As music fans, nothing can quite prepare us for the heartbreak we feel when a beloved artist suddenly passes away. And although it's never easy to cope with a musician's untimely death, it's long been clear that death doesn't necessarily mark the end of a music career. In fact, it seems that several departed artists' legacies continue through a string of posthumous releases — many of which are dropped months, years, or even decades after their passing.
Take Avicii's Tim, for example. The first posthumous single from the late Swedish producer, whose full name was Tim Bergling, was "SOS" featuring Aloe Blacc, and it was released on April 10, mere days from the first anniversary of his death. The opportunity to hear his signature sound again not only brought fans joy, but also a sense of closure. "It was his way of saying goodbye," longtime fan Lindsay Sperin told MTV News.
When Bergling's full-length LP arrived on June 6, the reaction was similar, with many fans of the EDM superstar feeling grateful he left behind music that, a year later, would offer insight into the last several months of his life. "Overall, the album is something society needed to remind people that everyone, no matter who you are — famous, successful, pretty, smart, talented, etc. — is going through something," Sperin added. "And that is so important."
But while some fans took to social media to say that the album helped fill a void, others wondered if the album was an accurate representation of what the producer's next album would've sounded like had he been alive to finish and release it himself. "It's hard to capture someone's vision if you aren't them," Luke Wells, an avid listener of Avicii, told MTV News.
Fans of the late Mac Miller seem to share many of the same fears. After his voice popped back up on two recent tracks — 88-Keys's "That's Life" and Free Nationals's "Time," both recorded before his 2018 death — fans expressed how nice it was to be able hear his voice again, especially on an ecstatic song like "That's Life." "Without this music, fans only have what [Mac] gave [before he died]," Anya Schoenfeld, a fan of Miller's, told MTV News. "The work [he] has been working on for [his] fans and for [himself] was for nothing if it's not released."
Still, other fans have raised concerns on Twitter about whether the release of any further posthumous music from Mac lessens the authority he would've had over his own voice if he was still alive. "It just saddens me that [deceased] artists don't have the control anymore of their music," said Eddie Henriquez, a fan of the late rapper. "[The verse] could've been planned before [his] death, but when [he's] not able to reap the benefits... it feels sort of... hollow? I want to know that an artist has control over their content."
Although these opinions don't represent the entirety of both Avicii and Miller's fanbases, the concerns raised — like posthumous releases themselves — are nothing new. On June 7, Warner Bros. released a new album from Prince titled Originals, a compilation of hits he recorded specifically for other artists, like The Bangles's "Manic Monday" and Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." Michael Jackson's second posthumous album, 2014's Xscape, featured eight songs recorded by the pop icon in the 1980s and '90s before getting remixed by L.A. Reid, Timbaland, and several other producers to create the final product, which found a mixed reception. Jimi Hendrix, who released three studio albums in his lifetime, had 13 additional studio albums dropped posthumously — not to mention 27 live albums and countless other special releases. While this material was received with excitement by plenty of devoted fans, it's not hard to understand why, for others, the continued release of music after an artist's passing can raise an eyebrow.
One of the major reasons why musicians' estates approve such releases is that ultimately, it simply gives fans more. At least in Avicii's case, it's what many of them believe he would've wanted. "Nothing but praise for @vargasandlagola, @arizona and @coldplay along with all the other producers for finishing the posthumous @Avicii album 'Tim," tweeted Avicii fan Conor McGee. "It's a wonderful way to round off his producing career and it's the way he would've wanted it."
With much of Tim meticulously planned out prior to his death, and some songs like "Heaven" already done, completing an album that Bergling would've been proud of became of utmost importance to his co-producers. And from many fans' perspectives, they succeeded. A release like Tim can be therapeutic, and not just for fans, but also for the team that took on the intimidating task of finishing it. "It became almost like a comfort to work on these songs and to have them, to listen to, to remember and to think back on the whole process how they were put together," producer Karl Falk told NPR.
There's an undeniable value in how much Tim has helped fans, friends, family, and co-producers grieve the producer's death. And in case the good intentions behind this posthumous release weren't clear, his team took additional measures to make sure the music was released in a way that celebrates his life and helps others who share the same struggles. Along with naming Bergling as the sole producer of the album in its credits, all the proceeds of the album were donated to the Tim Bergling Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on mental health and suicide prevention created by his family following his death.
But while many people are able to justify the posthumous releases by Avicii and Mac Miller, it doesn't seem to be as simple for fans of Lil Peep, another recently departed musician. Since his death in 2017, Peep has appeared on nine singles, including with superstar collaborators like Marshmello and iLoveMakonnen. When Gabriela, a young fan of Peep's, began to notice these releases happening on a semi-regular basis, something didn't sit right.
"His death hit our generation really hard, because it could have been any one of us," she said. "The fans want to honor him, but it feels like the label or whoever is in charge of these releases just wants to capitalize on our generation's loss." But when it comes to "I've Been Waiting," Peep's song with iLoveMakonnen and Fall Out Boy, she admits there's a bit more of a gray area. "I love the idea of Fall Out Boy jumping on Lil Peep's track because that would have been a dream come true for him," she added about the artists who was celebrated for merging hip-hop and emo. "And I'm sure a lot of the people who made that happen felt it was a way to honor Lil Peep."
Though the path from buried studio artifact to properly released posthumous track can be complicated, fan reactions reveal that when done correctly — and at their best — these releases can offer a significant amount of relief and healing to those the artists have left behind. Ultimately, as Avicii fan Sperin concluded, the emotional catharsis may end up outweighing the confusion: "Posthumous music reminds us how special life really is and how quickly our time here can come to an end, and maybe that's a good enough reason for it."