radio City Music Hall, proving what a trailblazer he truly was.
His success was instrumental to EDM gaining the mainstream acceptance it enjoys today. Ask almost any DJ in the past ten years who their influences are, and you will hear Avicii’s name. In fact, his influence extends to pop music as well.
But health-related problems plagued Avicii almost from the start. He was hospitalized for acute pancreatitis in 2012 and drinking was to blame. The DJ/Producer said he used alcohol to calm his social anxiety. In 2014 he also had his gallbladder removed. In fact, between 2013 and 2015, friends noticed a decline in his appearance and health, according to Rolling Stone.
He had the duality of having a gigantic sense of theatrical ambition but, at the same time, being a very humble and simple guy. He was caught between the two, and the life began grinding on him. Neil Jacobson, a Geffen Records executive, Rolling Stone
Avicii always struggled with the rigors of touring and the toll it took on his health and emotional wellbeing. He ultimately retired in 2016, citing a need for peace and clarity. Friends describe his lifestyle and demeanor in the weeks before his death as positive. This made his passing all the more shocking.
In a clip Alex Pall live streamed, now memorialized on YouTube, it’s clear that Alex was deeply touched by the news of Avicii’s untimely death. He openly cries about what a ‘legend’ the world has lost and how very sad the news makes him.
After seeing Alex’s raw emotions, it’s not surprising that their fallen friend was on their mind at the Billboard Awards.
A Common Thread?
While The Chainsmokers and Avicii are very different artists, there are some interesting similarities between the two. The most obvious comparison comes from the subject matter highlighted in new Chainsmokers’ lyrics. Both artists are also known for stepping outside conventional EDM on their journey to self-actualization.
The Fame Fishbowl
A cursory look at the lyrics of the latest Chainsmokers songs reveals themes that echo Avicii’s struggle with success.
“Sick Boy,” “You Owe Me,” “Everybody Hates Me,” and “Somebody” provide an intimate look into the lives of a suddenly famous person. There are commitments and pressures. People suddenly act like they own you, or know you, but you’ve never even met them before. There is a preconceived notion about you, and that critical mass can crush the truth.
At the very same time, fame allows artists to tour the world and share their creativity with people from many cultures. It provides financial security and the ability to help others. It’s certainly not all bad; it’s just not easy either.
It’s a double-edged sword that often leads to questioning one’s identity and feelings of isolation. Temptations are everywhere, and alcohol is almost a part of the gig.
In the town full of fancy cars and crowded bars and supermodels
Looks exactly the way it did inside my head
When I dreamed about it
All the things I could live without
I need it now ’cause they’re all around me
Only thing that I can’t afford is to lose myself
Tryna be somebody, somebody
- The Chainsmokers, “Somebody”
Compare some of The Chainsmokers’ recent lyrics to Avicii quotes and you see an eerie similarity.
To me it was something I had to do for my health. The scene was not for me. It was not the shows and not the music. It was always the other stuff surrounding it that never came naturally to me. All the other parts of being an artist. I’m more of an introverted person in general. It was always very hard for me. I took on board too much negative energy, I think… It’s been a very crazy journey. I started producing when I was 16. I started touring when I was 18. From that point on, I just jumped into 100 percent. When I look back on my life, I think: whoa, did I do that? It was the best time of my life in a sense. It came with a price – a lot of stress a lot of anxiety for me – but it was the best journey of my life. – Avicii, Billboard
Being at the top is internally and externally challenging and learning to deal with that is part of the package.
Disrupting the Genre
Another similarity between Avicii and The Chainsmokers is their willingness to follow their creative spirit. They all speak openly about evolving beyond ‘typical’ EDM. Both Avicii and The Chainsmokers see music as expansive and fluid.
Alex Pall says they needed some time to build up their confidence before they could truly show their artistic ideology. Once they had some success under their belts, it was time to be more authentic.
“[I]t takes a while to build confidence and to believe in whatever direction you’re going in,” Alex told Face Culture. “That kind of started with our remixes. In the beginning it was just like… we were trying to make music that anyone would dance to. It was more about making a song that another DJ would play.
It didn’t take long for The Chainsmokers to start outgrowing the formula of their early hits. Pall says “Roses” stands out as a turning point for their music.
“I’m gonna make what I wanna make, what feels cool, I don’t care if people can dance to it. I don’t care … I mean I care, but like, I just want to make things that I like…I made a conscious decision. I’m done. I’m gonna make what I wanna make, what feels cool, I don’t care if people can dance to it. I don’t care … I mean I care, but like, I just want to make things that I like, and that was “Roses.” Alex Pall, ABC News
As for what The Chainsmokers like, it’s a mix of many different kinds of music. Alex told Headliner Magazine, “[W]e’ve had varying stages of different obsessions in music, metal, punk rock, gangsta rap – we’ve run the gamut, and we listen to everything.” It only felt right that they incorporate other musical styles and live instruments into their evolving sound.
There came a point in Avicii’s career where he also started experimenting. The small box of EDM got too small for his expansion and he spilled over. It wasn’t without strife, however.
In 2013, the Miami Ultra Music Festival crowd booed him halfway through his set. After keeping the fans dancing for the first half of his performance, he brought out some musicians and the audience didn’t appreciate the sudden energy shift. This superband contained none other than Mac Davis, Dan Tyminski, Audra Mae, Aloe Blacc, Mike Einziger, Ben Kenney, and Jose Pasillas, II. Talent wasn’t the problem, people just weren’t ready.
Around that time, Avicii commented on a new musical direction he was taking. “It’s about how to incorporate acoustic instruments from different styles and influences you wouldn’t expect and still stay true to your own sound and musicality, which for me has always been about the melodies and positive energy.” Avicii, Dancing Astronaut
Did he care that his creativity wasn’t well received? Maybe. But it didn’t deter him, and he didn’t let the naysayers shake his core.
I don’t feel like I’m selling out at all. This is the type of music that I listen to, and this is the type of music I love. – Avicii, Rolling Stone
It’s heartwarming to see such a human side of The Chainsmokers as they share their love for a fallen brother. Avicii will be missed but his memory lives on in new artists and those yet to come.
Social Media Sentiments
Before their live tribute, The Chainsmokers used social media to show respect for Avicii’s life and career. They called him a ‘hero…an inspiration and friend’ on Instagram. They dreamed about becoming just like him, so the post is emotional and in-depth.
Today is one of those days. A day where we lost a hero of ours, an inspiration and friend. We had the pleasure of playing many shows with Tim and he was a real hero of ours. Drew and I used to watch this exact video 6 years ago dreaming to be like him one day. His music brought us and the world so much joy. He was a remarkable artist and friend to so many. Words won’t do justice to how he changed music and so many of our lives. He was taken from us far to early. I am crying writing this because he meant so much to us… We looked up to him in ways we cant possibly explain. We made memories to his music and he helped us with our career in ways that we could never ever repay him. Please for the love of god let this be a reminder to never take those around you for granted, watch out for each other and cherish the time we all have. Our prayers go out to his family and friends, many of whom we know. Look at this video, look at the people all around the world, look at the joy and happiness he spread. There will never ever be another like him and for that reason we cry and will never forget. There are so many temptations around us, so many of us suffer quietly behind closed doors, putting up a facade of happiness and stability. Let this be a reminder that we all struggle with demons and that we need to be there for each other. Tim we love you man, what you did for us will never be forgotten. We posted this video cause it is a reminder of what this brilliant amazing guy did for all of us. He touched us all and now he is gone but a legend never dies.
The Chainsmokers’ Twitter account also broadcast their shock and sympathy.
“A day where we lost a hero of ours, an inspiration and friend. There will never ever be another like him and for that reason we cry and will never forget. We posted this video cause it is a reminder of what this brilliant amazing guy did for all of us. And now he is gone.”
A day where we lost a hero of ours, an inspiration and friend. There will never ever be another like him and for that reason we cry and will never forget. We posted this video cause it is a reminder of what this brilliant amazing guy did for all of us. And now he is gone. pic.twitter.com/ObfvoSgceh
— THE CHAINSMOKERS (@TheChainsmokers) April 20, 2018
Not long after that, the account shared another post. This time, lyrics from Somebody that echo that razor edge of isolation and living your dream. Nothing in the poignant post directly ties it to Avicii’s death, but it’s difficult to read the lines without drawing the comparison.
There’s a special type of bonding that happens among creative people. Your peers are your mentors and those who blazed trails. With all the charged emotions at play, everyone soon feels like family. Idols you looked up to for years before your career took off are now people you headline with at shows. It’s not only surreal; it’s deeply meaningful.
The Chainsmokers spoke for most of the electronic music when they spoke about Avicii. Hopefully, he was looking down and smiling.