An Initially Awkward Then Lovely First Date with Sigrid
After a wobbly start with the rising Norwegian popstar, we were soon chatting about small-town life, dad rock and… kangaroos.
All photography by Angela Dennis
I’ve been sitting next to Sigrid for about 49 seconds, in the skylit atrium of an east London hotel bar, and have already freaked her out. As far as my first dates go, it’s deeply on-brand. A casual icebreaker question about her actual first date hasn’t gone down well. The 21-year-old starts with an “errrr” and a short, sharp laugh before looking over at her publicist on a nearby table, eventually landing on: “I don’t have a lot to say – is that OK? I feel like that’s a bit… private?” She looks terrified. Normally, when someone dodges an early question on any date, it’s a sign that things are about to crash and burn. But not so with Sigrid.
Within minutes, after I’ve recovered from the sudden lurch in the direction of our conversation, the Norwegian pop star and I are basically talking like two friends on a platonic pub date. She’s similar to the narrator in many of her songs – self-assured, but not arrogant, insightful about Modern Life as a Young Woman without being preachy. That shift she makes at the start of our chat, from initially bamboozled and awkward to charming, slots in perfectly with what we’ve seen of Sigrid’s public-facing self so far. She’s polite, the sort of person who really leans in to listen to each question. She keeps everything really positive. But she’s also aware of the limits to what she will and won’t do. Hers is an understated confidence that almost jars with how childlike she can look.
You’ll have likely heard her name by now, so I’ll lay out some of the facts. She signed to a major label in 2016 and was pegged as “one to watch” when throaty breakout single “Don’t Kill My Vibe” – about a songwriting session where someone in the room patronised her – gave young fans a buzzing pop empowerment jam to shout along to. She’d actually released several songs before this, starting with 2013 debut “Sun” but most only made an impact in Norway. Less than a year after “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” though, she won the BBC Sound of 2018 poll. In that whirlwind of time, we didn’t learn much about her from interviews beyond what’s in her songs.
They tend to harbour that sweet-sour quality that’s embedded in so much great and catchy Scandinavian pop: a song’s overall message can be melancholy, while delivered with a sparkling vocal or a drop that sounds like it belongs somewhere in a 2013 Skrillex set. See “Plot Twist” or anti-fakery banger “Strangers.” As we talk, I realise that her personal life feels like a blurred out photo because she’s chosen to go about her work that way. She’s had to quickly figure out which cards to hold close to her chest as her star has risen, and which moments she’s comfortable sharing. We get into all of this, sipping herbal tea before she’s whisked away in the lead-up to a headline gig that evening.
Noisey: Hi Sigrid, you strike me as the sort of person who’s bang into family. What kind of music would you put on a playlist for them?
Sigrid: Ha, well, my dad’s a ‘typical dad rock’ person – a big Neil Young fan, I’d put Teenage Fanclub on it, definitely War on Drugs. Maybe Maren Morris. My mum loves jazz, and together we listen to loads of Chet Baker back home. And this Norwegian band called Hajk.
Have you guys all hung out? I get the impression the music scene in Norway is super-tight.
I actually interviewed them once, for Beats. They were really nice. And yeah, the music community is so small that you get to meet a lot of people when you play the same festivals.
I got a sense of that from by:Larm in Oslo a couple of weeks ago.
Oh yeah, how was it? Cold? [laughs]
Freeeezing. That horrible Beast from the East thing was basically magnified there. But a good excuse to be running between gigs to warm up.
What did you see?
HALIE, who was sooo good.
Oh yeah! She’s on the same management as me. You know the song “Ignorant”?
I co-wrote it with her, and she played support for me in Oslo.
No way. What was co-writing like?
Great! I haven’t written much for other people – I think I’ve done it twice, for her and for Fredwell, who’s our support on this UK tour and also on the same management. It was fascinating to be in that situation, with the tables turned, knowing the music we were writing wasn’t for me. It was quite liberating too, to not think about the fact that I was going to sing it.
Obviously you hinted at one particular ‘songwriting camp’ scenario on “Dont’ Kill My Vibe” but at this stage in your career, how much do you feel like you have to write autobiographical work?
Um, that was one difficult writing session. I think all of my other sessions have been great; I’m very lucky to be working with all of these people. But the way I write is only a bit different now… I’m noticing that there are more people listening to my songs now, so I’m a bit more aware of the fact that I want to protect some of my private stuff. Since I’m a 21-year-old person, I try to have a life outside music [laughs]. So this is equally my whole life, in one way, but also just my work. It’s a… it’s a balance thing. Because I think if you share it all, it’s all out there. It’s not that I have things to hide, it’s just that I want some things of my own.
That’s interesting. It feels similar with journalism too: sharing everything, whether your sex life or half-baked opinion, gets you clout. I don’t think I can be bothered with that.
I totally agree. I think that’s important for me with when I write with other people too. The stories we talk about are all of our stories – a session is about 80 percent talking, 20 percent writing, honestly. But we always try to make it a universal message so people can see themselves in it, while protecting our lives at the same time. I think it’s fascinating, with the new generation and social media – blah blah, I know you know about this sort of thing – how everyone is a mini-celebrity now. Young kids, 12-, 13-year-olds, are sharing their everyday lives and it’s quite crazy.
I’m 29, so was of the age when people used to share a whole Facebook album of about 80 photos from one night, where you mostly looked like shit because the lighting was terrible and you’d been drinking. No editing apps, no curation.
Oh god, yeah. That’s interesting, because – and I hadn’t thought about this – that has changed really quickly. We did share full-blown albums from one event; I remember that from when I was in eighth grade, at parties. And it was just lots of the same version of one photo, shot from sliiightly different angles. But now you’re looking for that one perfect picture. So now… I don’t know. I think people grow up much faster. Saying that, I was a part of it too: I was 13 when I got a Facebook account, and now I think that’s very early. I shouldn’t have got it until I was about 20 – like, last year.
I keep changing where I stand on social media’s pros and cons. Do you set limits for yourself, on using it?
Haha, I wish. Noooo, ugh, I’m so bad at that. It does something to people, it’s not healthy. In a way, I wish I’d spent more time when I was younger, looking out the window and not really doing anything. And that’s why I love hiking, because when I’m out in nature I don’t have service on my phone, and it’s in my backpack anyway. I can’t do anything except look at what’s around me, and talk – usually with my family.
How has the way you view your hometown changed since you started jetting around so much for work?
I think I love it more than ever [giggles]. Growing up there, I thought it was a small town – it’s got about 50,000 inhabitants. Did you grow up near London?
No, nowhere near: I was born in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, where there are like 400,000 people. When I was a child, the population of the entire country was less than 2 million.
That’s even smaller than Norway! Woah.
It’s a small enough city that people I don’t know will come up to me in shops and know who I am because I look exactly like my mother, who they know.
Ha, same with me. Whenever people will see me, they’ll be like ‘uh-huuuh, Anette’s daughter,’ or know my grandma. So when I grew up in Ålesund I was always thinking about ‘getting out,’ and wanting to move to a bigger city. But now that I’m not living there anymore, I miss it all the time. I’m lucky that I get to go back there, to see my parents, whenever I have time off. I’m very close to my family; they’re the most important people to me.
It must have been wild for them to look at the trajectory of your career over the past year and a half. Do you even get the time to process that?
[sighs, thinking] Often there isn’t time to process it. I remember, for instance, with the BBC Sound of 2018 poll, I didn’t even get the time to let that sink in; it was just go-go-go, onto the next thing. But maybe two weeks later, I was sitting in my apartment and suddenly thought, ‘wow, that happened.’ With Coachella – which I consider a big, big deal – I knew I was booked about four months ago, and I was freaking out, but couldn’t tell anyone. So when it was official, I was like [motions a shrug] ‘yeah.’ I can never quite savour those moments when they’re happening – it’s always before or a while after.
I got a sense of that from watching all the BBC News interviews you had to do right after hearing you’d won. It seemed really intense, being filmed and questioned, when something was still that fresh.
Interviews like that do get easier, in a way. You have to get used to it, because if you’re going to be uptight every time you go into an interview, a radio appearance, gig, photoshoot, whatever it is, it’ll be tiring. You have to be relaxed about it.
A couple of years ago I was – excuse the namedrop – interviewing Paul Simon , and he spoke about getting to a stage in your career when you go from liking interviews, to putting up with them, to hating them, to coming round to them again and thinking ‘yeah fuck it, go on.’
Yeah, I think you can work through what you think out loud. And I’m so lucky to be even getting to do interviews; I do quite a lot but it’s nice to meet people and have a chat. How do you find it, meeting so many people for your job?
I love it. I… how do I put this? I really like people. I’m a cynical person, but I really do enjoy meeting people and burrowing into their individual stories.
You’re cynical, huh? I love the fact that you said that.
I have a very cynical worldview, yeah, but one-on-one interactions with people are so enriching.
That’s why I love stuff like this, where people I’m talking to can open up about themselves too. It’s really special to me. I appreciate hearing different stories, it inspires me.
Have you got to meet people you really look up to yet?
I did… Uggh, this feels like name dropping! [laughs]
I did the Paul Simon thing, you’re good.
Wellll, I did meet the royal family of Norway, and, even better, I met William and Kate. I met them, the roya– you know, William and Kate?
Haha, yes, I am aware.
[laughs] But that was big. I’ve got to admit, I’ve never been as starstruck in my life.
I’m shook by this, honestly. I sort of didn’t think you’d care.
Oh no, I was starstruck. So, we played at the Norwegian Royal Palace and Will and Kate – [laughs] god, I’m not on first-name terms with them, what do you call them? William and Kate? Do you say their Royal Highnesses? Well, either way, they were there. We played a couple of songs at this dinner, and I was really nervous. This famous football player was also at the dinner, so I was starstruck that he was there too. That was probably the last time I was starstruck – around early February.
Looking ahead, at the kind of place you want to be in, do you plan that all out?
I’ve got ambitions. I’ve always been very ambitious. But I think there’s something nice about not saying all of my dreams, in case they don’t happen and then it’s just really embarrassing. But, for a silly one, we played Graham Norton and I was so nervous for the interview segment. Talking on live TV with three celebrities sitting next to me was [motions like she was shaking] eeuuughghg. For some reason, when he asked me ‘what’s your dream?’ I said ‘mmmmeeting a kangaroo.’ I was just nervous, so I said it, but I did get to meet one in Australia. So I’ve got that.
Sigrid plays Coachella this weekend and next, where there probably won't be kangaroos around but that's OK.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.