How Kygo’s Diva Remixes Are Helping Him Break Out of the ‘DJ Box’

Summer: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images. Turner: Alan Davidson/Shutterstock. Kygo: Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images. Houston: Ian Dickson/Shutterstock.

From left: Summer, Turner, Kygo and Houston.

In 1985, Tina Turner's heartbreak anthem “What’s Love Got To Do With It” won Grammys for record of the year, song of the year and best female pop vocal performance. Thirty-five years later, the enduring hit could score another nomination — this time for best remixed recording, thanks to a 2020 update by Kygo. The track is one in a string of diva classics the Norwegian DJ-producer (born Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll) has recently reimagined. Last year, he produced a soaring remix of Whitney Houston’s 1990 cover of “Higher Love” that hit No. 12 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart; this month, he put his own spin on Donna Summer’s 1979 smash “Hot Stuff.” But these releases aren’t just a remix-of-the-month hobby — they’re part of a long-term plan by Kygo and his manager, Myles Shear, to grow the producer’s career.

Do What You Know: Remixes have been central to Kygo’s repertoire since a 2013 take on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” earned him early acclaim. “I’ve always enjoyed trying to blend my style with iconic vocals ever since I remixed that track,” he says. “It’s an honor and also a little scary trying to rework masterpieces.” The massive success of “Higher Love” encouraged him to push through any anxiety. Says Shear: “Especially after ‘Higher Love’ came out last summer and we saw the reactions, we knew we had to continue that path.”

How Whitney Houston's 'Higher Love' Became a Hit With the Help of Kygo | Billboard News

Hone Your Style: Though Kygo didn’t set out to remix only female superstars, he thought his effervescent, pop-leaning sound was a good match for “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “Hot Stuff” — and would let him bring the songs into the 21st century without sacrificing the integrity of the originals. Embracing his fondness for diva remixes turned out to be savvy branding, too: It’s a new sonic signature that, says Shear, “allows him to connect with older audiences, which makes the releases relatable and enjoyable for everyone.”

Prepare for Paperwork: Houston’s estate approached Kygo about remixing “Higher Love” — which previously was on a Japanese edition of one of her albums — so licensing that song was a straightforward process. Getting the rights to “What’s Love Got To Do With It” took nearly eight months, though. “The process got very complicated at times,” says Shear. “You’re tracking down the labels involved, the best point of contact for the artist and publishers, and getting all the teams on the same page to create something special. Clearing these records isn’t easy — and it shouldn’t be, given the legends involved.”

Hope for the Best: Grammys recognition “is a huge goal for us in his development this year,” says Val Pensa, Kygo’s product manager and senior vp marketing at RCA Records, who helped roll out his daylong livestream festival in May as well as a partnership with the meditation app Calm. While Shear notes that they “aren’t campaigning so much as continuing to do what we have always done,” he hopes Kygo’s remixes will inspire voters to also look beyond the singles and check out his third album, Golden Hour, released in May. “Kygo and the team continue coming up with new ways to elevate him and make sure he does not get put into a ‘DJ box,’ ” says Shear. “Winning a Grammy would certainly be incredible validation from his artistic community.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 19, 2020, issue of Billboard.