Shame Day: Avicii and “Wake Me Up”

Sometime last month a friend of mine on Facebook posted the following status:

“So wake me up when it’s all over, when I’m wiser when I’m older. ~ Avicci”

As a person who only really catches up on pop music when he’s sitting in a car listening to the radio, I went to YouTube to check out what this was all about. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a song that I could listen to 10 to 15 times an hour for days:

It wasn’t just the infectious beat that got me, though, it was also the niggling feeling I had that this was a very familiar voice singing. With that in mind I let my fingers take me over to Wikipedia to where I was met with the following words at the top of the page [emphasis added]:

Wake Me Up” (stylized as “Wake Me Up!“) is a song by Swedish DJ and music producer Avicii, which features uncredited vocals from American soul singer Aloe Blacc and acoustic guitar from Incubus’ Mike Einziger.

blacc

Photograph by Travis Hugget.

Let me provide a little context here: Aloe Blacc has the voice of an angel. Aloe Blacc’s album Good Things is what helped me through my only college all-nighter. Aloe Blacc’s “Loving You Is Killing Me” has more funk in its first 10 seconds then anything on the charts right now [depending on whether or not Janelle Monae has a new single out or not]. Aloe Blacc is the reason that whenever Gordon tells me that he needs a dollar I emphatically respond “HEY HEY!” Aloe Blacc, as you might have gathered, is the artist responsible for “I Need A Dollar” and consequently the intro music to How To Make It In America as well.

Now before I catch you saying something along the lines of “Lots of artists provide vocals and aren’t credited” let me fill you in on a little more information. Here’s what Avicii had to say about how the song was created:

“None of us sing and we really needed to get that demo down and the only person I knew that lived in LA was Aloe, so I called him and he was free. Lyrics come really easy to him so he wrote them in a couple of hours and we finished the track.”

Not only did Blacc provide the vocals for the track, he also penned all of the lyrics and was one of only three people to write the song [Avicii and Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger being the other two].

Aloe Blacc’s uncredited vocals lie at the bottom of the list on the Wikipedia article for “Uncredited background singer.” Let’s make this perfectly clear, this is absolutely nothing like Mick Jagger doing background vocals on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, because in “Wake Me Up” Blacc’s are the only vocals. He’s not providing backup he’s literally singing the song; the song that he wrote.

Right now two of of the three videos on Aloe Blacc’s VEVO YouTube page are dedicated to his own version of the song. Below is his music video for the track:

I don’t really want to get into how much more meaning this one has over the pretentiousness of the one that came before it, but you have to admit that Blacc’s advocation of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which “improves the lives of day laborers in the United States,” is worthy of more than faint praise.

As of this article’s publication the latter video has 664,148 views while the former has 147,304,231 [Avicii’s lyric video has roughly 10 million less]. Nowhere on the Swedish DJ’s videos is Blacc credited nor is his name even mentioned.

I realize that this post touches on similar ground as the one I wrote on Monday concerning Dota 2 crudely adapting many iconic WarCraft designs, and my final thought on both issues is this: give credit where it’s due. Concerning Aloe Blacc this rings even more so, since these are his words and his voice, not simply his work co-opted by others.

This is not to say that Avicii’s song is without merits, my soft spot for good EDM preventing me from ever writing it off, but that by no means excuses his marketing choices. “Wake Me Up” by Avicii ft. Aloe Blacc doesn’t take the spotlight off of him, and gives credit and much-needed attention to the latter.

Shame on you, Avicii, for collaborating with this talented man without doing what you could to acknowledge him.

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11 responses to “Shame Day: Avicii and “Wake Me Up”

  1. Wow. Thanks. This is one of the few songs that comes up on the radio way too often that I will actually listen to. I love the song, and I don’t feel bad because I like the version you embedded even better.

    This isn’t an extremely new phenomenon. DJs as musicians have been slowly gaining more credibility and with that has come some very questionable issues with originality and giving credit where it is due. I remember loving the song “Apologize” by One Republic, and later being very confused at no one listening to anything but the (very subtle) remix by Timbaland. This wasn’t confusing in itself. It was the fact that it they referred to it as (and it was credited as) “Apologize” by Timbaland feat. One Republic.
    Back in the day, a DJ remix would be (I think fairly) labeled as something like “Apologize – Timbaland remix” by One Republic.

    • Oof, as you said, if you type “Apologize” into YouTube the first thing that comes up is “Timbaland – Apologize ft. OneRepublic.”

      That’s pretty messed up.

      I actually bought the band’s album, and the aforementioned appears as a bonus track and labelled as a Timbaland remix. I suppose that’s the reason why I thought that was the way it was marketed everywhere.

  2. I’m always baffled whenever people in a creative field don’t take that extra step to give credit. You’d think they’d understand someone in the position of trying to make it. Then again, I guess its easy to blot out your memory and pretend you were always on top of the world. Maybe they look back on playing unknown clubs the way I conveniently forget my stuttering high school years.

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  4. it could very well be that it was the labels decision not to credit the singers in the title of the song. however, all singers and collaborators are credited in all other official media for the album. they are not “uncredited”. for what I may assume would be creative and capitalist reasons, the label wanted all focus on Avicii himself. an album listing with all other artists included in the track title would not give it a clean, DEBUT ACT look. they want all focus on avicii, their main man. is that effed up? maybe. is that aviciis fault? we don’t know. i would say it’s not fair to place the blame on avicii when it could have well been universal music’s decision. and for all we know all participating artists could have agreed to this decision. peace.

    • You really live up to your username. You’re absolutely right that it’s very likely the label execs who made the final decisions considering marketing, and I hadn’t taken that into account. Consider my overall sentiment switched from “shame on Avicii for not crediting Aloe Blacc” to “it’s a shame Aloe Blacc wasn’t credited on Avicii’s song.”

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  6. This debate is even more popular at the time of my writing this, since Avicii’s – “The Days” featuring Robbie Williams (uncredited of course) came out recently. While I initially felt like you “give credit where it’s due”, I’ve changed my mind a bit on the matter. FYI in the full description to the Avicii version it now says: “Buy Aloe Blacc’s album “Lift Your Spirit” now: http://smarturl.it/LiftYourSpiritAB“. So credit is given to mr. Blacc, abeit indirectly – and they probably just added it recently – they haven’t done so (yet) on The Days and Mr. Williams..

    The de facto rule in music making seems to be that if you’re an established/popular artist you will get credit – unless if you get paid (a lot more) not to, which is the case with Avicii’s music. The artists, I guess, can choose to simply sell out – or maybe they just opt out because they don’t want be known for “that type of music”, who knows. I don’t – do you? Unknown artists, however, just get paid (a lot less) – most of the time without getting credit at all.
    It’s interesting how people tend to believe that established artists are more entitled to being credited – quote from a random YouTube comment on the topic: “It’s usually [being uncredited] when the featuring artist isn’t that well known (like in Won’t Look Back for example). But someone like Aloe Blacc and Robbie Williams especially should be credited…?”. Why is that so? In my opinion it’s the other way around. But the more relevant question is whether or not the singers themselves are aware that they won’t be credited – which of course they are (unless Avicii and VEVO plan on getting sued). A lot of pop artists are solely and fully credited for their music, even if their music is also created by someone else – maybe even the majority of it. Aloe Blacc’s version of “Wake Me Up” doesn’t give any credit to Avicii either – even though he “wrote” the original piece. Writing music obviously covers more than just writing the words, sometimes there are no words – or the words are not the most important part to the musician – which would be the case for Avicii, I guess, and even the singing is not the most important part. What becomes the most catching part of a tune is hard to predict, but no matter what, these tracks all have Avicii’s signature all over them, whether you like it or not, and my guess is that he is the who spent by far the most time on them. So maybe the credit is where it is properly due?

    Final note:I believe that without Avicii’s “pretentious” version only a fraction of the viewers would ever have heard Aloe Blacc’s version. Especially so, because it might very well not have existed 🙂 I think Aloe Blacc have gotten a lot more press and credit for his role in this production, without being credited, than if he did.

    /MG

    • I think, at the bare minimum, we can agree that “Wake Me Up” would not exist without Avicii. In addition to that the fact that Aloe Blacc was able to release his own version and that people were primed to recognize the tune created by Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger due to the EDM tune also benefitted him a good amount.

      All that being said, I think I have to stick to the general idea that it’s all about getting your name out there. You want to have brand recognizability and that’s hard when no one can pin a name to that voice, or at least wouldn’t have been able to without my second above point being the case.

  7. This is a very interesting subject and I can give you a very good reason why some singers are not credited, I have been producing music for a couple of years however recently have just launched an EDM dance project… Although I sing myself I would only ever use my voice on a small percentage of my songs, so… I have to find other singers to do the job, now it is hard to get established artists to collaborate however there are many great session singers willing to hire out their services. Also there are some signed vocalists who need some extra money due to poor song choice on the part of their record companies.

    You may find this hard to believe but a large percentage of session singers will “not” allow their vocals to be credited, this is established when the singers fee is negotiated. The reason for this is actually quite understandable, the session singer does not want to be associated with a bad song or a song that does not fit with their image. Imagine a singer who wants to carve themselves a career in lets say rap music, they may be able to sing rock for a nice fee but it does not fit with their career hopes. They will not want there name associated with a rock track, also it may be a “bad” rock track which makes things worse.

    Also, I could hire a session singer to sing on a song they think is terrible, they will want the work but will not want to be associated with my song. The song may be fantastic but you have to remember we all have different taste, I might think my song is fantastic. The session singer might not agree and I will have to keep their name off the credits, hard to believe but true.

    At present I have a singer in mind for a specific track, now this is someone that has appeared in videos that have received 9 million plus views..

    In order to credit her as a featured artist I have to pay and only “if” she likes the track. She will happily sing on the song I release uncredited but more than that I have to negotiate, it’s a strange world indeed but as I said there are good reasons for this…

    Now image I hire her but she does not allow me to credit her as a featured artist, then my song is a hit.

    I would then be in the land of Avicii…

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