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.