The music community mourned the loss of one of the most influential young DJs in pop this past Friday. Swedish DJ Tim Bergling, known professionally as Avicii, passed away while on vacation in Oman.
The 28-year-old rose to fame in 2011 with his breakthrough hit "Levels." He then ascended to the top of pop stardom with hit after hit, many featuring already famous singers -- and others helping launch careers.
But perhaps one of the most understated aspects of Avicii's success? His influence on country music.
An EDM Infiltration
Electronic dance music -- also known as "EDM" -- found its way onto mainstream country radio in the form of songs like "Drink To That All Night" by Jerrod Niemann (a No. 1 for him) and "Beautiful Drug" by Zac Brown Band (another No. 1). "Drink To That All Night" came out a few months after Avicii's massive song "Wake Me Up," and Zac Brown actually collaborated with Avicii on a song called "Broken Arrows" before releasing "Beautiful Drug."
Around the same time Niemann released "Drink To That All Night," Avicii's next single "Hey Brother" was hitting the radio. The song features bluegrass legend Dan Tyminski on vocals and actually cracked the U.S. Country Airplay Billboard charts -- peaking at No. 59.
Pretty soon, most major publishers started pitching songs that very clearly contained electronic elements. It wasn't necessarily always that "four on the floor" pulsing dance beat you hear in most EDM music, but there were plenty of subtle nods and programmed tracks making their way around Nashville.
And while Maren Morris' current pop/EDM hit "The Middle" is dominating right now, plenty of other country artists lent their vocals to EDM tracks thanks to Avicii's influence. Lady Antebellum sang on a song called "Something Better" by Audien. Jake Owen sang with Owl City. Chase Rice sang on a Gazzo song.
So if you're keeping track, that's a bona fide bluegrass legend, a bona fide bro country star, and a whole bunch of people who fall somewhere in between. And it all pretty much started with Avicii bridging the gap.
Take It From The Writers
One thing that made Avicii so successful? His ability to find a hooky lyric and go with it. And that's a sentiment that resonates on Music Row.
And while much of the teeth-gnashing related to country music's bro country phase relates to the mind-numbingly mundane recycled lyrics, Avicii tended to release songs with heart and meaning to their lyrics. It's what inspired him and other country singers to get together and write.
Like, for instance, Cam, who shared this heartfelt message on Twitter. "My heart is broken to hear about Tim. What a talent and hard worker. Writing with him changed how I thought about the songwriting process. There's so much love the whole world is sending to him and his family right now. What a gift to have him for the short time we did." She also shared a picture from the studio.
My heart is broken to hear about Tim @Avicii - what a talent & hard worker. Writing with him changed how I thought about the songwriting process. There’s so much love the whole world is sending to him and his family right now. What a gift to have him for the short time we did pic.twitter.com/GulXzOwsNs
— Cam (@camcountry) April 20, 2018
Kacey Musgraves also offered her own love for Bergling, relating a co-write they had. "Can't believe it about Avicii," Musgraves wrote. "He was so young and talented. Had a genuine love for creating. We got to write and hang last year and he was so nice. Rest in peace."
That's serious praise coming from two of country music's most lauded young stars (and writers). And the praise for Avicii's talent and ability to obliterate preconceived notions about genre kept coming. Dan Tyminski said of Avicii, "You gave me the opportunity and courage to explore music with a new ear. Your talent and creativity will be missed in this world."
Saddened by the news of @Avicii’s passing yesterday. You gave me the opportunity and courage to explore music with a new ear. Your talent and creativity will be missed in this world.
My condolences to the Bergling family. A young man lost too soon.
— Dan Tyminski (@DanTyminski) April 21, 2018
Zac Brown also called it an honor to work with Bergling.
— Zac Brown Band (@zacbrownband) April 20, 2018
As much as Bergling's music flourished by focusing on country vocals, country music found a whole new audience of listeners across the globe. By cross-pollinating the traditions of each genre, Bergling created something both undeniably catchy and soaked in heart.