Mike Posner began his music career playing percussion in the Bingham Farms Elementary School band.
Now, he’s one of the world’s hottest new pop stars.
The 22-year-old Southfield native, a graduate of Groves High School in 2006 and, last spring, of Duke University, has lodged his first major single, “Cooler Than Me,” in the top reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 and the magazine’s Digital Songs chart, and it’s riding high on the iTunes Top Songs survey. He’s one of the must-see performers on this year’s Vans Warped Tour, and there’s heavy, and heady, anticipation for his debut album, “31 Minutes to Takeoff.”
It’s a lot of attention in a short amount of time, but Posner, who now resides in Los Angeles, is taking it in full, confident stride.
“I don’t feel nervous; I just feel excited because I really believe in the album I made,” he says from the Virginia Beach stop on the Warped Tour. “I truly love every song on my record ... and, frankly, I think it’s better than most of the music out there right now. And I know for sure it doesn’t sound like anything else out there right now.
“I worked really hard on it, and I’m proud of it, so I just can’t wait for people to hear it.”
They’re certainly getting a taste of it with “Cooler Than Me,” a clever slap back at a female classmate — including a reference from Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” — that Posner wrote and recorded in his dorm at Duke. “It’s about both a specific girl and a specific type of girl,” he explains. “I don’t want to name her, ’cause I don’t think she deserves any notoriety at all.” He thinks the woman in question knows she’s the subject of the song, but Posner says, “I don’t talk to her anymore.”
Like “Cooler Than Me,” the rest of “31 Minutes to Takeoff” offers a stylistic hybrid of hip-hop, pop and R&B — and more — mixed with a lyrical approach that’s smart but not too clever and deftly straddles a line between funny and poignant. “I guess I like to walk the line between being matter-of-fact and poetic at the same time,” Posner says, while he credits his musical mix with his upbringing.
“I did listen to a good amount of hip-hop growing up,” he recalls, “but Southfield ... is really one of the most diverse neighborhoods, and the result of that is I was listening to everything from Nirvana to Pearl Jam to Nas and Jay-Z to Led Zeppelin and Paul Simon to Marvin Gaye to Miles Davis to the Grateful Dead to Luther Vandross — and I could go on.
“I was so lucky, and ... I just owe a lot of what I sound like to where I came from.”
Posner got an electronic keyboard when he was 13 and started making beats shortly thereafter. He became more serious about making music while at Duke and envisioned himself first as a songwriter and producer. But after interning at Definitive Jux Records — and pitching other record companies on the side — the summer after his sophomore year, Posner opted for a future as an artist himself.
“I sold a grand total of zero beats and zero songs that summer,” Posner says. “I realized it wasn’t the (label executive’s) faults; they just had no artists that could pull off the lyrics I was writing. So I started singing two years ago and haven’t looked back since.”
It proved to be a fortuitous move. Posner started winning fans with a pair of 2009 mixtapes — “A Matter of Time” and “One Foot Out the Door” — that garnered an Internet following and caught the music industry’s attention. Jay-Z was among those who offered him a contract, flying Posner to New York during finals week of his junior year for a meeting and tendering the offer via e-mail while Posner was in the midst of writing a sociology paper.
“It was a little distracting,” he says with a laugh. “That was the only C I ever got in my academic career. I wholeheartedly blame it on Shawn Carter.”
After a number of other offers Posner ultimately chose to sign with J Records, “the label that best understood me as an artist.” But he also chose to return to Duke for his senior year, juggling his business and sociology studies with weekend performances and bookings at 50 Cent’s This Is 50 Fest, the Austin City Limits Festival, South By Southwest and Bamboozle — where Spin magazine dubbed his set one of the festival’s best moments — and on “Last Call with Carson Daly” and “Lopez Tonight.”
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of people in the world don’t get an opportunity to go to a school like Duke University,” he explains, “and people in my family sacrificed a lot for me to have that opportunity. So I owe it not only to myself, but to my family to finish — and I’m proud. I think I made the right decision — I finished with a 3.6 GPA and a record deal.”
Now, however, it’s all music all the time for Posner. The Warped Tour is going well, even though his music is a bit more mainstream-friendly than the underground and punk-flavored fare that populates the package. But, he explains, “there’s kind of a sub-tradition of people that have broken out on Warped Tour who didn’t quite fit the bill. A lot of people don’t know that Eminem was on Warped Tour when ‘My Name Is ... ’ came out. And Katy Perry was on Warped Tour when ‘I Kissed a Girl’ came out.
“So it’s cool to be able to carry on that sub-tradition and also be part of the larger tradition that is ‘Warped Tour.’ ”
After Warped, Posner will headline his own “Up In The Air” tour in September and October, which will include an as-yet unannounced Fillmore Detroit stop. Overseas dates also beckon, and Posner says he’s ready for anything that’s available.
“It’s been weird having to wait this long,” he notes, “but it makes it more special. The people back home and ... at Duke are proud because they listened to me and the supported me before everyone else, and they’re the reason everyone else is on board right now. So it’s a very cool situation to be in. I’m superexcited.”
Mike Posner performs Friday, July 30, as part of the Vans Warped Tour in the parking lots of Comerica Park, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Gates open at 11 a.m. Tickets are $33. Call 313-962-4000 or visit www.livenation.com. Information about the artists and attractions and a schedule are available at www.vanswarpedtour.com.
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