Evan McGarvey is lying down in darkness.
Only marks believe a singer who tells them that a song is snatched perfectly from real life. Maybe Janis Joplin really did want Jehovah to deliver that Mercedes. Maybe Scarface actually never did cried until he saw a man die. I’m not so sure. I do know that Carly Simon got Dick Ebersol to cough up 50 grand just to find out who exactly it was horse racing and misleading a woman on “You’re So Vain” and I think that might be the silliest money ever spent.
If you were at a party with young people a few years ago, you most certainly heard “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.” An honest-to-god Duke frat guy named Mike Posner made the woeful acoustic original, and a Norwegian outfit SeeB gave it an ethereal second life.
The track still soars: croaking synths, explosive finger snaps and Posner’s voice a reedy, overmatched plea underneath the beat. Call it verisimilitude. These would be the precise sounds inside and around a young American having a chain of druggy claustrophobic false epiphanies on a Mediterranean waterfront.
The opening lines ride the edge between vulnerability and boyish, paper-thin cynicism: “I took a pill in Ibiza to show Avicii I was cool / and when I finally got sober, I felt ten years older / but fuck it, it was something to do.”
Posner’s told Genius (because of course he did) that it all really happened. He really did end up in Ibiza, that party island and patient zero of slushy, tiresome club music. Avicii had invited him, and, well, the story and the song fuse so tightly from then on that does it really matter?
When it first came out in 2015, the song felt like a hat tip between old and young millennials.
The olds had stepped out of youth and landed in the trash fire of the recession, moved home for a while, went into debt at tenuously accredited schools, tabled a house, tabled kids, had friends coming back from Iraq and had Iraqi friends, got the last whiff of one American bargain and grinded for another. For a few years it felt like there were only dance songs and sad songs and could anyone tell the difference?
The young millennials coming up behind have had to deal with some of the same beyond-their-control crap. But they also got to swipe and drag through parts of it—dating, driving, documenting— that older ones didn’t. Not easier, but different. EDM and other genres that my old millennial self cannot parse took musical culture over, supplanting rap (boo!) and nu metal (thank you, young millennials!). I remember trying to go to club after 2010. Why were all these kids dancing? Did their direct deposit just hit? Don’t they know who Nelly is? Oh, they were just children. I forgot.
“I Took A Pill In Ibiza” works so beautifully—and even better know—because its fusion of happy risk, stupid release, sweaty misunderstanding, and a shabby version of wisdom feels both so quintessentially of this generation (I’m 33) and so wholly timeless.
Avicii died two months ago at 28. A few days ago he was buried in his hometown of Stockholm. He had lived with addiction and depression and reports said that he died by suicide.
Yesterday, my best friend and I were texting about “I Took A Pill in Ibiza.” He asked if the song is weird now because Avicii died. I told him that maybe the song’s a kind of elegy now, a song for making it through and coming out the other side. The song itself ages you a bit too, but it lets you shake your head at your foolishness and joy chasing. We’re ready, maybe, to have some cliché advice to offer like the song the does: “You don’t ever wanna step off that roller coaster and be all alone”
I think “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” will become like “American Pie” in due time. Avicii will be Buddy Holly and a scrubby Spanish party island will become a levee that ran dry. The song will become a way to mark time and to rewind it. “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” has become an emotional reality, to me at least. Is there a better thing for a song to be?
“I Took a Pill In Ibiza” makes me dance and makes me think about my own life, and maybe one night in particular:
I’m in college. It’s a spring weekend in 2004 and I’m in a new friend’s dorm room. The night is very fun and still has that blue electric bolt of potential: this thing might keep going. There are other parties to get to. Everyone will be new. You remember that moment when your edges are a bit fuzzy and a happy garden of endorphin blossoms in your chest?
We are finding a way to open the new fangled ultra-safe window locks so that we might smoke cigarettes like extremely cool freshmen. The window opens, we steal a pair of Marlboro reds from their roommate, and we’re smoking. I can barely get through a third of the cigarette before I’m looking for music. My new friend directs me to their matte black 72-disc Case Logic folder.
Lightening bolt. I’m might just get a good long look at this person, what an older sibling or cousin gave them, what they work out to, what makes them cry, what makes them feel cool, what makes them miss home, their sad songs, their happy songs. Facts and facts and facts and bands and songs and albums. And maybe a real sense of a real person in the middle of all of it.
So I opened it. CD-R’s, all the way back. Most were unlabeled. The labels that were there were only a date or a person’s name or a location: 11/11/02; Julie; Tahoe mix.
All those naked plastic silver CDs were a wall of private facts. There’s no real shorthand for our interior spaces, not one we can share at least. My new friend had pulled all these songs from a thousand different places and put them down in the order of their own life. That’s it.
We finished our cigarettes, clobbered our flip phone keypads to find out where the last parties of the night were, and parted ways. Hung out a few times after, but moved on quickly as kids at large schools often do. I never got to hear what was on any of those CD-R’s.
“I Took A Pill In Ibiza” wouldn’t come out for another decade. It wouldn’t be wonderful until it was remixed later and now the most famous person affiliated with the song has moved on to the next life. At an Irish wake, you are supposed to dance. It’s catharsis and joy and refusal and some vital embrace of mystery.
The song itself is going to live for a very long time, I think. The beat snaps and drops and lifts itself up in special places. Posner’s voice feels exquisitely helpless, like it’s trying to make amends for even speaking. If it didn’t so effortlessly move us to dance, would we care? Is it worth it? What should we get from all of it? What did I learn? I’m not sure. But, reader, all I know are sad songs, sad songs.