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In her five years in the studio so far, Astrid S has learned that it is sometimes the best songs that come fastest. ‘I knew it was something special,’ she says of her single Emotion, ‘because I took a sneaky demo of it back to my hotel that night and couldn’t stop playing it.’ Emotion is an ebullient smash hit in the wings, a rush of pop blood to the head. Its lyric concerns facing up to and excusing yourself from a toxic friendship. One of its finger-snapping collation of killer hooks is whistled, a studio experiment that turned out to be too irresistible to turn into singing. Astrid’s vocal, a bittersweet confection perfectly suited to the subject of her script, is lifted from the first-take.
Emotion is one of those songs which sounds like it’s been whispered in your ear before you first hear it. ‘We spent a year re-vocalling it, trying different tempos, until we went back to the beginning.’ All involved knew that they had found gold-dust first time round. ‘So we went with the original.’
Astrid S was born in the tiny mountain hamlet of Berkåk, population under 1000 as of the last census. ‘In the heart of Norway,’ she says, ‘quite literally.’ There were no showbiz inklings in the family homestead, but for an obsessive love of 80s pop music by her father and the occasional tootling of a saxophone by her mother. Astrid was having piano lessons from five, then played flute in the local marching band with mom. ‘I was a supergeek,’ she says. ‘Loved school, loved learning, always, always playing music.’ Her first public appearance was at 2, singing Mamma Mia at a local outdoor event. Her fidelity to the Scandipop tradition stretches back beyond Max Martin to the originators. ‘No-one messes with Abba,’ she instructs.
Life in the mountaintops was pretty, conservative and secluded, in both the emotional and literal senses of the word. ‘Emotions weren’t regularly shown,’ she says. ‘It was considered quite weird to talk about how you were feeling or if something was weighing on your mind.’ So she buried herself in pop music, as a non-English language speaker intuiting its strangely endless emotional dictionary through melody alone. ‘I think that’s helped me as I grow with my writing. You almost get the chance to fall in love with pop music twice. First without the lyrics, then when you understand exactly what it is a song is saying.’
She was a gregarious child, communicative, cheery. ‘When you grow up in a very small environment it can feel like being in a bubble. That has to burst. I felt like the world was amazing because my little world was amazing.’ Her first miniature rebellion came at high school. ‘I wanted to do something to be a bit rebellious.’ She had to lose music to come back to it. Instead, she focussed on the pursuit of soccer, for which she was showing an aptitude and flair as a young defender.
Astrid decamped to a sport’s school, away from Berkåk, living in a small student apartment. She bought herself a guitar, unbeknownst to anyone, steadying herself to get back into her first love. ‘I guess where I come from in Norway in general we’ve always been ahead of gender norms so I didn’t really look at football as a gendered thing. Of course I can look at boys as being more easily drawn to or interested in it but I thought it was a really cool thing to do. It was the best thing in the world.’
It didn’t last. When she saw an advert for the massively hyped tenth anniversary season of Norwegian Idol on the TV, her life turned on a sixpence. ‘The show had premiered when I was 6 years old and I was 16 now. ‘I remember telling my mom when I was six years old, I really want to be on that show. She was like, you can’t be on until you’re 16, that’s ten years away and likely not going to happen. Yes, this is my chance!’ She duly won a place on TV, in the big city of Oslo, at the coalface of the music industry. ‘I didn’t have any expectations, then I went to the audition and it just happened.’
‘I moved to Oslo to do the show,’ she continues. ‘I remember just walking around the streets and my cheeks would hurt because I was smiling all the time. I bought this neon pink beanie and no-one cared. I could’ve never worn that in the small village I came from. Everyone would’ve said what the hell is she wearing? It was small steps in this new world of learning how to express myself. Also realising of course I wanted a career in music, what am I doing at this high school doing soccer.’
It was Astrid’s sensitive reading of Dolly Parton’s Jolene which hinted at a star in the making. She picked up fifth position on the show, but an unusual twist of events made her the contestant most likely to succeed because of it. In her final week, each singer was asked to write and produce a song of their own making. Shattered saw her voted off the show and but also make the Norwegian top 10 in the same week. ‘I don’t know if I remember a lot of being on TV. I still have this feeling of just going for it. Thinking back that was a crazy year, the year that changed my life.’ She signed to Sony ATV Music Publishing as a songwriter at 16 years old.
The intervening five years have seen Astrid turning into the artist she was meant to be. Her sound has developed into world class electropop, delivered from the heart. Her capacity for storytelling in song has taken on sophisticated twists. Her confidence has grown, at a steady pelt. A bona fide national treasure in her home country and ever broadening global fan base – she has near to 1 billion streams on Spotify alone. She has toured with Troye Sivan, duetted with Shawn Mendes, provided an impromptu BV session for Katy Perry. A succession of her own hits have built the groundwork for a new emerging international star. Astrid S’s debut album will appear, as if by magic.
The early augurs for what lies ahead are strong. Her opening shot will be Emotion. ‘It’s about that sort of relationship a lot of people go through. It was written at breaking point. Music can be like therapy when it works like that.’ She couldn’t be more delighted with the stylistic results of the song. ‘I had this idea that I wanted to make something modern and hopefully stand the test of time,’ she says. ‘It’s so great to have got there.’ The subject matter had to be exactly on point, too. ‘Boys can sing from any perspective, you notice that a lot. I want to be able to, too.’
Astrid S recalls exactly what pop music made her feel like as a young girl in a small town. ‘The moment I put a Discman on I was in another world. It was magical.’ Now she is ready to translate that early metamorphosis for her own fans. ‘To give them a world to get lost in as well.’ She is ready to colonise pop music with her own indefatigable energy. ‘Now I feel ready to fly.’