From a neuropsychological point of view I would like to explain that there are several (good) reasons why this Wake me up song is rightly so thé Summer hit of 2013. In explaining its huge success (in 22 countries nr 1 and in 6 more others in the top 10, most downloaded on Spotify, most airplay in 2013) I’d like to point to how our brain works and whát (young) people all over the world are always looking for.
First of all, it has a nice rhythm and it is very danceable. It is extremely repetitive with this simple computer melody. However, Avicii has done something very elegantly: he mixed it with a guitar rhythm much resembling country music (actually blue grass style) and it has a driving beat to it. But it’s not only driving, it is an uplifting song, it breaths an exhilarating journey, moving forwards, truly an awakening. It is upbeat, literally and metaphorically. It is all about Optimism of the youth.
Mike Einzinger explains how the song was made (see: http://news.radio.com/2013/07/18/incubus-mike-einziger-on-the-making-of-aviciis-chart-topping-wake-me-up/).
Interesting about this story is its seemingly total coincidence: Mike Einzinger, a rock guitarist of the band Incubus, normally has nothing to do with dance or house music, far from it. But…in a state of contemplation he started exploring other things, writing different songs and suddenly there was the phone call from Avicii’s camp. “What the hell” he thought, why not try this? They got together in Einzinger’s home studio and starting jamming, mostly with melodies and rhythms. That happened almost effortlessly as Einzinger remembers.
However, it was still not the huge hit that we hear now everywhere. For that, there was another world to join in to put the icing on the cake: Aloe Blacc, a rapper-turned-singer. Because Avicci that evening had an appointment with Aloe and had to leave Einzinger, they were so thrilled about the would-be song that they decided to invite Aloe over to Einzinger’s home studio.
And then magic happened. Aloe is a rapper and has a marvellous voice, a true soul voice. And thát’s what this song needed: a soul voice. Soul not only in sounding soulish, but also in its lyrics. Aloe had some good lyrics (several) and together they composed some lyrics that had the power of a poem. And it was all about LIFE, going to fast, often not-understable for young folks (because they do not seem to have the wisdom: ‘..when I am wiser and older’). Living life but often not knowing where to go (‘I can’t tell where the journey will end’), therefore often also wanting to escape everything (“so wake me up and when it’s all over’) and hoping it’s all over after a while. Trying to take some responsibilities but often life is too difficult (‘I tried carrying the weight of the world but I have only two hands’). However, in young eyes life is usually seen as a game (‘life is a game made for everyone, and love is the prize’) and connection is all what’s it all about.
Although lyrics are powerful, they are NOT the most important part of a song: a voice is. Aloe’s voice is full of soul and he is delivering every line with exactly the feeling that is suggested by these lyrics. Probably because he can identify himself with these lyrics rather well (just as Einzinger I guess; remember, he was on a break, contemplating and writing different stuff). But the music, with the synthesizer/computer melodies, just melts with the driving blue grass like guitar playing (as if on a train track moving forward), and is a perfect contrast with the soft soul voice of Aloe. How wonderful this mix really is, is easy to experience when you remix this song with a very different voice, say the voice of lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. I bet my life that thén it would NOT have been such a huge hit.
Another ‘proof’ of the power of a soul voice? The song ‘Someone like you’, sung by Adele, is not by coincidence so popular: Adele puts all her real emotions into it, she’s been through all the things she writes about. It’s genuine, that’s what people all over the world can sense. You can sense that Avicii, Aloe and Mike had a lot of fun in making this song.
So the short lyrics summarize in a powerful way how young folks are feeling and experiencing the world. Of course, at dance parties especially the ‘game and fun’ part of life is emphasized and the driving, repetitive, uplifting beat of Wake Me Up stimulates this extremely well. And when’s the best time to launch such a youth song, full of young energy driving towards an exciting journey? Right: in spring or summer where you can dance outside at festivals, plenty to go around then. Wake me up has already been called an ‘anthem of the youth’ and due to its rhythm and most of all, due to Aloe’s voice and the lyrics, it might as well deserve this title in 2013. It’s a long time ago such an anthem in pop music was born in the summer. The late Eddie Cochran succeeded with his song ‘Summertime blues’ to capture the feelings of the young just as well in 1958.
Wake me up is NOT just a nice summer hit, it is really sophisticated: blending different styles into one synergic song full of energy and optimism.
There is another very strong reason why this song has become such a smash hit: its video clip. On YouTube this clip has already been viewed more than 40 million times (as of this writing)! The clip is put together in a fantastic way. It really is a sensual clip, very sexy, and showing exactly what young people are up against: prejudice, not being (feeling) in touch with their environment, in for some fun and enjoyment.
They use very simple symbols for this. First of all, the role model of the young is a beautiful girl Kristina Romanova, supposedly the mother (or sister?) of the younger (and beautiful as well) Laneya Grace. Both girls are extremely sensual, fragile and longing for connection. Their clothes are both tough (symbolizing independence) as well as sensual, very good marketing for Denim. When they walk down the street in a country village all other people are completely differently dressed, as if they live in the 1880’s. So the modern and more sensual clothing of the two girls contrasts deeply with the ‘boring’ (old-fashioned) clothing of the towns people. Furthermore, they get stared at and the conclusion is simple: they don’t belong there.
The Avicii symbol is painted on the upper arm of both girls, as if being a birthmark, symbolizing a different breed. The young girl Laneya looks exactly right when being stared at: innocent and both scared, wondering what she has done wrong. It adds to her pureness, her fragility. Then the mother (or sister) goes looking for something different and heads towards the city (nice contrast: city versus country town, modern versus old-fashioned, flexible versus conservative, fun versus boring, connection versus duty).
To make it even more sensual, Kristina uses a horse to ride into the city. Horse riding is an ultimate symbol of independence and freedom (riding along, without any paved roads) ánd it is very sensual. Especially, the way Kristina rides the horse when it is only stepping in the city is provocatively sensual (on purpose: no true horseman rides a horse like that). Her face clearly lightens up beautifully when she senses the vibes in the city (although no traffic around J). And of course, the first woman she meets is of the same kind: has the same Avicii symbol on her upper arm, independent look, self-assured but above all: very beautiful as well. She follows her and together they party at a concert of Avicii (of course, who else?). Riding back to her younger sister (or daughter, still not clear), she picks her up and together they walk (?) towards that town. Symbolizing they have found their way, moving towards where they belong, and the journey will take some time but…is part of the adventure (that’s why there is no horseriding anymore).
The whole song breathes an air of optimism and youth: although not knowing where and how to go, trying to escape, closing your eyes, hoping to wake up and being older and wiser, life is still worthwhile because it is a game and most important: love is the prize. Right on the spot! The only reason that makes every life worthwhile is connection: LOVE. And I mean the empathic kind of love, really connecting to another living being. It’s the same thing young people yearn for: belonging to a group, connecting to a group, feeling a part of a larger whole (in the video: being part of Avicii’s fan club). Everyone wants this and it is perfectly shown in the last seconds of the video where a town’s girl with pigtails looks deeply sad as Kristina and Laneya leave town: she wants to leave as well but has not the guts to do it.
Life is wonderful, joyful and especially so when you have found the true reason of being alive: connecting with other joyful and playful people.
Finally, perhaps you think this is going a bit too far, analyzing a commercial song and video clip in this detail. However, as a neuropsychologist I am trained to see how and when certain aspects of our brain make-up are triggered. Thát explains why something is attractive or appalling. NOT seeing and understanding this is not really appreciating all work put into something. But it is also NOT predicting and explaining why something is or will be a success.
The video of Wake me up triggers a lot of brain areas, all involving pleasure, sensuality, sex and happiness. Using ‘tricks’ like beautiful women, a horse, contrasts like boring (quiet, stiff clothes) versus fun (modern clothing, danceable music), nice clothes and very important: one (connection) symbol (Avicii) it boosts the dopamine and adrenaline system in our brain. In simple terms: we enjoy it!
Of course, you will always have people who look at such projects in a certain critical way, to downplay the song and/or the video. Of course, I could have done the same, telling you that the story line of the video is illogical, that leaving a little girl behind just to go out for a party is irresponsible, not using a horse at the end is stupid, and so forth. If you want to find out how compelling and how sophisticated a made up story of such a video is you should look at the Making of this clip, put on YouTube by Avicii himself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36xCQmSc6tU
But hey, thát’s the difference: people who cán enjoy life can manage to look at things in an optimistic, joyful, playful way. They can enjoy a pretty dream and do know what is the difference between reality and a video, especially made for commercial purposes. But being commercial means that a lot of people like the song, are buying (and downloading) it and…enjoying it. Wake me up truly is a wake-up call for all those who really can’t enjoy life: life is too short NOT to enjoy it. Go out and dance, connect with the people who want to be connected, show them we can all be connected, via a very powerful art form: music. Just read Musicophilia of Oliver Sacks, explaining how much the brain is wired into music, rhythm, and ultimately: pleasure. A warning: quite a read, not for the faint-hearted, more for die-hards.
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