This single features bluegrass-inspired guitar riffs coupled with Avicii's trademark sweeping house music chords. When the Swedish DJ first introduced the tune at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, some dance music fans raised their eyebrows at its blend of country, folk and EDM. It was even compared to the time when Bob Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, which angered many folk purists, but ultimately ranked as ranked as one of the seminal moments of American rock 'n' roll history.
The song premiered on BBC Radio 1 Pete Tong's radio show on June 14,2013 with the DJ describing it a "complete change in style" from his previous singles. It was later released on iTunes and radio on June 25, 2013.
This features vocals and lyrics by the American soul singer Aloe Blacc, whose "I Need A Dollar
" single peaked at #2 on the UK singles chart in 2010.
Though Blacc wasn't credited as an artist on the track, he told Billboard
magazine that he sees an upside to the omission: "It's one of those things where it's bittersweet for the fans' sake; I want my fans to know that I'm doing something new," he said. "But, I like the discovery."
"When I was a young kid, I loved the song 'Somebody's Watching Me
' [by Rockwell], and I had no idea until much later that my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, was singing on the chorus," Blacc continued. "So, you never know; sometimes these things happen, and you get Michael McDonald singing a chorus you didn't realize was Michael McDonald. Now you got Aloe Blacc singing a song that eventually you'll learn is Aloe Blacc."
Songwriting credits go to Avicii, Aloe Blacc, and multi-instrumentalist Mike Einziger of the rock band Incubus. They wrote the song at Einziger's home studio in Malibu, California. According to Blacc, Avicii and Eizinger had the track worked up when he arrived. He had disparate bits of lyrics on hand, one of which was the line "Wake me up," which he felt was the strongest message to go with the track.
While Einziger played, Blacc sang, "Wake me up when it's all over," and the cadence of the line went with the chord progression. The next line Blacc introduced from his notebook was "All this time I was finding myself, I didn't know I was lost." Blacc was concerned that these two lines wouldn't make any sense in the same song, but Einziger told him it was fine, so they went with it.
Einziger admitted to Radio.com
that he "was not that familiar with Avicii's music when [they] first met up to discuss music." "Someone from his camp contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in working on something with him," he explained. "At first I was puzzled thinking, 'How would that work?' But then I was like, 'Why in the world would I not?'"
The song was written in just two hours during a jam session at Einziger's home studio with Avicii playing keyboards and the Incubus multi-instrumentalist guitar. The duo instantly began crafting a chord progression before singing lyric-less melodies on top of it.
Avicii was supposed to be working with Aloe Blacc on a totally separate project that night, but the pair were feeling so much momentum, they decided to invite the American rapper-turned-singer over to contribute. "He came down with some lyrics that he had written already," Einziger said. "It was almost like a poem. So we started taking the lyrics that he'd written and applying them to our new melodies."
By the end of the night, the trio had virtually completed the song.
Avicii made the choice with this song to step out of his EDM comfort zone and produce something noticeably different from his other cuts. "I didn't want 'Levels
' to identify me. In a sense, it's just a song, and I've always produced a lot of music, so I wanted to do something really different," he explained to MTV News. "I really wanted to make sure to do something different than what anyone else is doing."
The song is unique amongst its chart-topping contemporaries in that its hook is instrumental. Coupled with an already catchy vocal chorus, this gives the listener an extra "pay-off" (a song's most engaging and memorable moment), which comprises 61% of the entire song. The song ends on an instrumental outro, which is, again, unusual for a chart-topper.
Aloe Blacc had yet to release a major-label recording when he got this gig. Avicii was familiar with Blacc's song "I Need A Dollar
" because it was a hit in Europe, and when the DJ/producer wanted a soulful singer/lyricist for this track, he asked for him.
Speaking at the 92.3 NOW studios in New York City to DJ Toro, Avicii said that the musical pairing of EDM and country wasn't something that was planned out at the outset. "The country aspect of it I don't really feel, if anything I feel it's more like folk music," he said. "That was more what we were playing around with in the beginning – but when we first did it I wasn't even sure if I was going to use the guitar in the song. All of that came after because we all fell in love and got accustomed to the guitar and that vibe. It was really energetic, a Summer vibe throughout. So that's why we decided to keep that in it."
The song's music video was directed by the renowned fashion and celebrity photographer Mark Seliger (Rolling Stones, Kurt Cobain) . It follows two sisters who are outcasts in their own Californian town travel to watch Avicii perform at the Ultra Music Festival, where he first premiered the single. The younger girl is played by child model Laneya Grace and the older one is portrayed by Russian beauty Kristina Romanova. The clip features clothing supplied by Denim & Supply - Avicii is a brand ambassador for the iconic American clothing product.
The song's crossover appeal was demonstrated when it became just the third tune to top both Billboard's Dance/Mix Show Airplay and Triple A charts. The latter is a spin off from the album-oriented rock format form and is known for its multi genre mix of indie, alternative and rootsy rock bands and acoustic-based singer/songwriters. The other tracks that crowned both tallies were The Killers' "Read My Mind
" in 2007, and Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know
" in 2012.
Avicii is primarily known for his EDM instrumentals, so it is something of a surprise that this folk fusion didn't isolate his fan base. However, it should be noted that the song still employs a catchy instrumental hook, a generic element imperative to EDM. It is perhaps less surprising, given the prominence of folk tracks on the charts of the era, that this song was such a resounding success, topping 27 charts worldwide.
The fusion elements make the song perfect as a dance-floor filler, whilst introspective lyrics can adapt the song for more personal listening. This combination is made all the more natural by Aloe Blacc's soulful vocals, which are nuanced enough to evoke the emotional aspects of the melody, along with the euphoric qualities needed for a successful EDM track.
Avicii topped the UK singles charts with the song. It was the Swede's second UK #1, having originally reached the peak position in February 2013 with his collaboration with Dutch DJ Nicky Romero, "I Could Be The One
." It also reached the summit in over 25 other countries, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Spain.
Aloe Blacc came up with the lyrics on an airplane. "I was thinking to myself, 'My life is a dream. Wake me up when it's over,'" he recalled to Billboard magazine. "When I walked into the session with Mike Einziger on guitar and Avicii, Mike was playing his guitar chords and these words... the way I sang them just felt right. We ended up recording it that night and I drove home listening to this acoustic version that Avicii eventually made into a fantastic hit. It's a wonderful experience."
This was the first ever song to reach 200 million streams on the Spotify music streaming service.
The Red Hot Chilli Pipers performed a rocking version to launch BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend 2014. Their rendition became a YouTube hit after Avicii tweeted the band's cover out to his followers and it also reached #54 on the UK singles chart.
The title is repeated just four times in this song, which is very few compared to other hits of the time.
Blacc recorded a stripped-down, intimate version of the song for his 2013 Lift Your Spirit album.
Shazam announced during a relaunch of the music identification app on December 10, 2014, that this is the most Shazamed song of all time. Avicci's hit had collected more than 19 million queries by that date, followed closely by Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines
" with more than 18 million.
In November 2014 a group of celebrities mentored by choirmaster and broadcaster Gareth Malone recorded a cover as the official 2014 Children In Need charity single. Their choral version
reached #1 on the UK singles chart just 16 months after the Avicii-performed original did likewise.