After a long conversation about his smash hit “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” and his relationship to fame, I asked Mike Posner if he’d like to open up about anything else in the few minutes we had left on our phone call.
“I haven’t eaten in 48 hours and I feel great,” he said.
“I guess you should have a sandwich?” I responded, thinking he assumed I had already hung up.
“And,” he continued, at which point I realized that was his actual response to my question, “Who believes in G-d after they have seen war? And who believes in war after they’ve seen G-d? Alright, gotta go!”
Just like that, he hung up.
Speechless for a few seconds, I wondered if I had missed a part of the conversation. I presumed Posner would respond to my question with the usual answer, “I think you covered it all!”
Then I realized: What else could I expect from a 28-year-old musical genius who achieved fame, only to undergo a downward spiral fueled by his ascent to stardom before reinventing himself and recalibrating his existential outlook?
It occurred to me that the artist’s at-first-confusing probe into the relationship between religion and war was completely true to character: Michael Posner works outside the paradigms dictated by his stardom — as exemplified by the lyrics of the very song that is all about distancing himself from fame.
Born Michael Robert Henrion Posner to a lawyer father and a pharmacist mother in Detroit, Michigan, Posner started dabbling in music at a very young age. “The music my friends and I listened to was hip hop, so I started rapping when I was 8 years old and I just never really stopped,” he reminisced. “It’s just something I like to do, you know? I’ve done it much longer for free than I have as a job, as a profession.”
While an undergrad at Duke University, Posner developed his sound by making music in his dorm room, eventually earning production credits on Big Sean’s early work and releasing his own tunes, including 2010's “Cooler Than Me,” which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The success of the song played a large part in Posner's admitted struggles with depression.
“It felt like such a big deal to me,” Posner said when describing his reaction to the overwhelming recognition.
“When I look back now at even my own life,” he added, “there’s been a million people that have become famous for a short period of time and then become unfamous” — a reality that became his own when the two albums he recorded between 2011 and 2014 were put aside by his then-record label, RCA.
After being told to stick to songwriting over performing (two of his songs, “Boyfriend” and “Sugar,” were picked up by, respectively, Justin Bieber and Maroon 5), Posner asked to be dropped by the label, which RCA agreed to do.
Feelings of failure and loneliness eventually inspired the lyrics of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” which he released last year on his EP "The Truth."
He said the song, which is largely based on a night out partying with Swedish DJ Avicii, was about “the disillusionment that accompanies some of the hollow goals that we strive for in this country and Western civilization as a whole —such as prestige, notoriety, money, admiration of the opposite sex.”
The irony of this single launching his comeback is not lost on Posner.”
“I achieved those things at a young age and the ironic thing is that my lamenting on the emptiness of those things has seemingly brought me more of them,” he said.
“There’s a line in the second verse that says, ‘I’m just a singer who already blew his shot.’
"But the writing of this line has given me another shot and so the whole thing is completely hilarious, ironic and I’m just trying to have fun."
Posner’s original version of "Ibiza" — folky, contemplative and acoustic — is almost completely at odds with Norwegian duo SeeB's remix released earlier this year. The remix, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, has been the catalyst for Posner's comeback. (Both versions appear on his new album "At Night, Alone," which was released in May.)
“The SeeB guys have made sort of a jubilant sonic texture behind these really heartbreaking lyrics,” he said. “What’s happening is people are having happy times out of my sadness with this remix and, as an artist, I don’t really know what else you could ask for.”
Does he fear that this new wave of recognition might cause a relapse into darkness? “I think that now I know that [fame] doesn’t really matter,” he said.