How Mike Posner regained his cool after sudden fame

CBS News

It’s been seven years since Mike Posner went from college student to in-demand musician. In that time, his life took many of the dramatic turns you might expect from sudden fame. 

But before releasing his long-awaited second album, “At Night Alone,” Posner decided to change course, returning to his roots to approach music in a different way, reports “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King. 

To hear Posner on piano, you might think he was a child prodigy. But the truth is, he’s only recently learned how to play.

Still, fame came early. As a junior at Duke University, Posner wrote his hit song, “Cooler Than Me.”

“I’ve never been the best with getting girls,” Posner said, laughing. “I wrote that song and it was about, yeah, women being cooler than me.”

He recorded the song in his dorm room, put it on the internet, and the song became a sensation.

“I felt very much so that I was living a dream, but I was so scared of messing the dream up that I think I took a lot of the fun out of it,” Posner said.

“What was the dream you were afraid of messing up?” King asked.

“Oh, just like... I was the guy on the stage. They knew the words to my song. I had the record deal. I had the chain around my neck. And like, it was me, you know? That was – that was the dream,” Posner said.

But while living the dream, the hits stopped coming.

“Suddenly. The adjectives that I liked to use to describe myself no longer applied to me,” Posner said.

“Like what?” King asked.

“Like ‘popular.’ Like ‘cool.’ Like ‘the man.’ I was slowly just falling back to being a regular guy,” Posner said. “I had the car and the house in the Hollywood Hills and all these things, and I wanted to see if I could be happy without my crap.”

“Were you?” King asked,

“I had a lot of it and it started to weigh me down. And so I bought this kind of creepy Dodge conversion van and I put the clothes in it that fit in it and put in my guitar and my little keyboard, and I just drove away. What I found, it was... some of the best times of my life,” Posner said.

Posner never stopped working during what he calls his “ice cold period.” In fact, his songs were still making it onto the charts – though they were written for other people, like Justin Beiber’s “Boyfriend,” and Maroon Five’s “Sugar.”

“I helped with it,” Posner said.

“I love that song,” King said.

“Thank you,” Posner replied.

“Was fame hard for you?” King asked.

“Yeah. And you know, here’s the thing – alright, I always preface this – is like… there’s level to fame, right?” Posner said. “I can walk down the street and no one’s probably gonna know who I am right now. But enough people know who I am that I don’t have to get a real job.”

In the six years between the release of his first and second albums, Posner returned to his home state of Michigan and took a different approach to making music.

Rather than rely on a laptop, he learned how to play traditional instruments, like the piano and the guitar.

“In LA, people are very much concerned with making the best-tasting candy bar, I like to say,” Posner said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve made candy bars. In fact, I’m pretty good at making candy bars.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming,” King said.

“Yeah, there is a ‘but.’ You don’t really get full from a candy bar. And I thought, I’m just going to make a big, big piece of meat with this album and throw it on the plate, and say, ‘Bon appétit,’” Posner said.

The lessons paid off. His next hit was written on guitar.

“Let’s talk about ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza’ for a minute. That has one billion streams,” King said.

“That’s crazy,” Posner said.

One critic called his new album, “At Night Alone,” “truth in advertising” and compared a more mature Posner to artists like Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. But his early influences were very different. Posner liked rap music since he was 10 years old.

“What is it about rap music that spoke to you, a 10-year-old kid in the suburbs of Detroit?” King asked.

“That’s what my friends listened to, like, Mystical and DMX,” Posner said. “I couldn’t tell you why I connected with the stuff exactly. Something you can’t see. How do you explain intuition? How do you explain movement of the heart? You know, I liked the stuff.”

I think the video ‘Be as You Are’ is a very powerful video,” King said. “You have people holding up words that relate to them. And they all go underwater naked, and you too. And the word you’re holding up is?”

“Afraid,” Posner said.

“Why did you pick the word ‘afraid,’ before you run in the water nude?” King asked.

“Oh, because I want to be less afraid,” Posner said, laughing. “To put it most bluntly.”

Posner may not be afraid of fleeting fame anymore, but he maintains that success still hasn’t made meeting women any easier.

“I’ll often see a woman that I’m like just awestruck by, and I don’t know what to say to her at all,” he said, laughing.

“You can start by saying, ‘Hello,’” King said.

“Hi,” Posner said.

“Hi, Mike, is a really good start,” King said.

Yeah,” Posner said, laughing.

In this extended interview, singer Mike Posner tells “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King about the genesis of his biggest hits, how he evaluates what actually makes him happy and why his new album is exactly how he wants it to be.

Listen to this episode on Stitcher