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Can Kygo Build Music’s Next Margaritaville?

The dance star was "very up front early about studying our brand and wanting to use it as a model. I was honored," says Jimmy Buffett.

Kygo takes his coffee black. No sugar.

Given the past 72 hours the Norwegian producer has just careened through, his need to mainline caffeine is understandable. On Friday, he flew out of Los Angeles on a private jet for a show at Las Vegas mega-club XS. The next morning, he touched down in Arizona, played a set at the Phoenix Open golf tournament, then ping-ponged back to L.A. to perform that night at a pre-Super Bowl party hosted by Sports Illustrated and Palm Tree Crew, his own musical collective and lifestyle brand. There, a horde of VIP types — some of whom paid upwards of $35,000 for a table near the stage — warmed up to an opening set by Goldman Sachs CEO David “DJ Sol” Solomon, guzzled free alcohol-laced seltzers and passionately sang along when Kygo blasted his signature remix of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

The next day, the artist born Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll attended the actual Super Bowl, then an afterparty, then, naturally, another afterparty. It was 3 a.m. by the time he returned to his base here at the Four Seasons, where, just 12 hours later, he’s sitting in a quiet room overlooking the pool, lifting a porcelain mug of steaming coffee to his mouth. A black “X” Sharpie’d on his left hand from one of the weekend’s events is the only sign of his three-day marathon.

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On his right wrist, its countermeasure is tattooed in tidy block letters: “balance.” It’s not just lip service rendered in black ink. Tomorrow morning, Kygo will fly back to his native Norway for two weeks at his waterfront home in the coastal city of Bergen, where he spends his time boating, golfing, hanging with friends and family, and tinkering on his piano. (The keys tattooed on several fingers emphasize his affection for the instrument.) Bergen is famous for fjords, not clubs — and that’s the point.

“Every time I have more than two weeks off, Bergen is where I want to be,” Kygo says. “I want to go back home. It’s where I don’t have to live out of a bag, where I can get into a nice routine, go to the gym. It’s where I can be myself and take time off and be away from everything.”

In the dance genre, Kygo’s preternatural calm is both an outward manifestation of his mellow-centric brand and the key to its sustained success. While many producers burn out from the physical and mental demands of the lifestyle — including Kygo’s late idol Avicii, who died in 2018 after a whirlwind career defined by serious bouts of exhaustion and whose logo is tattooed on Kygo’s forearm — Kygo has always instinctually declined the things (shows, collaborations, tours) he would simply rather not do.

“For me, it’s all about the balance,” he says. “When it comes to how many shows I’m doing, I always want to plan when I can go back home for a couple of days. Obviously, there are festivals I want to play and go back to, but if it doesn’t fit with the schedule, I’m just going to say no.”

Kygo
Duvin shirt and pants. Meredith Jenks

This innate sense of chill also extends to what Kygo says yes to, like the production of a breezy strain of pop-forward electronic music dubbed “tropical house,” which he began releasing nine years ago. Effervescent and accessible, often outfitted with steel drums and bongos — as well as a bright chorus with chopped vocals that has become known as Kygo’s signature — it’s music made for kicking back on the beach. That may seem counterintuitive for an artist who loves living in a city where it rains 270 days a year. But Kygo’s goal is to transport his listeners to a tropics of the mind — wherever that may be.

“This genre of music is very likable,” he says. “It’s kind of melodic and happy and has this nice vibe to it. You can be 5 years old or 75 years old [and enjoy it].”

And now, it has become the foundation upon which Kygo’s empire — and the vision for its future — have been built. Five years ago, he and his manager, Myles Shear, met island vibes icon Jimmy Buffett and realized he had perfected a model for what Kygo’s own Palm Tree Crew could become: the business juggernaut that is ­Margaritaville. “He created so many areas where [his fans] can come together — it doesn’t even need to be at his shows. It can be at his hotel or a Margaritaville bar,” says Kygo. “That’s what we’re trying to create: something that’s bigger than the music. A community, a movement.”


Long before he became dance music’s king of chillaxing, Kygo was a somewhat-too-chill student in Edinburgh, Scotland, studying business and finance at university. The remixes he posted to SoundCloud first gained popularity around 2013. “I was making music all the time,” he says. “I barely passed exams.”

His timing, amid the blastoff era for both EDM and digital service providers, was fortuitous. By 2015, early hits like the tear-jerk anthem “Firestone” made Kygo, at the time, the fastest artist to reach 1 billion Spotify streams; a year later, he played the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Over the next few years, his music leaned further toward pop, often featuring prominent female vocalists such as Selena Gomez and Ellie Goulding. Most recently, he has had remarkable success spotlighting iconic divas of pop eras past: Whitney Houston’s estate selected Kygo to remix her cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love,” and his 2019 edit became a global hit that remains omnipresent everywhere from festival sets to grocery stores. Official edits of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” followed. Kygo calls it “an honor” to rework such classics and says he’s seriously considering doing an entire album of ’80s remixes.

Kygo
Solid & Striped X Palm Tree Crew shirt and shorts. Meredith Jenks

He has 3 billion on-demand streams in the United States alone, according to MRC Data, and has grossed $35.1 million across 43 shows dating back to 2014, according to figures reported to Billboard Boxscore. (Las Vegas nightclubs, where Kygo has held multiple residencies, do not report sales figures to Boxscore.) And now, at 30, Kygo is turning his sound and all the high-end leisure it ­connotes into a sprawling business with Palm Tree Crew — which requires a different kind of balance to accomplish.

If Kygo embodies cool Nordic reserve, then his manager, Shear, is the heat and hustle of his native Miami in human form. Sitting at a corner table of the Four Seasons’ lunch spot (a few seats away from Sharon Stone), Shear needs no caffeine boost to expound, rapid-fire, on his strategy for his star client.

“My rabbi always used to tell me when I was young, ‘Myles, don’t miss the bus,’ ” Shear recalls of his Hebrew school days. “I say that all the time: ‘Don’t miss the bus.’ This is what’s happening whether we want it or not, and this is how content and the whole world is working. You’ve got to be on board with it.”

Most recently, that has meant adapting Kygo’s release strategy, starting with his latest single, the sleek, disco-tastic “Dancing Feet” ­featuring Joe Jonas’ DNCE. Previously, Kygo’s music was kept tightly under wraps before its official release date, but “Dancing Feet” was teased for two months at festivals and in social media clips (primarily on TikTok) before ­dropping Feb. 25.

“By the time the song comes out, fans want to feel like they’ve heard it,” says Shear. “It’s kind of like the movie industry, where they play the trailer for like six months. This new strategy we’re implementing is long ­promotion.”

Such agility around consumption patterns is something Kygo and Shear, 29, have demonstrated since meeting almost 10 years ago, when Shear reached out to Kygo on Facebook after discovering his music online. It was then that Kygo — who had seen Spotify’s rise up close from his own Scandinavian perch — “was like, ‘Myles, hey, we need to be focusing on this,’ ” says Shear.

“In some ways, we’re opposites,” Kygo says. “Myles is a social butterfly. He loves running around networking. I think that’s fun as well, but maybe because I’m from Norway … I’m more of an introvert. I love to network and talk to people, but he’s at a different level.” So while Kygo focuses on the music, he’s happy to “follow Myles’ lead” when it comes to expanding Palm Tree, a company that now encompasses a label (a global joint venture with Sony Music Entertainment), a six-artist management division (overseen entirely by Shear) and a festival that launched in New York’s Hamptons in August 2021. It has featured Palm Tree acts alongside the likes of Zedd and Sofi Tukker; upcoming shows are also planned for Aspen, Colo.; Croatia; and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

The Palm Tree Festival is particularly key to Shear’s vision for the brand as a whole. It’s intended not simply to gather Kygo fans in luxe travel destinations, but to “create an ecosystem” in which they can live the Kygo lifestyle, he says.

“I feel like that’s the evolution from selling tickets. We can pop into any city, bring all our fans to the show and they get to enjoy all these things we’ve invested in,” Shear continues. “We think our fans would like a healthy soda versus Coca-Cola, so we’re going to put that there. We’re going to put plant-based chicken there because we think that’s cool. We’re going to put our alcohol there. We want to create this hub for our fans.”

Enter Margaritaville. Buffett and Kygo first met about five years ago at Aspen club Belly Up; Buffett’s son is a Kygo fan and wanted to meet the producer. “That was when I kind of realized how big Margaritaville is,” Kygo recalls. Buffett, for his part, saw parallels between his own career and Kygo’s, and was impressed by the producer and Shear’s “leap and the net will appear” attitude toward their business.

“They were very conscious of the fact that the music and live shows came first and were essential to getting a following. The branding was secondary,” Buffett recalls. “Same thing with me. [“Margaritaville”] was a five minute song written in Austin, Tex. and on the Seven Mile Bridge near Marathon, Fla. that was the nucleus of the Margaritaville brand, not the first restaurant and store. But it was years of touring that created our following.” Kygo and Shear, he continues, “were very up front early about studying our brand and wanting to use it as a model. I was honored.” Later, he appeared during Kygo’s 2019 set at Alabama’s Hangout Fest, where he performed his flagship hit — tweaking one lyric to “all you Kygo-heads covered in oil.”

“Jimmy has become a really good friend and mentor to me,” says Shear. “He was like, ‘Myles, Kygo is the next me — but global.’ ” Today, Buffett calls Shear “the P.T. Barnum of tropical house,” and says he sees the Palm Tree team having “a much better chance at building and managing a brand than a lot of other folks I see out there trying” (he’s already also looking forward to playing “one day with Kyrre in Bergen and Ibiza”).

Kygo
Palm Tree Crew shirt and shorts. Meredith Jenks

Palm Tree has a long way to go before approaching the cross-cultural ubiquity of Margaritaville Holdings, which encompasses roughly 30 restaurants, stores, hotels and casinos in the United States, the Caribbean, Mexico and Australia. But it’s well on its way toward expanding into the same sort of hospitality establishments — ones designed to attract Kygo fans interested in the boats-and-beaches lifestyle he is both soundtracking and selling through Palm Tree’s myriad investments. These include Daring, the maker of that aforementioned plant-based chicken; the Finland-based Long Drink (a gin-based seltzer Kygo invested in with actor Miles Teller and pro golfer Rickie Fowler that he drinks “all the time back home”); and that healthy prebiotic soda, Poppi.

They’re endeavors of Palm Tree Crew Hold Co., an investment fund Shear and Kygo launched in 2020 with $7.5 million in funding. (Shear declines to name its private investors.) Palm Tree Crew Hold Co. now includes a cryptocurrency fund, PTC Crypto, that Shear says raised $20 million upon its 2021 launch; it’s focused on building blockchain technology and run by Shear’s brother, Brett.

“I would never sit in my room and think, ‘I’m going to have hotels one day,’ but Myles is always thinking one step ahead,” says Kygo. “He’s talking about Palm Tree restaurants, Palm Tree hotels. He has the biggest plans in the world and he’s working at a thousand miles an hour every day, and I’m just trying to keep up.”

“I wanted to turn Kygo into a mogul. He’s so much more than just music,” says Shear. “Margaritaville is a legacy. Palm Tree Crew will be a legacy.”

Kygo
Solid & Striped X Palm Tree Crew shirt and shorts. Meredith Jenks

One big leap toward cementing that legacy happened on the night of Nov. 7, 2020, when President-elect Joe Biden gave his victory speech. Televised live from Delaware, the broadcast ended with Kygo’s “Higher Love” edit blasting from the speakers over the assembled crowd and into millions of homes worldwide.

“We were freaking out,” recalls Shear, who watched from his house in Miami. Kygo, at home in Norway, woke up “in the middle of the night and just saw my Twitter and everything blowing up.”

The pair knew that hearing the song during the event — a moment of salvation for roughly 50% of Americans — was a possibility. Earlier in the election cycle, the Biden campaign’s traveling digital director, Olivia Raisner, had reached out to Shear, telling him that “Higher Love” had become a kind of office hype song “when they were in the middle of the campaign and they weren’t up in the polls, [to help them] feel like they could win,” he says. Later, she told Shear she was looking into using the song for “something special” and asked him to help clear the broadcast rights. But even Shear couldn’t have planned for the ensuing synergy: As the Unites States entered a new era of political leadership, Kygo was trending on Twitter.

Today, things are, momentarily, quieter. Kygo says he’s working on new music and thinking about his fourth studio album (the follow-up to 2020’s Golden Hour). He recently finished a nine-minute track, a departure from his usual five-minutes-or-less format. “I feel like if you’re on a boat,” he says, “it’s a good song to listen to.” In 24 hours or so, after all, he’ll be back near his own custom Hydrolift watercraft (with, of course, a palm tree painted on the side) and the remote fjords he maneuvers it through. “You can’t put a price tag,” he says, “on two weeks back home.”

PMC is the largest shareholder of SXSW and its brands are official media partners of SXSW.

Kygo

This story originally appeared in the March 12, 2022, issue of Billboard.