‘If people will have me, I will show up,’ says Norway's queen of pop
You can tell a lot about an artist by their song titles. And in the case of Norwegian superstar singer-songwriter Sigrid, you can tell a bit more than most. Songs called ‘Mistake Like You’, ‘It Gets Dark’ and ‘Risk of Getting Hurt’ are empowering in their vulnerability.
On ‘Bad Life’, one of several powerful songs about isolation and vulnerability on her current album, How To Let Go, she sings: “Everyone’s damaged, a little depressed. Every now and then we get that feeling in our chests.”
What are you letting go of?
“Classic things,” she says. “Letting go of like things that have happened. Letting go of people that may have hurt you. Letting go of people you may have hurt yourself. Those sorts of things.
“It is sentimental to think of the way I grew up in Norway, and how different my life is now,” she says, “and how different it is to what I thought it would be. But I absolutely love it.”
How do you let go?
“Well, I don’t really have a good answer to that. I’m still trying. I let go by going for a hike and I hang out with my band and crew and friends, and I get drunk on the tour bus.”
Wrote New Musical Express, “Like the best pop music, it feels like someone’s reached out to say they know exactly how you feel.”
She has an extraordinary sense of empathy for someone who is 26 – but self-revelation in song is her raison d’etre.
“I also say I am way too young to be thinking about it,” she says. “But there is something about this industry as well and being an artist – it is risky in many ways. It can be quite short-lived. You never have any guarantees for how long people are going to show up to concerts, and how long it is going to last,” she says meaning her career.
“Maybe that’s also why I really want to enjoy it, and do as much as I can. It’s going fairly well though,” she says with some understatement.
Next Thursday, she plays the 3 Arena in Dublin. She has graced the covers of many music magazines, been a guest on Graham Norton, and has performed to hundreds of thousands of people.
Hard to believe she’s been doing this since she was in her early to mid-teens.
How has being in the spotlight at such a young age effect you?
“It’s been incredible. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I’m very, very lucky. But, yeah, of course, it makes you weird. And it is a business and industry that is built on hyping your ego up. That’s what happens when it goes well.
“And then you’re trying to not get too insecure by it, because of the pressure. But then you’re also trying not to turn into a twat because of it. There are the two extremes. And trying to find a middle ground is not always the easiest. But I do my best.
“The biggest misconception people have about me is that they think I’m chirpy and happy all the time,” she says.
Do your parents get concerned at you being so young in this industry?
“I’m sure they get concerned," she says, “because it is a crazy concept. I started this when I was 16. That is very early. But I think they trust me the whole way, because they know that I’m very strong-willed.
“I’ll let people know if there is something that feels off. It might take a second to get to it. But that’s the difficult thing. You must learn as you go.
"Like how many shows in a row you can do. Like how much work you can do. Like how long you can be away from home before it starts to get a bit tough. All that sort of stuff.
“My parents have been super-supportive to me and my two siblings. They have always told us: ‘Try to do your best, but do what makes you happy. That’s the most important thing.’”
From the small port town of Alesund, on the west coast of Norway, Sigrid Solbakk Raabe was born on September 5, 1996. She was the youngest child in the family. Her brother’s favourite band was Nirvana, and Sigrid loved Kurt Cobain’s voice.
One day, when she was 13, she sang ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the school. “There is a video of me, looking so scared and nervous, holding on to the microphone for dear life – playing in front of the school. But I really loved it.”
At 16, she wrote her first proper song ‘Sun’. She formed a band with her sister and had a small solo hit on Norwegian radio with ‘Sun’ when she was 17.
In 2016, when she was 20, she signed with Island Records.
Sigrid’s star fully emerged in the firmament in 2017 with her debut single ‘Don’t Kill The Vibe’ – a contagious dig at music-industry sexism. The song was allegedly prompted by Sigrid’s experience when she walked out of a session with some older male writer.
She followed this up with the electro-pop hit ‘Strangers’ (61 million views on YouTube) and won the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2018’ poll.
A year later, she released her first album, the synth-cool Sucker Punch. Her second album, How to Let Go, was released last March and made her a big star. It’s an honest record, about life, shifting identity, self-doubt.
Sigrid’s earliest childhood memories are of hiking with her family, and playing piano with her grandmother.
“She’s still here. She was the one who taught me how to play piano. I love her. She taught me a lot of classical things, and I was always the one that played the piano at Christmas.
“I still play piano every Christmas,” she adds, “and my family always tells me off – because I haven’t practised the Christmas songs and I can barely get through the right chords.
"I have to make up the chords on the spot because I haven’t practised. I will practise a bit more this year.”
She grew up in a family where music was central. Her mother is a big Joni Mitchell fan; her father a fan of Neil Young.
“My sister was into jazz and my brother was into rock. That shaped my musical upbringing, of course. But when I discovered Adele – that changed everything. I heard her voice and felt that she was singing directly into my brain.”
What did you inherit from your parents?
“My mom’s dance moves. All my dance moves are from my mom. And from my dad I got a love of acoustic guitar songs – everything that sounds a bit folky. There’s this song called ‘Grow’ on my second album, and that’s my dad’s favourite on the record. That’s very much like my dad’s music taste."
Asked what that song is about, she says that the first verse is about being on tour and feeling “a bit in-between”.
“I travel to so many new cities and I love it. But you have to stay in hotel rooms. I say in that first verse: ‘One foot in, one foot out’. I love being home in Norway and I love touring. There are two sides of it. You’re never fully there.
"Sometimes you are a little bit mentally missing home, but also loving it. It is quite restless. It is a very restless way of living, I suppose. So ‘Grow’ is about that.”
Is that what you want to do with the rest of your life – 40 years of restlessness?
“I definitely want to do this for a very long time,” she says. “If people will have me, I will show up.”
Does it ever become difficult to accept yourself when you see yourself on magazine covers all over the world, and hear your songs on the radio?
“Playing shows and having the intense reaction is a massive confidence boost. It’s incredible,” she says. “It’s the best feeling in the world. But it’s also nice to be able to dip in and out of the whole thing. I love it, but I guess I need a break from it too.”
“That’s why I love coming back to Norway. I’m going home for Christmas – and I can’t wait.”
A special edition of Sigrid’s ‘How To Let Go’ is out now, with two new songs. She plays the 3 Arena on November 24