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Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sigrid: ‘I feel like I’m being discredited, for my talent and all the hours I’ve spent at the piano’ | Pop and rock

In 2020, Sigrid had a crisis of confidence. Forced back to her parent’s house in Norway by the pandemic, she found her old teenage insecurities creeping in. As a kid, she had never considered herself cool, often choosing to play piano at home rather than socialise with friends. Then her life changed: she became a successful pop star, one with hit singles, 1.3bn streams and counting, and fans all over the world. “With the success, I had that feeling that maybe I was cool,” she says. “Then … boom! Isolation. Back home with my parents, in my childhood bedroom, remembering cringe moments of being 14.”

“I got a bit scared of how quickly I adapted to this completely alternative life, where I was waking up in the morning, having breakfast with my parents, going for a hike and skiing,” she admits. “Like, the whole day was about getting to the peak of a mountain, skiing down and then coming home to talk about how the snow was while having dinner. There were no emails. There was no stress. I had this serene, alternative life, but there was this really scary thing going on at the same time. I think that’s how many people felt.”

Speaking from her apartment in Oslo, bright-eyed and eager to chat, she doesn’t seem like someone filled with self-doubt. Since she released her debut single aged 20 – 2017’s triumphant rejection of music industry sexism Don’t Kill My Vibe – Sigrid found herself on an unstoppable roll: she scooped the top prize on the BBC Sound of 2018 poll, scored a platinum-selling single with the mammoth pop banger Strangers, became a fixture on festival lineups, and headed out on her own extensive tour.

When the campaign for her debut album Sucker Punch finished in 2019, she actually felt relieved. “It was a crazy few years,” she recalls, her perfect English coloured by a Norwegian accent. “But I also remember feeling bittersweet at the end, too. My band, crew and I were all Norwegian and experiencing everything for the first time. It was so exciting. The energy was unstoppable, and you’re just running on adrenaline.”

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Before the pandemic hit, she had been in Los Angeles for the early, anxiety-inducing process of making her new album, How to Let Go: “Everyone talks about the difficult second record, and I hadn’t quite figured out what I wanted to do. It stressed me for, like, a month.”

It wasn’t until Sigrid wrote It Gets Dark with Norwegian songwriter Caroline Ailin and Danish producer Sly that things fell into place. The song touches on themes of isolation and overcoming adversity. “In my life, I can appreciate the good stuff because of things that have been difficult and where I’ve come from,” she says. “Being far from home can be sad, difficult and lonely, but the highs that come with that are just so worth it.”

Northern powerhouse … Sigrid at Leeds festival in 2021.
Northern powerhouse … Sigrid at Leeds festival in 2021. Photograph: Andrew Benge/Redferns

I suggest that Sucker Punch was an album that helped her become a touring artist, whereas this new record was about shaping her into a recording artist. “Shaping is an interesting word,” she says, bristling slightly. “That’s something that people have commented on when it comes to my authenticity. They’ve said, ‘Is she authentic? Is it real?’ At first, I laughed, but then I got sad about it. You feel questioned, like none of what I’ve done was actually me and that someone else handles everything. That feels like I’m being discredited, both for my talent but also for all the fucking hours I’ve spent at the piano working.”

Such hard work appears to be in opposition with her casual aesthetic, even if it’s seen by some as a carefully crafted marketing plot. “If you take a picture of someone and slam it on a billboard, that picture is a lie,” she says in reference to the ubiquitous image of her wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. “It’s not natural to be at a photoshoot and then have that photo replicated over and over on different things, even if it comes from an authentic place.”

Although she gives short shrift to accusations that she’s an “industry plant”, she is atypically deliberate with her career choices, treating being a pop star like the business it is. Citing Taylor Swift as an inspiration in this regard, she says: “I’ve seen interviews with her where she explains that it’s OK as a woman to have a plan for your career. That’s not calculated, it’s just smart. It’s smart to have a plan.” In fact, it was such plotting that allowed Sigrid to land on the overarching theme of How to Let Go, an album about moving on from past relationships and relinquishing who you once were. “But it’s also about letting go of the doubts and fears I have,” she adds. “I’m scared of things, and this means a lot to me because I am ambitious, as I think a lot of artists are. I’m afraid of losing it because it means so much to me.”

There’s an existential thread, too, and album-closer High Note sees Sigrid pondering her own mortality as she sings, “I got so much more to do / When I run out of time / I wanna know I’ve seen it through.” Like any young person who has lived through political and economic upheaval, a global pandemic, and is witnessing the climate crisis play out in real time, thinking about death is understandable. “The world just feels smaller and smaller every day. It’s a scary time,” she says. “I think sometimes you can almost become paralysed by that fear.”

These worries are why she also leaned into disco on How to Let Go, most notably on the self-love anthem Mirror and glitterball oddity A Driver Saved My Life, an ode to blasting tunes in the back of an Uber: “With the world feeling scarier, I think people just want some kind of escapism.”

Morbid thoughts aside, Sigrid has moved on from the identity crisis she suffered at the beginning of the pandemic. “This is going to sound so cheesy, but I’ve learned that I’m stronger and more fun than I think,” she says. “Sometimes I entertain thoughts about what life would be like if I wasn’t doing this and lived in Norway, but then I think, ‘No!’ This album has really taught me that nothing moves me how music does. I’m back, and I’m hungry to get out there.”

How to Let Go is released on 6 May on Island Records. This summer, Sigrid plays Isle of Wight, Glastonbury, TRSNMT and more.

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