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Music/Interviews

Sigrid has a lot of nerve

April 24, 2018

The 21-year-old Nordic singer talks storytelling, standing her ground and mastering the formula for a song that cuts deep.

Sometimes all you need to nail an Instagram caption is the perfect lyric. Rising pop star Sigrid Solbakk Raabe (known mononymously as Sigrid) knows this, and admits that she takes pride in seeing people use hers. “I see everything that people post. It’s very cool,” says the 21-year old Norwegian-born singer. “I see a lot of, ‘You think you’re so important to me don’t you? But I wanted you to know that you don’t belong here,’” she says, quoting the breakout single “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” off of her debut EP.

The song was inspired by a writing session in which she was made to feel like her input didn’t matter. She debated writing about it at all, but telling that story ended up paying off, ultimately earning Sigrid more than 6 million views on YouTube, the attention of media outlets like British Vogue and a slot on the Coachella lineup this year. Most notably, she was named the winner of the BBC Sound of 2018 award, an honour that’s previously gone to pop powerhouses like Sam Smith and Adele.

When we meet at a loft-style office space in Toronto, the singer’s vibe seems to be unaffected by the hype surrounding her seemingly predestined pop takeover or forthcoming full-length album. It’s the day after her Toronto show — her first-ever on Canadian soil — and Sigrid breezes into the room cheerfully greeting everyone she passes with a smile and firm handshake. Dressed in a red knit sweater and light-wash jeans, she’s fresh-faced, focused and still not over the fact that she performed at a packed venue just hours earlier. “That was amazing. It’s still so surreal that people know the lyrics to our songs,” she says.  

Take “Strangers,” for instance, a triumphant electro-pop banger about being alone together that had everyone bopping, the artist herself included. It’s the kind of quietly resilient dance track that’s been likened to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” “My favourite thing when I write is to get something good out of something bad,” says Sigrid. “I love that song because it has a negative theme, but the production and melodies are upbeat. I love contrasts. I want my music to be all about contrasts.”

I just want to be myself 100% when I’m on stage.

While she admits that defining the kind of music she wants to make has been “a full-on journey,” it’s evident that she’s mastered it now. “The type of pop I make, you have your verse, pre-chorus, chorus, all those things. I can be a bit mathematical about it, a bit calculated. But then it’s all about the nerve, and that’s what makes it special.” For Sigrid, every song starts with the melody. But her favourite part of being in the studio is when a line – the kind that gives a track that nerve – inexplicably comes to her. The key to getting there? Therapy-like writing sessions that are often spent just talking with one of her co-writers. “I get very emotionally attached to all of my songs,” she says. “It’s just magical. You’ll always remember that day with that song.”

While most of her songs are inspired by her own experiences, she points out that in three minutes you’re only ever getting to hear part of any story. Citing influences that span several genres and eras like Grimes, Adele, Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac, loneliness isn’t the only theme explored in her music that she hopes millennial fans can relate to. Her songs tell stories that touch on universal, often inescapable, coming of age experiences: deciding when to walk away from a friendship (“Fake Friends”), finally getting over someone (“Plot Twist”) and refusing to pretend to be someone she’s not (“Raw”). If there’s one message that comes up repeatedly, it’s that Sigrid is unapologetically herself, both on stage and off.  

FRANCESCA ALLEN

A self-described shy child, Sigrid got her first taste of performing when she landed a role in a Christmas play. She remembers feeling comfortable being in front of people while acting as someone else. “Now I just want to be myself 100% when I’m on stage,” she says. “I’m not a very mysterious person. I am myself when I’m with my friends, family, on stage or when I’m alone.” Still, she admits she loves having her “me time,” which often includes hiking, having coffee or hanging out at her family’s home in Norway. After one of her high-energy performances, she says you’re most likely to find her sipping a cup of tea with her band.

While theatre helped her bust out of her shell as a child, writing songs like “Don’t Kill My Vibe” makes her feel most confident today. “My family always pushed me to have my own opinions and to respect myself. I think it was so important for me, personally, to write that song because now I look back and remember that. I will never stop loving that song, no matter how many times we play it.”  

She’s set to continue performing it for audiences on the festival circuit this summer, ahead of the release of her debut album. When it comes to what to expect from her new music, Sigrid says, “To be honest, I think the album is just a collection of songs that mean a lot to me. I’m still working on it.” It comes as no surprise to hear that she’s involved in every aspect of the recording process. “I guess the theme is Sigrid at 21,” she says, with a laugh. “The things I’m experiencing and thinking about. I’ll go back into the studio soon. We’ll see,” she says with a shrug, before adding: “Maybe I’ll have something from this trip.”

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