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Cast your minds back to January 2020... Feels weird right, like a daydream of a life before the so-called new normal hit. For 24-year-old Sigrid it meant being in LA working on the embryonic songs that would make up the hugely-anticipated follow-up to 2019's UK top 5 album, Sucker Punch, a firecracker of a debut that built on her BBC Sound of 2018 win and the top 10 success of the pulsating festival anthem Strangers. After returning to Norway, and then back to LA for more experiments in pop alchemy in March 2020, the pandemic hit and suddenly America was a day away from closing its borders. Sigrid escaped back to Norway with the genesis of one very special song under her belt, the disco-ball-shaped Mirror, her glorious, stadium-sized comeback single. “It's definitely inspired by disco but also I grew up with bands like Muse and that really hard bass reminds me of them,” she says of the song's ground-shaking intro which, given she was one of 2019's biggest live acts, owning Glastonbury while also headlining her own sold out UK tour and supporting the likes of George Ezra and Maroon 5, will hopefully be heard vibrating out of a huge sound system in a field very soon. “It's a very live version of a pop song. It's heavy. I love that because I need to feel the bass in my chest when I'm singing.”
Lyrically Mirror pulls off that very Sigrid trick of zooming in on the personal while keeping it open to interpretation. While its instantly addictive sky-scraping chorus of “I love who I see looking at me in the mirror” can be seen as a statement on body positivity, for Sigrid it was more about internal struggles after a crazy few years of being in the spotlight ever since she announced her arrival with 2017's immaculate Don't Kill My Vibe. Like that song Mirror is another banger that builds armour out of negativity. “Mirror to me is about accepting your personality in all its flaws and trying to not walk around with so much baggage,” she explains. It's joined on the forthcoming new album by a handful of other songs borne out of having the time to sit and reflect during the pandemic. “What has happened has been so awful, and I have been very lucky no one close to me has been seriously ill or lost their jobs, but to keep my head up, I have tried to look at the silver lining too,” she says. “So there have been good things – I've enjoyed having time to really stop and think. The new album is better for that. I didn't necessarily have time on the last album – we wrote Strangers in two days and then I was off on tour.”
While she says she's happy with the pace Sucker Punch took off – it ended up being the ninth biggest-selling debut album of 2019 in the UK just behind Mabel – it was still a whirlwind, and one which led to introspection. “I've had time to think about who people thought I was, and who I thought I was,” she says, that lyrical honesty never far from the surface in person either. “That's been a really weird road to go down in the pandemic – I definitely had a bit of an identity crisis because the thing that was most important to me was taken away, aka touring and travelling and being an artist. I thought, who am I without the music? My self-worth as a human is not just work, but who am I without my job? But the pandemic made me realise I don't want to do anything else. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Sigrid also wrestled with her image. When she arrived her style was minimalist; white t-shirt and jeans, the utilitarian uniform of the ready-for-anything popstar. Somehow along the way it got contorted, assumed by critics to be the product of a major label marketing meeting. “I felt like I lost some ownership of it,” she says. “There was so much talk about the white t-shirt and jeans in every interview, on every poster, everything was so focused on that and so when we were starting this cycle I was really frustrated and confused – it felt like it wasn't mine anymore. In the end, however, I figured out that it is me. It came from me. I'm not going to let anyone else take ownership of that.” It led to a more existential realisation, too. “I started to think, am I a good role model if the reason why I’m dressing down is so that people can’t say anything about me trying to use my body to reach the ‘top’? Would I be a better role model if I managed to protect my privacy, but still didn’t lie about being a woman? Yeah, I like to feel good about myself, whilst being a young entrepreneur... I think that’s pretty sick”.
That sense of taking control permeates much of Sigrid's second album. It's a record that deals with both the end of relationships and the start of new ones. So the galloping, future live favourite Burning Bridges confronts an ex with candour: “tried to wave a white flag but you set it on fire”, she sings at one point, that delicious rasp ever prominent. “It's definitely open for interpretation in terms of what kind of break-up I'm talking about, but it's inspired by one of the toughest things I've been through,” she says. “It's a song that's about the point where you just have to say 'you know what, let's just finish this'. That moment of enough is enough. A clean break.” On the flip side is the loved-up, dancefloor belter Nobody Else (“I wanna love you and nobody else”), a song co-written in Norway with Sucker Punch collaborator Askjell Solstrand. It was back in Norway last summer that the album really took shape, helped massively by the fact that superstar songwriter Caroline Ailin (Dua Lipa, Julia Michaels) – who Sigrid had been working with in LA at the start of 2020 together with Emily Warren – had moved to Denmark, with her new partner, producer Sly (Jonas Brothers, Dua Lipa). Once the borders between Norway and Denmark opened up last summer, Sigrid went and spent weeks with them writing and recording. “We would go to a little pier and we'd swim between writing sessions,” she remembers. It was the push and pull of Ailin and Sly's working relationship – with Ailin more focused on pop precision and Sly more experimental – that Sigrid revelled in. “We had a good split between big hooks and weirder moments, and I was sort of in both camps,” she laughs. “I love things that are super catchy and direct but another part of me is up for the more experimental and trying different things.”
It's why the album occasionally leans more towards organic, almost folksy instrumentation this time around, with songs like the psych-tinged Dancer built around 70s-esque acoustic guitars, channeling Sigrid's childhood idols such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. “It's influenced by a lot of the old school stuff like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, which I grew up on, but also artists like Elton John and ABBA. Then there are songs that are more disco influenced because I really got into the Bee Gees - not just the singles, but their albums too. It was also inspired by all the touring and the festivals we went to. Seeing bands like Tame Impala.”
Perhaps the song that shows off all these influences is the one Sigrid is most proud of, the cinematic It Gets Dark, about “being torn between living in Norway and that crazy life outside, be it London, LA or New York. That song was a post-debut album 'what do I do with my life now'.” Its searing honesty is surrounded by strings, driving bass, galloping drums and a very pure sense of emotional drama that feels instantly classic.
While the pandemic and the resulting lockdown isn't mentioned directly, its influence is all over the record. “A lot of these songs I wouldn't have written without 2020 happening the way it did. It was a moment of reflection. I’m not an artist without being in the studio, writing, and I’m not a writer without being on stage.” You can feel it most on the gorgeous High Note, inspired by the gothic Corpus Clock in Cambridge, a literal symbol of the passing of time and the need to really live life to the fullest. “We wrote that song last summer when we were all thinking about mortality, so there was a week of a lot of emotions and reflecting on life and death,” she remembers. “The clock is there to remind people of time and to spend your time wisely.” The fuzzed up Risk of Getting Hurt, meanwhile, deals with grabbing life when you can, even if there are risks involved. “I write about struggles because it helps me get through the shit times. We all experience pain and everyone has their own process of dealing with it. We all take risks, and sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t. My mum always says you have to work to get the payoff, and then it's all the better.”
Another guiding hand through the album is the thought of the ever-patient Sigrid fans, whose favourite all but disappeared for most of last year while other pop artists were setting up camp on social media. “They were the light at the end of the tunnel of this writing experience, just to know that someone was there to hear it,” she says. “Even them posting 'where is the album?' is nice to see. It reminds me who I'm writing and releasing music for. I’ve seen so many artists talk about how it’s hard to write songs for the audience, like that’s somehow not as cool as writing it for yourself. But to me, during Covid, knowing that someone was going to hear it meant everything. Knowing that the fans would listen to these songs in the end has given this year of songwriting solitude a real purpose.” There’s a pause. “Frankly, I finally have the courage to say, I’m good at it.” With this second album, Sigrid has also realised that music making is healing for her, too: that it's all she wants to do. The gargantuan Mirror is an anthem for her fans, but it's also a reminder to herself; that it starts with the person in the reflection.
Soon these emotional songs that veer between the dancefloor and the quiet corners and are steeped in reflection, upheaval and change, will be other people's anthems. That's when the emotional release can really start. For everyone.
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