Sigrid on Britney Spears, her latest songs and her love affair with Ireland

She is counting down to the release of her fizzbomb second album, How To Let Go

Sigrid’s How To Let Go is released May 6th

Sigrid’s How To Let Go is released May 6th

 

There was a moment early in Sigrid’s career when the internet threatened to kill her vibe. Fuelled by punchy, empowering anthems, the Norwegian pop star had enjoyed a rapid rise through the global Top 40. But then came whisperings her wholesome, teenager next-door image – a triple-threat of dressed-down jeans, plain white T-shirts and a make-up free skincare regime – was a marketing stunt dreamed up by her label. She knew this to be a figment of social media’s imagination. Nonetheless, the negativity got inside her head. For a heartbeat, she wondered who she truly was.

“I don’t want to come off like it’s a massive life struggle. It was more an annoyance. Like, ‘bleerugh’. I did get annoyed. People who said the whole jeans and T-shirt thing was made up by my marketing team – it was completely false,” she says over Zoom from her label’s London office.

“It’s jeans and T-shirt. I’ve worn it since I was a kid. I’m practical. I did get a bit confused in the end. You hear something so many times . . . Then I woke up and was like, ‘no’. It’s my life. It’s my body. I’m going to do what I want to do.”

A bundle of big-sister energy on stage and charismatically low-key off it, it’s hard to imagine Sigrid suffering a crisis of confidence as she blitzed the charts with shin-kicking hits such as Strangers and Don’t Kill My Vibe – the latter written about a condescending male producer with whom she’d been briefly paired.

But as she counts down to the release of her steely fizzbomb of a second album, How To Let Go, on May 6th, she remains struck by the double-standards to which she was subjected on her way to the top. Male pop stars, lest we forget, wear jeans and t-shirts all the time. Nobody accuses them of being puppets of their record companies. “I think there’s definitely a gender thing to it,” she says shrugging. “I try not to care too much.”

Did she watch any of the recent documentaries about Britney Spears? Obviously Spears and Sigrid have next to nothing in common. And yet, those films painted a damning picture of a music industry all too willing to exploit female artists, regardless of the toll on their mental health.

Sigrid: ‘I would have probably been a bit too overwhelmed or scared to be that vulnerable...’
Sigrid: ‘I would have probably been a bit too overwhelmed or scared to be that vulnerable...’

“Well, I think it’s absolutely horrendous how she’s been treated by the media,” says Sigrid of Spears. Her tone suggests this is as far as she will be drawn on the subject of Britney Spears, her rise, fall and redemption.

She is happier talking about Ireland, with which she has a long-term love affair. In 2017, with Don’t Kill My Vibe still a sleeper hit, Sigrid received an early taste of international acclaim when she went Dingle for the Other Voices festival.

Moved

Twelve months later, she was back playing to a packed tent at Electric Picnic, where she wore an Other Voices T-shirt and was so moved by the crowd she burst into tears (Sight Off You from her debut LP, Sucker Punch, was inspired by the gig). Just last year, meanwhile, she braved stormy weather and a packed schedule to return to Other Voices all over again. Getting to Dingle is rarely straightforward: Sigrid had to go directly from Norwegian TV to a waiting plane. And then drive to south-west Kerry to play her show.

“We were maybe not going to be able to come. But we managed to get to Ireland. It was a long journey. We were so tired. The show was great. We played in the same old church that we were last time, which was lovely. And afterwards, we went out to a couple of bars. A lot of them were like, ‘we’re closed’. And you could see, like, 20 blokes in there drinking,” she laughs.

“We ended up in the hotel lobby. Some musicians from Ireland were playing. And we started singing along. We didn’t play a single Sigrid song. It was only hits only: Robbie Williams and Oasis.”

You won’t find much trace of Robbie Williams or Oasis on How To Let Go. The LP, recorded through lockdown in Los Angeles and Denmark, does, however, pay homage to one of Sigrid’s first musical loves, Coldplay. You can hear echoes of Chris Martin’s chirruping stadium melancholia on It Gets Dark and in the cloud-bursting guitars on Burning Bridges.

That musical progression is matched by unflinching lyrics. Mirror, for example,could be aimed at the detractors who told her she was a fake for going on stage in denim and T-shirt. “I love who I see looking at me/ In the mirror, in the mirror,” she sings. It’s a pop song with steel pellets in its veins.

“A lot of guitars, electric bass, a lot of real strings,” she nods. “I worked on the vocals a bit differently. It was [about] getting new colours out of my vocals. Lyrically, it’s probably digging a bit deeper, which is fun. A bit scary as well.”

I won’t get back that Sigrid that wasn’t an artist, wasn’t touring the world
 

On her first record, Sigrid feels she was running to catch up with her overnight rise. Success had arrived in an eye-blink. One instant she was a starry-eyed teenager from small town Norway, the next she was signed to a major label and all over the radio. It wasn’t that she ever felt unready. She was, however, so, so young and things were moving incredibly quickly. Second time around, shortly to turn 26 and in a long-term relationship (she is dating professional skier Nicolai Schirmer) she feels more in control.

“I think it’s a growth thing. I guess, in my lyrics on the first record . . . How old was I? I was probably 21. This is the second time I’m doing it. I’m more comfortable. But, of course, this is easy for me to say now when the songs are gone out. It’s all exciting though.”

Born Sigrid Solbakk Raabe, she is the youngest of four children and grew up in Ålesund, a town of 60,000 in western Norway. Her father is an economist, her mother runs an architectural firm. Theirs is a family of high-achievers: Sigrid’s older brother, Tellef Raabe, juggles a career as a songwriter with studying for a PhD on the “news media economy” at Cambridge. Sigrid herself dropped out of university in Norway, where she had enrolled in a politics course, to pursue music full-time.

Intensity

As she has grown older she has started to reflect with a renewed intensity on her childhood. She feels a certain sadness at having to say farewell to the time in her life she was perhaps happiest. She sings about this on Grow, a ballad on the new LP. “ I got one foot out and one foot in,” she croons, mourning the passage of time and childhood’s end.

Born Sigrid Solbakk Raabe, she is the youngest of four children and grew up in Ålesund, a town of 60,000 in western Norway.
Born Sigrid Solbakk Raabe, she is the youngest of four children and grew up in Ålesund, a town of 60,000 in western Norway.

“There’s a certain melancholia,” she says. “I do talk about how I won’t get my childhood back. I won’t get back that Sigrid that wasn’t an artist, wasn’t touring the world. And had a really nice life in Norway. And of course there’s a certain melancholy in not going to university. All my mates go to uni. That is an experience I won’t have. Because I dropped out after two weeks.”

She works with a variety of co-writers on How To Let Go. It Gets Dark, arguably the strongest track, was co-authored by Emily Warren, a rare female voice in the male dominated world of music production and writing. “Some of the best songwriters in the world are female,” says Sigrid. “All the hits, I’m listening to – the big, big hits, usually there is a female [involved]. I don’t have the statistics. There are some brilliant female songwriters. I want to work with talented people.”

Aside from frowning slightly at mention of Britney Spears, Sigrid is in good spirits. She appreciates a great deal rests on the shoulders of How To Let Go. But she also knows it’s a fantastic album. And if she experiences the occasional wobble of self-belief, there is always that voice at the back of head saying everything is going to be okay.

“One day I feel super confident, another day it’s like ‘oh god, how is this gonna go?’ That’s probably to do with being in your 20s. It’s fine. It’s all part of it.  There is, of course, an immense pressure on the second record. But the pressure is always gonna be there. I’m sure there’s going to be a massive pressure on my third album. What are you going to do about it? You’ve got to make the music you love. And that’s what I’ve done. And I’m so so proud of this record. I absolutely love it.”

How To Let Go is released May 6th

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