When I grow up I want to be like Mike Posner
Mike Posner makes me want to be a better human. I say this in all seriousness. I’m a fan of his music, and I’ve been so inspired by the bold moves he makes in his life and career. He has the confidence to change things up and trust his instincts. There’s plenty of proof of that: Posner abandoned his initial success to explore America in an RV. He returned with a global superhit to put his music career on hold again to walk across the country. In the meantime, he also released a critically-acclaimed album with Blackbear, is climbing mountains, released a poetry book, and wrote big hits for Justin Bieber, Maroon 5 and others.
Posner’s only constant is change. His ability to freely pivot is his art. “I’m not a hamster on a wheel,” he aptly explains on “Nothing Is Wrong” from his 2019 mixtape, Keep Going, that sums up his fearless artistic spirit perfectly.
I first met Mike Posner back in 2010 at a BBQ joint in Austin during South by Southwest. He was in town to promote his new music after signing a record deal with a major label that he had been aiming for. At that time, Posner was already a big star on college campuses on the Eastcoast and he was ready to take it mainstream.
Posner and I talked about the festival and his music while playing games of Connect Four (he beat me every time). He exuded an infectious energy. The singer was ready to take over the world. He liked doing interviews and talk about his plans. I remember how present he was in the moment and seemingly enjoying every minute of it. Posner possessed the spark that stars are made of. I had no doubt he was going places.
A few weeks after, Posner’s debut single, “Cooler Than Me,” shot up the charts and became a top 40 radio staple for months. Two other singles followed but Posner wasn’t able to eclipse the success of his debut. His label hesitated and Posner found himself at home with little to do being “just a singer who already blew his shot.”
Posner turned things around by embarking on a new adventure. He traded his sports cars and sneaker collection for a second-hand van, and he trekked around the country to find new experiences and gain new meaning. He tells all about it on his comeback single, “I Took A Pill In Ibiza,” which threw him back into the spotlight.
Posner’s creative process took a spiritual turn following his time away. He was no longer interested in fitting the mold. Gone were the days of chasing hits and catering to the flavor of the moment in the all-you-can-eat buffet served up by the streaming economy that favors songs over everything else.
Along with this new outlook on life and making music, Posner ignored music trends and found renewed value in the album format. The traditional LP is perfectly suited to the singer’s style of working. Albums are a cohesive collection of songs that create a complete experience for fans. Posner takes it even a step further, diligently sequencing, ordering and re-ordering tracks to serve up the right expression for his audience.
Posner has frequently mentioned the importance of Ram Dass who helped evolve his spiritual development. He refers to the celebrated author and psychologist in songs like “Nothing Is Wrong” and “Slow It Down.” Dass’s teachings encourage individuals to be in the moment and be here now — not in the future, or in the past.
It seems this notion of being entirely present in the moment has deeply influenced Posner’s manner of creating, compiling and presenting his music. On his last four albums, Posner precedes the music with a spoken word intro that encourages listeners to tune in to the entire album from start to finish. He kindly asks people to spend a few minutes of their time to listen to the album the way that he intended.
I remember catching up with Posner when he was doing promo for A Real Good Kid. It was an important meeting for him and his label. It had been a minute since his last album and there was hope this new album would deliver a couple of hits.
I was invited to a playback session in a light-filled mansion high up in the Hollywood Hills. A couch was set up in front of a panoramic window with big speakers perfectly positioned for optimal sound quality. Posner was sitting slightly to the side. He introduced the album as a very personal story and it was important for him that it was played from start to finish, without interruption.
The result was a near-transcendental experience that took me through a rollercoaster of emotions while Posner was sitting with his eyes closed from beginning to end, reliving the experience again. A prime example of how be here now manifests across Posner’s art.
In March 2019, just weeks after the release of A Real Good Kid, Posner embarked on his walk across America that he concluded in October of that year. The timing of the walk was directly influenced by Avicii’s passing that had Posner facing his own mortality. Many of his thoughts and observations from the walk are captured on his Keep Goingmixtape that was released in late 2019 and is essential in understanding Posner as an artist.
Another album that showcased Posner’s artistic freewheeling and growth is his collaboration with Blackbear on Mansionz. Often misunderstood and hugely underrated, the duo’s album was a complete sonic experience that was a departure from Posner’s previous troubadour efforts. The conceptual approach of Mansionz and the immersive experience of the music is what defines Posner’s music-making now.
Mansionz was Posner’s first attempt at creating an experience as an alter-ego. He took that to the next level on his most recent album, titled Operation: Wake Up. Recorded a few years ago, it’s a bonafide pop opera in which Posner plays the role of a pop singer gone adrift with terrible consequences. The album is an intense listening experience that’s a total outlier in today’s pop scene. It more closely resembles a crime podcast or Brett Easton Ellis audiobook about the wretched lives of those cruising in LA’s fast lane.
Posner extends the album’s sonic aesthetic to Instagram that he emptied out entirely ahead of the release of Operation: Wake Up. He has been posting cryptic messages about being “weird,” lonely and misunderstood along with equally provoking black and white photos that are best described as depicting Posner gone mental in the most artful of ways.
Posner is never weird, of course. It’s all part of his act to give meaning to Operation: Wake Up. It’s more proof that Posner greatly values and embraces the album format to create a complete and compelling experience for listeners. And this is why I admire Mike Posner so much. He’s so in tune with his instincts and lets his creative process come first. It’s not hits that drive him. He loves the experience of creating, he values experimentation, and cares about living life boldly with honesty. It’s that confidence and conviction that make him one of the most inspiring artists of our time.
I can’t wait to hear what does he next.
I will leave you with a shout from Mike that I recorded in Austin back in 2010. Great memories and I’m eager to play another round of Connect Four. I’ve been practicing and accept the challenge.