EP reflects modern relationships

In the wake of Avicii’s tragic death on April 20th at age 28, fans worldwide posted their tributes to the Swedish musician and DJ. Although I would not necessarily term myself a hardcore Avicii fan, I was somewhat shaken by the artist’s death. In listening to Avicii’s most recent release, the 2017 EP AVICI (01), I found a narrative that perfectly encapsulates the course of a 21st century relationship.

At six songs long and a track time of only 17 minutes, the EP’s own brevity reflects how short modern relationships often are. “Friend of Mine” opens with upbeat guitar strumming and bright lyrics, which describe the innocent flirting at the beginning of a relationship with which we’re all familiar. The girl under consideration is referred to as “friend,” which is how all good relationships start out: as good friendships. The singer recognizes what a gift this friendship has been, and he realizes by the end of the song that this girl might be “more than just a friend of mine.” The instrumental is eminently danceable, making you want to bust out moves like you’re in love for the first time.

“Lonely Together,” featuring the vocals of Rita Ora, describes what happens to a relationship once it has transitioned from being about friendship to being about mutual use. A catchy beat but slightly heavier melody than “Friend of Mine” mask the rather dark lyrics, reflecting how the emotional intensity of being physically intimate with someone can disguise dysfunctionality. The song uses images of the singer’s lover being “poison in wine” and the inherently contradictory image “eyes wide shut,” evoking the confusing and contradictory nature of the relationship at this point. The title itself, “Lonely Together,” is a self-contradiction, much in the same way that intense physical intimacy without real commitment is a self-contradiction. The physical action communicates total self-giving and lifelong commitment, while the reality is in fact the opposite. The song ends with a repetition of “a little less lonely now,” demonstrating how the singer, despite hating herself for succumbing to her own weakness, still settles for this physical relationship to attempt to assuage the feeling of total loneliness.

“You Be Love,” coming after the mutual use of “Lonely Together,” presents us with the masquerade that sleeping together often leads to what the partners are convinced is “real love.” Billy Raffoul’s rasping yet strong vocals encapsulate the passion of someone convinced that they will be their beloved’s everything. The lyrics use beautiful images to paint a picture of a lover obsessed with his girlfriend, whose longing spills over into eternity: “If you were heaven, I would gladly take my last breath.” C.S. Lewis, in the Four Loves, discusses the idea of the newly enamoured believing that their love will go on forever, an idea we see replicated here exactly. However, along with the beautiful images of seashores and sunlight, the song is haunted by images of death and tragedy: the beloved being the “fall” to the lover’s gravity, the lover’s “last breath,” “Be the rain, coming down, be the flood / Come on take me ’til I, take me ’til I drown” Raffoul croons. Even in the midst of infatuation, the lover senses the danger in his attachment to his beloved.

The second half of the record begins with “Without You,” (featuring Sandra Cavazza). This track also features the first profanity used on the record, indicating the hurt created by the breakup. The lyrics reflect the powerful sense of confusion and fear born out of the dissolution of something that seemed truly good: “You/ Said you’d follow me anywhere/ But your eyes/ Tell me you won’t be there.” The eyes that told him that he “more than just a friend of mine” now tell him the opposite.

The second stage of a breakup “What Would I Change It To” begins with an upbeat acoustic guitar and admonishments to “stop bawling.” We get a much more philosophical, thoughtful approach to life than “Without You,” as the singer realizes that there were important lessons learned from the experience; some are positive: “And losing is only a sign…that you really tried”; while some are negative: “You can copy and paste your head on a new body/ But that new body’s still made of flesh.”

The last song, “So Much Better,” embodies the end of the modern relationship: bitterness. Sandro Cavazza’s piercingly high vocals may at first be borderline grating, but they fit the mood of the song surprisingly well, as the singer thinks back on the relationship and realizes it was all a lie. The second half of the song is a repetition of the first half, as the breakup turns around and around in the singer’s mind. But the cyclic nature of the lyrics reveal something even more sinister about modern relationships: although the chorus claims “I can do so much better,” the truth is that there is nothing better. Every relationship built on mutual self-gratification is doomed to an inevitable end.

The first three tracks describe being together, and the last three the breaking of the relationship. The symmetry of the record communicates not only how most of a relationship seems to be getting over it, but also the resignation that relationships are a cycle of coming together and falling apart. Although pop has the tendency to be shallow, AVICI (01) contains surprising insight into the nature of modern relationships.

William McDonald is a junior studying the Program of Liberal Studies and classics. You can contact him at wmcdonald@nd.edu.