The more you hear about Michael Rosenberg, the more you want to like him.
First of all there’s his shiny, tuneful music. The English folk-pop singer-songwriter, who performs under the name Passenger, catapulted from longtime scruffy, subway busker to international sensation via the megahit “Let Her Go” from his 2012 debut album All the Little Lights.
Then there’s his ethics. Despite millions of YouTube hits, festival appearances and 17 No. 1 positions in international charts, what did the 30-year-old Rosenberg decide to do last month? He went back to his busking roots, performing around Britain to small pockets of fans to raise money for The Big Issue Foundation, a UK charity fighting homelessness.
“Someone once told me it’s more important to be a nice person than a successful musician.
It sounds cheesy but it’s true, and I try to remember that all the time,” Rosenberg told The Evening Standard during the tour. “You can get carried away with things when people are telling you you’re good at something. I was busking for five years, and if that doesn’t make you humble nothing will. I was staying in hostels, on mates’ couches and slumming it for a good while. If you’ve been there, how could you possibly take this for granted?”
Born in Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, where he still lives, Rosenberg (whose father is Jewish) dropped out of school to pursue a music career and spent years traveling as far as Australia to busk wherever he could. He formed the first incarnation of Passenger in 2003 as a five-piece band, whose only album was released without fanfare in 2007. Keeping the band’s name, he launched a solo career in 2009 and garnered a following in Australia where his debut album Wide Eyes Blind Love was released, followed in 2010 by another called Flight of the Crow.
Returning to the UK, he reconnected with an old school friend, Ed Sheeran, whose career as a gifted acoustic-pop teen-friendly performer was taking off. Rosenberg opened up a number of tours for Sheeran in both Britain and the US. But the growing groundswell of support revealed little about what was to happen with the 2012 release of All the Little Lights, featuring “Let Her Go.”
Six-and-a-half million copies sold of “Let Her Go,” and 290 million views on YouTube later Rosenberg was no longer opening for anyone. In fact, last month, he was named winner in the Most Performed Work category at the Ivor Novello Awards, the pinnacle for British songwriters.
“It’s pretty surreal for me to be here,” said Rosenberg, according to Reuters. “For the last five or six years, I’ve been busking and independently releasing music. I never dreamt that I would be invited to a place like this, let alone win the flipping thing.”
But introspective break-up songs, no matter how upbeat and syncopated, are not the only elements of Rosenberg’s DNA. A rousing acoustic hip-hop medley duet by Rosenberg and Sheeran last year of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” and Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” turned into another YouTube sensation with almost eight million views and highlighted the good-natured effervescence and masterful musicianship at the base of their appeal.
All of Rosenberg’s musical sides are to be exposed when he arrives for a sold-out show on June 10 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv, a day after the release of his new album Passages. But ever the eventempered down-to-earth guy he seems, he’s not expecting it to create another international sensation like “Let Her Go” did.
“In a way, there is probably more pressure on me, but I don’t think that I am ever going to have another ‘Let Her Go’ because that was a phenomenon – so all I want from this record is for people to enjoy it and connect with it,” he told the Mancunian Matters website.
The lucky Israeli fans who gobbled up the tickets to his only Tel Aviv show in time will undoubtedly reap the same rewards from seeing Passenger in the flesh.