“A Pop Song People Forgot”: Mike Posner on the Isolation and Superficiality of Fame

By Gaby Germanos ’18

Remember Mike Posner? If you don’t, you’re not alone. After releasing a worldwide chart-topper in 2010, he fell into relative obscurity, where he remained—until now. In 2015, Norwegian production duo SeeB remixed his song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” and, seven months after its release, the remix has gone multi-platinum in several countries, launching Posner back onto the American Top 40 and into the consciousness of millions of Americans.

Ironically, Posner’s new song addresses the very idea of fame as, in his words, a rollercoaster, one that manipulates emotions and behaviors in surprisingly harmful ways. Through his lyrics, Posner reveals consequences of wealth and celebrity that artists usually obscure, especially in contemporary pop and rap songs that celebrate partying, meaningless sex, and spending gross amounts of money. Though most of us haven’t experienced this level of fame, Posner’s lyrics serve as a useful warning against excess in all its forms, especially for those of us often categorized as part of the “entitled” or “gimme” generation.

In “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” Posner ties together a particular moment in time with more general reflections about his life after becoming famous. This moment, in which he takes an unknown drug and experiences an incredible high, acts as an analogy for fame, documenting the metaphorical and emotional oscillation between high and low. He views the negative results of fame as universal rather than singular to his personal experience, quashing any lingering desire for fame by affirming that listeners “don’t wanna be high like [him].”

For anyone who believes that artists who sing lyrics of self-praise are acting authentically, Posner is here to expose the truth: it’s all just an act. Taking drugs? It’s an escape from the monotony of celebrity living, or, in other words, just “something to do.” Driving a nice car and wearing expensive clothes? Well, how else are you going to convince others that you’re “a real big baller”? Posner explains that these actions are fruitless attempts at building self-confidence, and failure to achieve fulfillment through material pleasures causes sadness that only intensifies after one’s fame begins to decline.

Posner’s emotional fragility also renders him unable to connect with people around him. The only people he relates to are “old timers” who remember his hit from 2010, which he dubs “the pop song people forgot.” Presumably these people provide him with an ego boost, as they represent the brief period of time during which fame still instilled in him a sense of self-worth. Outside of this circle of fans, fame has made him wary of forming bonds, and he operates in a constant state of “never knowing who to trust.”

Moreover, despite having spent “a million dollars on girls and shoes,” satisfaction in romantic relationships remains elusive for Posner. Investing in shallow relationships has made Posner unable to “open up” and communicate on a deep, personal level with romantic partners, leading him to have sex with many women and “cut ‘em all loose.” His career makes it difficult for him to devote enough time to sustain a serious relationship only because he has structured it this way on purpose, allowing him to avoid even the possibility of commitment.

After listening to “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” one gets the impression that fame is destructive. You may be wondering, however, how this concept is relevant to the lives of the non-famous. I’m going to say something that students at Harvard don’t often admit: thanks to this institution, we have access to a breadth of opportunities that, for better or worse, puts us in a good position to one day become famous in some respect. Even if we don’t gain the notoriety or popularity associated with celebrity, many of us will make unfathomable amounts of money and wield great power. More alarmingly, due to online platforms like YouTube and Instagram, any one of us could experience fame or fortune with little preparation.

And that’s fine. Unlike Posner, I don’t have a cynical view of celebrity. If we carry our personal ethics with us as we climb social and economic ladders, and if we place more value on what has made us famous rather than fame in and of itself, I believe we can use fame as a means of creating rather than destroying joy, for ourselves and others. Feelings like alienation and insecurity seem to come part and parcel with being a student at Harvard, surrounded by people who appear smarter, luckier, and well-adjusted, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can enjoy other’s company and devote time to pursuing untapped passions not to “network” or pad a resume, but instead to bolster the emotional wellbeing of our entire community. And we can start today.

Editors’ note: Listen to “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” here.

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