One of the first things I tell Sigrid when she hops on the phone is that we’re both the same age, 22. She lets out a genuine “Oh!” before asking what I do. So, for a second, we trade our one-sentences: I’m another New York transplant trying to hack it as a writer, while she’s an Oslo, Norway native gearing up to release her debut album.
Being in your early twenties, she says, is “interesting,” the word to use when it’s not quite clear yet if everything is going to work out. Sure it’s “exciting” having the long-awaited Sucker Punch album out Friday. But being named BBC’s Sound of 2018 comes with high expectations, so perhaps “weird” is more accurate, though she’s far from confused. For now, and throughout our conversation, she often settles on “interesting.”
“I wonder how I’m going to look back at all of this,” she says wistfully. “I guess it’s interesting. You’re kind of expected to be a grown-up in many ways. But in some ways, you’re just a kid still trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, what you want to study, what do you want to work with and where do you want to live.”
Impressively, she already has a few answers. Studying: none. Sigrid, born Sigrid Solbakk Raabe, has been a full-time pop star since 2016 when she signed with Island Records and shortly after released her hit single “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Living: Norway. While it’s fun playing shows in cities like Los Angeles and New York, Oslo will always be where she and her family call home. What to work with: excellent collaborators. Her inspirations run from Scandinavian pop legends Lykke Li and Robyn to alt-pop heroines Lorde and Florence Welch and even to country stars Kacey Musgraves and Luke Bryan. His 2017 anthem “What Makes You Country”: “I think it’s really, really catchy.”
Finally, what she’ll do: sing, of course. It’s all she’s ever wanted. “I love making records and just writing songs,” she says. “That’s the most important thing to me.”
When Sucker Punch drops this week, it’ll be over two years after she first released “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” In a move that echoes fellow 2019 pop breakouts Maggie Rogers and Billie Eilish, Sigrid refused to release her long-awaited album until she was fully ready. Initially, she did as expected and capitalized off the success of “Don’t Kill My Vibe” with an EP of the same name. She hit the festival circuit, charted in Europe and Australia and even snagged the lead song on Justice League's soundtrack. Then, she simply waited. She didn’t stop working, releasing a few singles and her second EP Raw in 2018. But Sigrid showed no concern about progressing without a full-fledged debut album. “I will never put out a song that I’m not comfortable singing,” she said.
It’s the type of throwaway statement that feels more of a persona than personal. But when you compare her—or Maggie Rogers and Billie Eilish—to pop stars who got their start in the 2000s like Katy Perry and Rihanna with debut albums that sound vastly different from their subsequent breakout chart-toppers, Sigrid’s unwavering patience feels like an act of defiance to industry control. “My profession—and your profession too—it’s pretty wild,” she says. “We are being asked to do so much stuff, and it’s really, really exciting. But saying no is one of the most important things you can do.”
As someone who is also mid-career launch and actively accepting every opportunity thrown my way, it’s clear to me that Sigrid’s willingness to be discerning about where she invests her time is just encouraging. It’s cathartic. On her standout track, “Business Dinners,” she lambasts industry heavyweights and men, in general, who commodify her. They only see Sigrid as “pictures, numbers, figures” and demand she be “sweet, better, angel.”
Sigrid can’t commit to any image adjustments. Not because she’s lazy. By the end of 2019, she’ll have embarked on three separate tours. Neither is it because she’s untalented. She performed at the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize concert and was nominated for “Best New Artist” at the 2018 NME Awards. She won’t commit to a takeover simply because she doesn’t feel she needs changing. “I know what I like, and I know what I’m comfortable with,” she says. “I trust myself.”
On Sucker Punch, she knows she wants to make pure pop music. “My goal from the beginning was to make music that is really fun to dance to and pop, glossy and fun,” she says. The simple melodies with frothy beats recall 2000s artists Dido and Norah Jones. It’s the type of music perfect for opening a rom-com as the camera zooms in on a heroine bouncing down the street.
Underneath the joyous, bubbly melodies, Sigrid gets real. On “Don’t Feel Like Crying,” she refuses to wallow over a broken heart. “And I know if I go home I'm gonna get upset / Yeah, it hasn’t hit me yet,” she sings. So she’ll stay out and stay positive. The songs “distract you from your everyday life because they’re so fun, but then it makes you start thinking about your own life, which I think is really interesting,” she goes again.
Of all Sigrid’s many successes on her album, the most surprising might be ending her catalog of pop songs with a traditional ballad. “Dynamite” is unmistakably inspired by Joni Mitchell and Amy Winehouse. Their songs are her go-to tour music. “That reminds me of home,” she says. Wailing about an unsalvageable relationship on “Dynamite,” she refuses to feel guilty for choosing work over love. “Oh, it’s so cold here / ‘Cause I left my heart to be with you,” she whispers. Sure the song is melancholy, but Sigrid embraces sadness. She adds, “I’ve always been inspired by artists that dare to be honest, vulnerable and empowered at the same time.”
With Sucker Punch, Sigrid further cements herself as her own empowered, influential artist. But don’t hold her accountable to any simplistic definitions. She’s hoping this will be the first of many albums to come. “I have no idea what type of music I’ll be making for the next one,” she says. “I’m probably gonna be a tiny bit different person when I’m 40 because that’s part of growing up. But, I’m still me!