For about five seconds after Sigrid arrives onstage at SPOT Festival, I wonder whether she’ll struggle to fill the space. She looks at least five years younger than her 20 years, can’t be much more than 5 feet tall, and is drowning in an oversized tracksuit – the sort you’d have been forced to fish out of lost property when you forgot your PE kit at school. But then she starts singing, with an effortlessly controlled voice that rasps and catches in all the right places, and dancing, bouncing around the stage like a pin ball and glaring at anyone in the crowd who catches her eye, and any doubts disappear. I should have known really, not to underestimate her – she wrote a whole song about those who dared to do so.
Defiant electro-pop anthem “Don’t Kill My Vibe”, the Norwegian singer’s break-out debut single, has racked up more than 12 million plays on Spotify; it was written after Sigrid left a writing session with a room full of older men feeling that she’d been patronised and undermined. Growing up, she’d always been the assertive one among her friends, but in that moment, “I just got fucking scared.” The song said all the things she wished she’d had the nerve to say to them: “You shut me down, you like the control / You speak to me like I’m a child.” At its heart though, the song is one of empowerment – intended less as a riposte to that specific situation as a call to arms to young women who’ve ever been treated the same.
A few days after the release of her debut EP, “Don’t Kill My Vibe”, we caught up with Sigrid at Denmark’s new music showcase SPOT Festival, to talk career beginnings, Lorde’s seal of approval, and navigating the path to adulthood.
You wrote your first song when you were 16. What’s the story behind that?
My brother’s a musician. I live with him. He’s my best friend. When I was 16 – so four years ago – he was playing a show in our hometown, and he wanted me to join him onstage, but he said that I couldn’t play any covers. The concert was in two weeks, so I wrote a new song in two weeks. That was my first song ever.
So would you still be writing songs if that hadn’t happened do you think?
Maybe. It’s hard to say though, because I needed that push. I’ve never said, ‘I’m gonna be a musician when I grow up’. That was never my plan. Plan A was to become a children’s doctor, but then I figured out I hated blood. Also I didn’t really enjoy those subjects in high school – I enjoyed Politics and English and History and those kind of things, so then I thought law, but… I’m here!
You’ve been thrown into intense touring quite quickly. Do you need alone time when you’re on tour?
Yeah, I’m a me time person. It’s important to treat yourself. You don’t wanna say no to things, you wanna say yes to everything, and it’s really exciting, and I’m having a really good time, but sometimes I have rough days. And also experiencing so much new stuff in such a short amount of time is tough. Sometimes I feel like it’s just a lot happening, and [it’s difficult] to process it all. But then again, what if I went to university? Going to university and finding yourself just one amongst 500 students, that’s hard too.
Becoming an adult is tricky, whether you’re doing it as a musician or not.
That’s what I write about a lot. The whole EP, a lot of the songs are about growing up, in different ways. “Don’t Kill My Vibe” [is about] growing up and understanding that you have a voice and you should speak up, even though you’re a lot younger than most of the people you hang with. That previous writing session that inspired “Don’t Kill My Vibe”, I was the youngest one by far, and I felt that my voice wasn’t that important.
A lot of young women end up in situations where they feel like they’re being patronised or undermined.
Exactly, and you feel like you’re overreacting. That’s the hard part. I guess you get that a lot as well?
And you don’t really know, ‘Should I say something now? Or should I just laugh?’
Because you don’t want them to think you’re being too…
You don’t wanna be ‘bitchy’.
Do you think if you were in that situation now you’d react differently?
I think I would find it easier to speak up now, because now I know how it feels. The thing was, I’ve always been the one to speak up. I feel like that was always my thing. And I think I just got fucking scared when I was in that writing session, because I wasn’t used to writing with other people. That was new for me, and when you’re doing something new, and you’re like, ‘How do I navigate through this?’ – then you’re a bit more careful with saying this is not OK. It always depends on the situation. Maybe [if it happens again] I’ll just write a new song.
How long ago was it?
Oh I can’t tell you. I’m sorry. I want it to be as vague as possible. I was thinking a lot about this. I was really scared of outing someone. Because I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh My God I fucking hate you.’ It’s more of a song that I hope will make other youngsters, specifically girls because we get it more often, speak out. It’s more like an empowering song. At least that’s what I tried to do, I don’t know how it came out. I want it to be like ‘Yeah! Fuck him! I don’t care!’ That kind of thing.
I like the fact that it can be interpreted in so many different ways.
I remember in the beginning, people would ask like, ‘Oh it’s definitely about a guy right?’ I’m like, ‘I can write about other stuff than guys’. But when I thought about it, actually it’s a good thing that you think this is about a guy, because that means people can interpret it the way the want to. It’s important to me that this is art. I don’t wanna be too direct or like name and names, because [the songs are] a bit brutal sometimes. “Don’t Kill My Vibe” is not about hurting the ones I wrote with in that previous session, it’s about being pissed off at myself for not speaking up, and just finding that strength sometime later and getting it out of the system that way. I think I’m just better at getting it out of the system with writing and playing instead of shouting at people, it’s not how I like to do it. I think it’s difficult. I don’t wanna hurt anyone you know?
Lorde put the song on her Spotify playlist recently.
That made me really happy. I love her music. I saw Maggie Rogers tweet about me as well. I was excited about that. I love both of them and I was listening a lot to them making this EP which is kind of funny.
“Fake Friends” is your latest single, talk me through it?
“Fake Friends” is really harsh. It’s very vaguely inspired by my own life. To be honest with you the only reason why I wanted to sing “Fake Friends” was because it sounds good, and then we made this song around it. That’s funny how writing songs can be so complicated, as with “Don’t Kill My Vibe”, we spent a lot of time talking about it, how to get the lines right, but “Fake Friends” was easier to write because it wasn’t as personal. It was still a bit personal but it wasn’t like tearing your heart in pieces. I’ve been to writing sessions where I’ve started crying. In a good way. It was just about this guy. It was a melancholic cry, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh My God I’m so heartbroken’, it was more of a, ‘Shit, such a shame, it’s a difficult situation’. Some sessions are like that. It’s opening up. It’s much easier to open up with someone who is OK with opening up back to me. It’s difficult talking about your own personal stuff if nobody else in the room shares anything.
Do you listen to your own music?
I don’t wanna admit it, it’s really embarrassing, but not that long ago I was pissed off, I can’t remember for what, and I was alone so I walking down the street. I put on my headphones and then I played it. It’s the ultimate test if you forget that it’s you singing and you’re like, ‘Ooh, that’s a good tune.’