The documentary Avicii: True Stories takes a look at the meteoric rise, subsequent fall, and eventual resurgence of Swedish DJ and musician Avicii and feels all the more poignant in light of his sudden, untimely death at the age of 28.
There are many people who crave fame, celebrities who strive to remain in the public eye and thrive in the spotlight. Tim Bergling clearly wasn’t one of them. A shy introvert from Stockholm, Sweden who became a reluctant global superstar thanks to his innate ability to create irresistible melodies and beats, the EDM trailblazer - known to his fans by his moniker Avicii - was never at ease in the limelight. His quick ascent to fame at a relatively young age thrust him into a lifestyle that did not suit his personality, and it took him a while to walk away from the stress-inducing elements of his career for the sake of his health and happiness.
His meteoric rise, subsequent fall, and eventual resurgence were all captured in the documentary Avicii: True Stories, a look at the Swedish musician’s short life that feels all the more poignant in light of his sudden, untimely death at the age of 28.
Released a few months before he passed away, the documentary chronicles the Swedish DJ and producer’s career, from his musical beginnings to his intention to release a third album, which never came to be. True Stories puts together behind-the-scenes footage that was recorded over the last few years and interviews with the musician himself as well as his cohorts, including his ambitious manager Arash Pournouri (who he leaves at the end of the documentary), and artists like David Guetta, Tiësto, Nile Rodgers, Wyclef Jean, and Chris Martin.
The film paints the picture of a young music enthusiast who found joy in creating songs but could not cope with the pressures of fame and the stress of an arduous touring schedule.
We see the early musical years of the artist, with a teenage Bergling making music in his room, experimenting with software, honing his skills, and posting on the forums on DJ Laidback Luke. He goes from remixing songs to making his own tunes, eventually getting some attention with ‘Seek Bromance’ in 2010 before gaining more widespread recognition with ‘Levels’ in 2011, the popularity of which made him one of the most visible names in the EDM circuit.
International mainstream success soon followed, with Bergling releasing the biggest hit of his career, ‘Wake Me Up!’ in 2013, blending acoustic and electronic elements for the country folk dance track that topped the charts in several countries around the world.
While making music, Bergling also established himself as a sought after performer, starting with small shows, then headlining festivals, and ultimately becoming one of the world’s highest paid DJs. But heavy touring - a whopping 813 shows from 2008 to 2016 - proved to be too physically and mentally taxing for him. Struggling with acute pancreatitis caused by excessive alcohol use, Bergling suffered from severe abdominal pain, and even needed surgery for ruptured appendix and gall bladder in 2014. Seeing the musician in hospital gives viewers a glimpse at just how serious his issues were. A scene in which, a day after a hospital visit, a very sick (or possibly heavily medicated) Bergling is being asked about doing interviews and a show by his tour manager is downright disturbing.
Mental struggles and declining health ultimately prompted the Swede to give up what caused him immense stress: touring. We see him writing the letter about his retirement that he would post on his website and that would surprise everyone at the time, although based on what this documentary reveals, the decision hardly seems shocking.
At one point, the musician explains how he took some time off to focus on his health, but when he returned to the stage, he still got stressed and couldn’t see a way to continue performing and be happy. Stepping away from the onstage adulation of countless fans as well as millions in revenue may not have been fully supporting by some but was in his best interest, and in making this choice, Bergling becomes an odd source of inspiration. Sure, this is a cautionary tale for artists, but you don’t have to be a multimillionaire EDM star to relate to the issues at the heart of this piece. If you’ve ever left a high paying position or a toxic relationship for your wellbeing despite what people around you thought about your decision, then you’ll instantly connect with the subject. And if you’ve been baffled by someone else’s decision to give up something that might have seemed amazing to you, you might get it now.
Directed by Levan Tsikurishvili, True Stories is a touching, affecting documentary that makes an even harder impact with the benefit of hindsight in light of last week’s events. While this isn’t an all-encompassing examination of Bergling’s life - his family, for instance, is conspicuously absent in much of the film - the documentary provides a raw look at the life of a troubled artist. It highlights the struggles of a young man who simply wasn’t fit for the celebrity lifestyle and, from the looks of it, wasn’t surrounded by people who truly cared about his wellbeing. Plus it is a resounding testament to Bergling’s immense talent - Jean likens him to Bach and a visibly impressed Martin suddenly gushes "you’re so talented, man!" while making ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, and as a viewer you can’t help but agree. And while it ends on an optimistic note, Avicii: True Stories will ultimately leave you wishing its subject’s life hadn’t been cut short by such a tragic, untimely end.