Just two top-tier albums into her career, 25-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter Sigrid has already established herself as an impeachable pop powerhouse. Sold-out tours worldwide, top 10 singles, number 1 albums, it’s all there. On last month’s light-footed second album How To Let Go – variously hailed as “life-affirming” (NME), “stunning” (Line of Best Fit) and “an impressive pop statement” (Clash) – Sigrid built on the promise of 2019’s debut Sucker Punch – home to the enormous banger and festival favourite Strangers – flitting between disco-tinged lead single, Mirror, and the alt-rock emo of Bring Me The Horizon collaboration, Bad Life. Like her debut it crashed into the Norwegian charts at number 1 (“I’ll be at the grocery store and I’m buying toilet paper and people will ask for a selfie,” she told The Independent about her homegrown fame), while in the UK it improved on Sucker Punch’s number 4 debut by nestling in at number 2. “I actually can’t believe it,” she said at the time. “I beat myself, and I couldn’t be prouder! Thank you so so much to everyone listening to the album, it really means the world to me and the rest of the team.” Its success means that since exploding straight out of the blocks in 2017 with instant classic and feminist anthem Don’t Kill My Vibe, Sigrid’s global career streams to date number a head-spinning 1.47 billion. BILLION. Over 365m of those are from the UK alone. You want YouTube views? She’s had over 233m of them. As previously stated – pop powerhouse.
How To Let Go was started in LA in early 2020, before the global pandemic saw her escape back to Norway. “With the success, I had that feeling that maybe I was cool,” she told The Guardian last month. “Then … boom! Isolation. Back home with my parents, in my childhood bedroom, remembering cringe moments of being 14.” She did, however, have two very special songs under her belt; 2021’s disco-ball-shaped lead single Mirror, and It Gets Dark, a thundering ode to accepting the bad times so the good moments can shine brighter. Built around a thundering bassline and a sky-scraping guitar figure, it was first teased during a run of live shows last summer, which finally saw Sigrid returning to her happy place, given 2019 saw her owning Glastonbury while also headlining her own sold out UK tour and supporting the likes of George Ezra and Maroon 5. “I can’t wait to play this album on tour,” she says, confirming multiple tours and festivals in the diary for 2022. “It was written to be played live.”
While she says she’s happy with the pace Sucker Punch took off – it finished 2019 as the ninth biggest-selling debut album in the UK and spawned a top 10, Platinum-selling smash with Strangers and a Gold number 13 hit with Don’t Feel Like Crying – 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 the hell am I without my job? But the pandemic made me realise I don’t want to do anything else. I was scared to admit that I wanted to do this 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. “If you take a picture of someone and slam it on a billboard, that picture is a lie,” she told The Guardian. “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. 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.”
That sense of taking control permeates much of How To Let Go. It’s a record that deals with both the end of relationships and the start of new ones. 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 – had moved to Denmark, with producer Sly (Jonas Brothers, Dua Lipa). Once the borders between Norway and Denmark opened up, Sigrid went and spent weeks with them writing and recording. 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.” The super catchy and direct side is reflected in the amazing A Driver Saved My Life, a glittery electropop stomp about blasting tunes in the back of an Uber: “With the world feeling scarier, I think people just want some kind of escapism,” she told The Guardian.
The album also occasionally leans more towards organic, almost folksy instrumentation, 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 was during the Reading and Leeds festival last year that one of the album’s most anthemic songs materialised. A huge fan of UK rock upstarts Bring Me The Horizon, Sigrid bumped into their keyboardist Jordan Fish backstage and they suggested getting a writing session in the diary. Weeks later they were joined by vocalist Oli Sykes and the tear-stained rock ballad Bad Life was born. “It’s about mental health, and how when things are rough it can feel like you’re never going to stop feeling sad,” Sigrid explains. As she told The Independent: “It is scary to be that vulnerable, but I don’t want to sing songs if it doesn’t mean something to me.” Sykes comments that Sigrid writes “from the heart”, and recalls the grit of great vocalists from Stevie Nicks to Carole King and Freddie Mercury. Another recent collaboration, one-off single Head of Fire with Griff, came about equally organically. “I met Griff last summer at Fashion Week and we got chatting over pizza. I feel like we could have just said ‘lets meet for a coffee’ but with scheduling it’s easier to tell our managers that we can go to the studio. It was an excuse to hang out but then we figured we should finish something, and so we wrote Head on Fire.”
While the pandemic and the resulting lockdown isn’t mentioned directly, its influence is all over How To Let Go. “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 the studio writing, and I’m not a writer without being on stage.” The album works not only as a salve, but also as a testament to the power of having to let things go, which is where the album’s title came from. “The concept of ‘how to let go’ is the thread that runs through the album and through my life as well – just letting go of things you say, of people that have hurt you, or situations where I have been stupid. Life is a lot about letting go and moving on, and it sounds so simple but it isn’t.”
Another guiding hand through the album is the thought of the ever-patient Sigrid fans, who have been snapping up tickets for her forthcoming world tour, including arena dates in the UK. “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 posting ‘where is the album?’ is nice to see. It reminds me who I’m writing and releasing music for. During Covid, knowing that the fans would listen to these songs in the end has given this crazy time of songwriting solitude real purpose.”
On How To Let Go, Sigrid has also realised that music making is healing for her, too: that it’s all she wants to do. The gargantuan Mirror, for example, is an anthem for her fans, but it’s also a reminder to herself; that it starts with the person in the reflection. “Mirror is about accepting who I am as a person, accepting my independence, accepting if I was a bit stupid… stuff like that,” she told The Independent. “It is scary to be that vulnerable, but I don’t want to sing songs if it doesn’t mean something to me.” Now these emotional songs that veer between the dancefloor and the quiet corners and are steeped in reflection, upheaval and change, are becoming other people’s anthems. The emotional release can really start. For everyone.