Mike Posner — “Ibiza”
I hated “Ibiza” the first time I heard it, mainly because of the first line of the lyrics.
I still hate the official music video that goes with it.
We all do that sometimes — have a visceral reaction to something, then realise we were wrong.
And I couldn’t have been more wrong about today’s song. (Although I’m still right about the video…)
“Ibiza” was originally released in 2015…to pretty much no reaction whatsoever.
But in 2016, Simen Eriksrud and Espen Berg got hold of the song and worked their magic. Their remix made “Ibiza” a worldwide number one.
Eriksund and Berg work as Seeb — the initial letters of both their names. Somehow they came across a barely-noticed release by a washed-up pop star and thought “we can do something interesting with that”. In the process, Mike Posner became an even bigger star than he was during his first encounter with fame and fortune a few years previously.
Which is ironic, as this journey is the exact opposite of the story in “Ibiza”. The song’s about a pop star’s fall from grace — despite being a big star once upon a time, he’s now almost completely forgotten by the listening public, except for the few old-timers who remember his old hits.
There’s clearly a significant autobiographical element in Mike Posner’s “Ibiza” lyrics. In part, they tell the story of his own fall from grace and his years in the wilderness. But the lyrics are brilliant. They are reflective, thoughtful and poignant. There can’t be many songs which describe what it’s like to live a post-fame life as well as Mike Posner’s.
Of course skilled lyric writers can write beautifully about things they’ve never experienced. Many wonderful songs have been written in this way. That’s the creative process at work.
To write about what must have been a bitter personal experience, though, and strike the balance between being reflective and being maudlin…that’s very much harder.
And it also picks up on the contradictions of that post-fame state. If you’re lucky, someone somewhere will still love you. Perhaps your parents, or someone special in your life, if you’re fortunate enough to have someone. Those people still think you’re a global superstar long after the rest of the planet has forgotten you.
There’s a very telling verse in the original acoustic version of today’s song which doesn’t appear in the Seeb remix…
I took a plane to my home town
I brought my pride and my guitar
All my friends have gone but there’s manicured lawns
And people still think I’m a star
In some ways that’s the most poignant verse of all, in a song dripping with poignancy.
When a handful of people still think you’re a star, what do you do? Tell them they’re wrong and risk offending the few people left who are there for you? Play along, but beat yourself up with reminders of who you once were and curse your bad luck since?
Not sure I know the answer.
Whichever choice you make, though, you’ve got your own internal dialogue to deal with.
As the lyrics of “Ibiza” put it…
I’m just a singer who already blew his shot
I get along with old-timers
Because my name’s a reminder of a pop song people forgot
When you think you’ve blown your shot at fame and fortune, that can leave you in a dark place. It’s understandable that, as Mike Posner’s lyrics say…
All I know are sad songs, sad songs
With such great lyrics and a nice melody, you might wonder why “Ibiza” wasn’t a big hit on its initial release back in 2015. Back then the song was pretty much just the words, an acoustic guitar and some understated backing vocals.
It was a charming song in many ways, but chart-wise…nada.
If Mark Posner thought he’d blown his shot at fame and fortune a few years previously, I’m sure all those feelings came back again when his acoustic version didn’t gain the traction he must have hoped for. Record-buyers’ reactions might not have been helped by the song’s original video, which apes Bob Dylan’s famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video with the cue cards…for no apparent reason.
Perhaps the cue cards were a Dylan-esque commentary on the pleasures and perils of fame, a juxtaposition of the transience of pop stardom in the 2010s with the longevity of someone who’s been plying his trade as a troubadour since the 1960s. I don’t know, but whatever the thinking behind it, the video didn’t really work.
Then Seeb came along. They’re on record as saying they liked the lyrics and the melody, but thought the song needed a new soundscape for it to become a hit.
And, boy, were they right.
In their hands a somewhat downbeat, gently-paced song was sped up and the ambiance of a club somewhere in Ibiza slipped in, giving an inspired but brilliantly appropriate backdrop to Mike Posner’s story.
Normally speeding a song up and adding a dance beat would make it into something awful. For example, I can’t think of a single Dylan song that would be improved by that treatment.
But this time round, the genius of the remix is that Seeb took a song about someone thinking back to a time they were famous and made it about today, not just about yesterday. It was no longer sung by an outsider, looking in on a world he used to know. It was being sung by an insider, commenting knowingly on the disposability of a modern pop star. It was no longer a song for old-timers. It was a song for a fresh generation.
In Seeb’s hands the original historically-focused acoustic version turned into something that sounds like it still matters today. And the Ibiza vibe make us feel we’re part of the story, not just observers of it. It’s like we’re there in real time as the story unfolds.
Perhaps most surprising of all, the remixed version somehow sounds even more wistful and poignant than the slower-paced original. Given the subject matter and the dance beat Seeb added, that’s a helluva trick to pull off.
In case you’re wondering, Mike Posner’s original brush with fame was with a great song called “Cooler Than Me”. It was an amazingly catchy song and lots of fun.
However “Ibiza” is one of those “once in a generation” moments of brilliance. Brilliance in the original lyrics and melody. Brilliance in the way Seeb gave the song a completely different feel, capturing the imagination of the listening public in a way the original acoustic version didn’t.
If you’d like a listen to the original acoustic version…complete with the secret “missing” verse…you can find that here. (Please note there is a Parental Advisory on some of the lyrics. And don’t worry, the camera is meant to be out of focus at the beginning…you don’t have a problem with your computer, I think that’s meant to be artistic…)
But for the version that you’ve heard hundreds of times by now…the version that took a a star of yesteryear out of the proverbial gutter and put him back on the stage as a superstar once again…the version that encapsulates everything you need to know about how it feels when fame and fortune close their doors very firmly in your face…here’s one of the best songs of the 21st Century.
I’ve linked to an audio-only music video, because I still hate the official music video.
But I’m glad I got beyond my initial distaste for this song. Don’t think you already know this song because you’ve heard it hundreds of times. Really listen to the lyrics…very few lyrics are quite this brilliant…
Here’s the wonderfully-crafted “Ibiza” by Mike Posner. (Please note there is a Parental Advisory on some of the lyrics.)