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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

RedfestDxb 2017: Mike Posner calls being turned down by Kanye West the ‘hardest rejection’

Mike Posner will perform at this year’s RedfestDXB. Amy Leang / The National
Mike Posner will perform at this year’s RedfestDXB. Amy Leang / The National

Comeback king Mike Posner knows a thing or two about rejection. In an ironic twist of fate I Took a Pill in Ibiza – his sad song about once being famous – made him famous again. But in the five years that passed between that Grammy-nominated smash and his last chart success in 2010, with Cooler Than Me and Please Don’t Go, Posner might have been down – but he wasn’t out. Working as a songwriter for hire, this period saw Posner earn credits on more than a dozen hits, including Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend and Maroon 5’s Sugar.

Dozens more, however, hit the cutting room floor – Posner estimates he writes up to 100 tunes a year – but his greatest rejection came sometime earlier, in 2009, from a man who knows how to drop a diss with aplomb; Kanye West.

“The hardest rejection – but it was the most beautiful rejection – came from Kanye West,” says Posner, in an exclusive interview with The National.

“When I was just starting out, I did a song for Big Sean called Who Knows. I was still just interning at the time, no one knew who I was. I did a beat and a chorus, Big Sean rapped on the verse.

“Sean is signed with Kanye. I was waiting in the lounge of the studio and I could hear Sean playing it for Kanye, through the wall. I got really excited, because I knew if Kanye liked this song, this beat, that this moment could change my life – he could sign me, like he did with Sean.

“They finished playing the song and we all got in the elevator together – and Sean said ‘hey, this is Mike Posner, he did the song you just heard’. Kanye said ‘cool’, and it was silence.

“And I said, ‘did you like it?’ And he looked at me – not in a mean way, just in an honest way – and said ‘no, I didn’t like it. Maybe it could be for Lupe [Fiasco]’s album’. And he could tell I was disappointed – my heartbreak must have been written on my face – because then he said this beautiful metaphor which was ‘I’m sorry – you dumped it, Sean said it, I had to spike it’.

“It was the most, most inspired I ever felt. That elevator was going from the third floor to the first, and I couldn’t wait for the doors to open so I could go make more music. He made me realise that I could go deeper, that I could make better stuff. And I did just that.”

The story doesn’t end there, with the pair running into each other again – post-Posner’s Cooler than Me fame – at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

“I ran into him a few years later, at an awards show – I doubt he remembered the first meeting – and he said ‘Mike Posner? I really like some of your songs’,” remembers the junior partner.

“I said ‘wow, you don’t know how much that means, because I’ve been working my butt off’. That was the hardest, most beautiful rejection.”

But it was hardly the only one.

“They’re almost all rejections,” adds Posner. “I typically write between 50 and 100 songs in a year, and I’ve been doing it 21 years – so you do the maths on that and look at how many songs I’ve released.

“A lot of these songs get rejected by me – I would say most of them – because I don’t like them enough. After that you send stuff to people all the time who say ‘it’s not for me’, or ‘it’s good but it’s not a fit for the direction I’m going’.”

The only way to avoid this humiliation is, of course, to write for yourself. How does the creative process differ when working for yourself, as opposed to a hired gun for Bieber and co?

“It’s more liberating,” answers Posner. “If I’m writing for Justin Bieber, I have to write something that I like, but then that he likes, he identifies with in his life – and that can be difficult because he’s had a different life to me. “Whereas with my own stuff I literally make albums that consist of songs that I like, and that’s it – I don’t really care about anybody else, I don’t care if you like it, or my manager likes it, or the person at the label – it’s what I get to leave behind in my life.”

Rather than building on the chart success of I Took A Pill..., Posner’s muse is now heading in increasingly creative directions. These include Mansionz, the recently debuted duo with fellow writer-producer Blackbear, a forthcoming printed volume of poetry, and a spoken word album drawn from nightly improvs recorded live during his last summer tour.

“I’ve been writing poetry as long as I’ve been writing songs – I’m withdrawn enough,” adds Posner.

“I’ve been doing [poems] for the last year or so in my shows. We record every show and so we have just taken 10 or 11 of them which were recorded well, and and we’re going to release a live album.

“I tend not to repeat myself – it’s something I’ll either write for that night, or I’ll write onstage as I’m doing it. These kind of beautiful moments happen in that city [only], and we wanted to share them with the rest of the world and add them to the catalogue – so if a kid 50 years from now wants to go deep in the YouTube hole and listen to these things, he can – it’s important to me that they exist in the world.”

As well as that raw, experimental release, Posner already has a entire third album of original studio material “pretty much down”. But if he has any power-play game-plan to build off the buzz of I Took a Pill..., Posner is playing his cards close to his chest.

“I just do things based on what I like – my job is to create the music that I want to exist – the poetry and the prose that I want to exist in the world, and that’s all I’ve been doing all along,” concludes Posner.

“Have you ever had a song pop in you head? That happens to me – but sometimes the songs are songs that I’ve never heard before. Then I just set about recording them the way I hear them in my head – it’s a very simple job. Then I put it out, and if people like it, great.

“Sometimes they do and I get famous and money and attention from the opposite sex, and sometimes they don’t and I don’t get those things, and I’m prepared for both scenarios. I’ve lived them both.”

Mike Posner performs at RedfestDXB, at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday February 3. See redfestdxb.com.

Updated: January 30, 2017 04:00 AM

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