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Do Posthumous Track Releases Exploit Tragedy? [Opinion]

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Dance Music Northwest or its leadership.

In April, the music industry suffered its biggest shock in a long time, following the death of Tim Bergling, better known by his stage name, Avicii. One of EDM’s biggest superstars, he passed away tragically at the age of 28. Fans across the globe became privy to this terrible truth, alongside other troubling details.

The days and weeks that followed his death brought more sadness. Reporting that could be dubbed unethical let slip that the Swedish artist died by suicide, and the shock of his death became the first thing exploited from the artist’s tragic fate.

As a result of his fame, many media outlets saw opportunity in covering his death. However they’re not the only ones to turn his death into something profitable. Soon, it was revealed he had been in the studio shortly before his passing, working on some of his “best music in years.”

Reports of nearly 200 unfinished songs surfaced, and soon it was promised there would be an album by the end of the year. Barely was he laid to rest before there was people turning around to reap rewards, in a time where there should be mourning instead of hype.

Perhaps most disturbing were the revelations from the 2017 film, Avicii: True Stories. His crumbling physical and mental health were laid out in a raw image of the man behind the music, and it became obvious that his demanding tour schedule was too much for him at the time.

It’s a morbid thought that the pressures of his rigorous lifestyle killed him, and that some may continue to profit off his music after his death (perhaps even because of his death). If and when a new album arrives, fans may have to make a moral judgment about it.

Are all posthumous releases the same?

Popular DJ and producer Marshmello received criticism for releasing his collaboration with Lil Peep, after the rapper passed away last year from a drug overdose.

In his defense, Marshmello said Lil Peep’s mother wanted the track to come out, and a deeply intimate moment was shared between a collaborating artist and one of Lil Peep’s surviving kin.

Lil Peep’s story is especially sad. Hours before he died, there were videos on his social media showing him dropping a number of Xanax pills into his mouth. Posthumously released was his track 4 GOLD CHAINS, with a music video showing him taking Xanax right off the top.

It seems insensitive to portray the recently-deceased in a self-destructive light. For an industry that prides itself on innovation and inclusion, it seemed like a tone deaf and irresponsible move.

Not all posthumous releases are exactly like this, of course. Not all music releases are even the same, but fame has a habit of making almost everything about a person into a commodity. EDM as a genre must be careful in how it handles posthumous tracks, lest it exploit an artist’s image in the wake of tragedy.

What do you think of posthumous releases? How can we change the conversation around celebrity deaths and suicide? Share your thoughts below.