When a 20-year-old Sigrid first came forward in 2017 with the glass-ceilinged anthem “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” written in response to a condescending songwriting session with older male writers , the Norwegian pop singer correctly concluded that these men were so quick to dismiss her abilities because they probably felt, on some level, threatened by her. This depth of insight you project onto me was so relevant, so specific and relevant to anyone NOT a straight, white male, it’s no wonder Sigrid rose to fame as quickly as she did.
In addition to “Don’t Kill My Vibe” reaching millions of streams, in its debut Sigrid presented herself as – and was marketed as – a laid-back girl. A girl without makeup, jeans and a white t-shirt. The anti-pop star. Given the time frame, it’s easy to see why Sigrid’s team would be happy to play the Natural thing. Not only was Sigrid naturally fair-skinned, young, and gorgeous (ahem, and white), its rise has coincided with that of rosy-faced brands like More shiny which caters to naturally stunning archetypal women who “only need three products to get ready”. This woman, in other words, has a certain privilege in that she is already set up to succeed, aesthetically. And the product she wears is exclusive to her and people like her.
Thing is, Sigrid’s whole shtick from the start was her perceived authenticity. She called out the old guard who just didn’t get it, and she resisted the usual pop artist archetype, aesthetically speaking. Its scintillating scandipop anthems could hold all sorts of production bells and whistles, but it was in direct contradiction to its visuals. Take the cover of Sigrid’s debut album Sucker Punch: her 2019 debut features 12 expertly produced disco-pop tracks with soaring choruses (“Strangers” is particularly memorable) and hook-laden synths, strings and beats that seemingly position Sigrid as the Robyn of this decade. Or maybe Norway’s answer to Maggie Rogers.
Although I have no doubt that Sigrid as nobody has positive intentions, I think there has always been something fundamentally missing, from a branding perspective. Let’s take Robyn and Rogers again as example(s): from the start of their careers, these two had such a self-assured quality and their presences were so magnetic that fans could easily feel they were the driving creative force behind all their decisions, even if it wasn’t true. I think the most successful pop stars make it easy for fans to suspend their disbelief – that they have teams of people working behind them and they spend long sleepless hours on sweaty tour buses. Their lyrics and overall musical presentation contained a level of depth and vision that is both singular and thematically nuanced to them. In other words, Rogers and Robyn go deep.
On Sigrid’s second album, How to let go, she attempts to address universal themes like self-love, isolation, anxiety, depression, and personal growth, but her articulation of these things feels archaic. While the album has no shortage of Scandipop hooks, Sigrid still has some way to go before she achieves Valhalla-level star quality.
How to let go was billed as a portrait of a pop star reconciling opposing forces within herself: “The cool girl who likes to ski, hike, and cook against the other part of me that’s like ‘let’s hang out,’ or play massive shows, go on stage and fear nothing. Therefore, How to let go is a collection of empowerment anthems that are catchy on the outside and basic on the inside that encourage personal growth and self-acceptance. I’m all for inner growth, introspection and self-realization, but substance-wise the themes that Sigrid pushes throughout How to let go make me think of what the writer Koa Beck talks about in his book White Feminism: From Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind. White feminism and the feel-good culture only includes certain women – white, wealthy women – and I’m afraid How to let go has all the empowerment of a Vaginal Goop jade egg.
Like Beck explains it, “white feminism” is about “what we might call lifestyle feminism, empowerment feminism, or corporate feminism…a white model of success or an aspiration to whiteness.” White feminist ideology — albeit unintended — was used in Sigrid’s initial marketing, particularly in bringing home her makeup-free, anti-pop star persona. The no-makeup campaign, ostensibly a call for women to accept themselves without a boost, tends not to be advertised by real women of all ages and walks of life, but has always been promoted by thin, white, young and fresh-faced who exemplify Westernized ideals of beauty. Meanwhile, in real life, the only women who can realistically embrace the makeup-free lifestyle have the privilege of spending exorbitant sums on skincare.
This may seem off topic, but bear with me: the conversation about open-face privilege is not new; it’s been a topic of discussion for nearly 10 years, ever since the first #NoMakeupSelfie was posted on Instagram. Where Sigrid was initially sold as the anti-pop star who just woke up this way and writes killer hooks, her second album is still on the superficial bandwagon, especially when you take all 12 tracks together.
The thunderous opener “It Gets Dark” – written with Norwegian songwriter Caroline Ailin and Danish producer Sylvester Sivertsen – is innocuous enough, with Sigrid ruminating on how lonely and vulnerable it can be to leave home and embrace your destiny as a Spinning and Traveling Big Pop Star. The disco suite “Burning Bridges” is an “I choose myself” anthem, full of lyrics about knowing when to say when in a relationship that no longer serves you. The skyrocketing “Risk Of Getting Hurt”, meanwhile, encourages the listener to take a chance on their dreams! What could go wrong! This is not a thing to do if there is no risk of injury! Aim for the moon! If you miss, you’ll still land among the stars!
The thrilling “Thank Me Later” is a highlight on How to let go, as it echoes the sentiments of “Burning Bridges” with soaring calls to get out of a deteriorating relationship. Later lead single “Mirror” is a soaring, string-soaked ballad that is clearly the work of Danish producer Sly, who previously worked with famed disco enthusiast Dua Lipa and Swedish poppers MØ. While the song itself is an outright bop, “Mirror” also comes across as the EZ-Bake Oven version of Lizzo’s “Good As Hell,” one of the most defining empowerment songs of the last. decade (and one that pushes “love yourself” with humor, self-awareness, and wit).”Mirror,” by comparison, looks set to be the soundtrack to the next 50% off sale at Sears. Lizzo, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson and TLC (to name a few) have shown throughout pop history you can have hooks and a complex message around equality and/or self-love.
Other points on the album are painfully derived: the lighter “Mistake Like You” sounds like an Adele drop-out accented by cheesy, non-ironic ’80s guitar licks. Coldplay’s “Grow,” which seeks answers about coming of age, is enjoyable if not remarkable (it definitely lacks the confidence of WILLOW’s song of the same name). Either way, Sigrid has proven herself capable of identifying her feelings, but she’s just not deep enough to pull off a true “a-ha” moment. Instead of complex insight, we get superficial platitudes disguised as deep insight.
Perhaps the most disappointing entry on How to let go is the wildly contrived sanity ballad “Bad Life” starring Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes. It is the only collaboration of the album (and also one of its singles) and upsets the whole atmosphere. What started out as a seminar on empowering pink millennial women turned into a novel-turned-movie soundtrack for mid-10s youth. Blame it on our stars still on TV? Either way, talk about a change of mood. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ultra-schmaltzy “Bad Life” when I blurred it for last week’s columnand now i think i hate it.
I definitely don’t hate Sigrid, or even How to let go. I just think the album could go a lot further in its conversation about self-love, growing and reconciling opposite parts of a personality. Despite its groovey, mirrored melodies and Sigrid’s strong vocal chops, How to let go eventually plays him so sure that he accidentally regresses into the last decade. Based on the “Don’t Kill My Vibe” crap appeal, I know Sigrid is capable of so much more.