Subsequent releases like “Fade into Darkness” and “Blessed” showcased Bergling’s standout melodic sensibility and cemented his standing as a rising star. But many fans’ introduction to Avicii came in the form of “Levels,” the then-21-year-old's ebullient hit that achieved ubiquity to the point of parody between 2011 and 2012. Inescapable at festivals, “Levels” was overplayed in rare fashion for a track that’s largely instrumental, aside from its soulful Etta James sample. That was Avicii’s gift: the ability to channel euphoria into instantly iconic chord progressions and unmistakable melodies.
“By gear and ear, he became one of the best melody writers I’ve ever met,” Nile Rodgers told the Los Angeles Times at Coachella on Sunday.
Earning his second Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording, “Levels” lifted Avicii’s career to new heights. In 2012, Bergling performed coveted slots at marquee festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Ultra, where he performed on the main stage with Madonna. His 2012 Le7els Tour, described by Goldenvoice's Paul Tollett as one of the "first all-arena North American tours by an electronic artist," took him to landmark venues like Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena and Boston's TD Garden. That September, Avicii became the first DJ to headline New York’s storied Radio City Music Hall with two historic performances.
Avicii could have been forgiven for staying the course, but he never shied away from taking stylistic risks at a time when many of his contemporaries were more hesitant. Bergling weathered a torrent of fan criticism over his polarizing Ultra 2013 main stage set, which featured unreleased material from his pending debut album, True, played with a live bluegrass band, complete with banjos, fiddles and soul and country singers Aloe Blacc, Audra Mae, Mac Davis, and Dan Tyminski.
Avicii was unapologetic in an open letter released shortly after, doubling down that “this album is about experimentation and about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music... people will soon see what it's all about."
True’s strong commercial debut (No. 5 on Billboard 200) vindicated his sentiment, producing three Hot 100 charting singles, including global smash, “Wake Me Up.” Masterfully fusing electronic, country and folk elements and paving the way for future cross-genre collaboration, Avicii’s career-changing hit topped charts in 22 countries and peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100. It remains the most Shazamed track of all-time. Another single, “Hey Brother,” hit No. 16 on the Hot 100 and rode an understated remix to country radio crossover (No. 59 on Country Airplay).