Tim Bergling, better known by his stage name Avicii, was an epitome of the shy superstar, a man who inhabited the world of showbiz, at the same time disliking the fame it brought him.
“I love what I do, but I’ve never liked being recognised or being in the spotlight,” he said, after years of relentless scrutiny from the media. He spearheaded the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) movement, with up to 250 shows a year. In 2015, Forbes estimated his annual earnings at $19m.
He was born in Stockholm to Klas Bergling and Anki Lidén, the latter an award-winning actor whose credits include Wallander and Irene Huss.
At the tender age of 16, he was highly influenced by Daft Punk and Swedish House Mafia, and began making his own remixes, posting them at the online forum of Dutch DJ Laidback Luke under the pseudonym Avicii – a version of avīci, a Buddhist term for hell. These led to a meeting with a manager, Arash Pournouri, and a deal with the Dejfitts Plays label.
In 2014, Avicii’s lifestyle caught up with him and he cancelled shows to make time for his gallbladder and appendix surgeries. He said, “I realised that my body and mind couldn’t handle it any more”. Although he remained in high demand as a touring artist, he retired from live performances in 2016 after a bout of acute pancreatitis.
His biggest single was Wake Me Up(2013), a song with folk music elements that alienated some of his audience on its live debut but topped the charts in the UK and across the globe, is among the most listened to singles in the 21st century, being downloaded more than 8 billion times. He once said about the song’s immense popularity, “I knew it was going to be controversial at the time, but the audience have really come around. It’s important to believe in what you do.” Both of Avicii’s albums, ‘True’ (2013) and ‘Stories’ (2015) were runaway hits, and his songs have been streamed more than 11bn times on Spotify.
He was nominated twice for Grammy awards, the first in 2012 for a collaboration with fellow DJ David Guetta titled Sunshine, and the following year for his first mainstream hit ‘Levels’. He holds the distinction of having recorded with artists as disparate as Wyclef Jean, Robbie Williams, ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, Rita Ora and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. He also modelled for the fashion designer Ralph Lauren.
The speed and suddenness of Avicii’s ascent – he got his first deal in 2007 aged 17 – led him to develop an alcohol dependency. He said: “You’re travelling around, you live in a suitcase, you get to this place, there’s free alcohol everywhere – it’s sort of weird if you don’t drink … I just got into a habit, because you rely on that encouragement and self-confidence you get from alcohol.”
After the recent demise of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Avicii’s death has come as a rude shock to music lovers of the genre. Although the cause of his death is not specified as yet, excessive alcoholism, the reason he retired at the peak of his career, remains the prime suspect. As obituaries pour in from across the globe, his death raises many questions and demands retrospection. The modern day demigods as we know them, are not what they seem to the public. Amidst the continuous attention and news, rumours, accusations following them wherever they go, sometimes the pressure proves to be a tad bit more than they can handle. Reports of misbehaviour, brawls and controversies have become a daily affair with these stars, and they mostly happen in an inebriated state. Having said that, perhaps these idols would be better off without all the public and media interference in their personal lives.
Avicii shall always be remembered as a pioneer and a revolutionary, a musical genius who made his own path amidst a crowd. He shall always remain alive in the hearts of countless people with whom he connected on an emotional level. Tim Bergling, you deserved a better treatment from the world than you got. May your soul rest in peace.