The crowd famously booed the track when the Swedish producer debuted it at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in 2013. (Those who were in the crowd for that set describe the moment as “awkward.”) When “Wake Me Up” came up in casual conversation during lunch with a publicist in that same era, said publicist put her finger down her throat and pretended to vomit.
Indeed, there were many feelings about the bluegrass-inspired dance track. By fusing his bright, massive and pop-leaning brand of EDM with straight-up country, Avicii angered some and confused many as he pushed the once underground world of electronic music not just further into the mainstream, but further into genres that many thought it had no business commingling with.
But while purists collectively raised their eyebrows when they heard a drop rendered from line dance stomping, “Wake Me Up” worked. The producer born Tim Bergling knew it from the moment he and his fellow musicians walked offstage after that seemingly disastrous Ultra performance.
“[Tim] was like, ‘Don’t worry about that. They’ll understand later,’” collaborator Salem Al Fakir said of the moment. “And they did.”
The song became one of the EDM era’s biggest crossover hits, spending 26 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs, where it sat in the top position seven years ago today, on November 12, 2013. “Wake Me Up” also went No. 1 on Mainstream Top 40 and Adult Top 40 and hit No. 4 on the Hot 100, where it spent 54 weeks and put Avicii in the company of pop elite including Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lorde, Robin Thicke and Pharrell.
Blowing up as Avicii traversed the globe on tour behind his 2013 album True — a run during which he became the first modern EDM act to play the Hollywood Bowl — the song’s uplifting production and major-key melodies disguised the more existential ruminations of the lyrics.
“Wake me up when it’s all over,” the song’s vocalist Aloe Blacc sings, “when I’m wiser and I’m older. All this time I was finding myself and didn’t know I was lost.”
This dichotomy of sound and message would, in time, serve as a sad symbol for Bergling himself. Bringing joy to global audiences while existing within a seemingly never-ending fun house of parties and festivals, Bergling’s life seemed like a dream.
But in “Wake Me Up” he told us just to wake him up when it was all over, with the message alluding to the personal challenges Bergling faced during this era, when the white-knuckled relentlessness of life on the road created serious wear and tear to his physical and mental health. During this time Bergling was simultaneously plagued by addiction rumors, acknowledging that he often partied too hard and too often during this stage of his career.
Written by Bergling, Blacc and Incubus’ Mike Einziger, “Wake Me Up” was one of the first Avicii tracks to hint at the melancholy behind all those confetti bursts. Avicii would take his own five years after the song’s release, at the age of 28.
But as Avicii’s legacy lives on in myriad ways, the direct effects of “Wake Me Up” are real. The song spawned about a million imitators, with electronic producers seeing the commercial potential of “campfire house” and having their agents call Nashville to get a country act to sing over their own beats. A lot of it was derivative garbage and some of it worked, but none of this music had the style, force, originality, boundary-pushing credentials or global success of “Wake Me Up.”
In fact, the song forever changed the rules of dance music, giving producers the liberty to work within whatever genres they wanted. “Wake Me Up” may have initially made some people nauseous, but now Marshmello collabs with Kane Brown, Zedd performs at the CMT Awards, Diplo closes Stagecoach, and everyone cheers. Avicii first had to get booed in order for this all to happen. None of it would have happened without him.