If you were to look to Sweden as an example, you might think that making music is as easy as assembling Ikea furniture. See: ABBA’s world-dominating harmonies; Robyn’s insistence that the best cure for heartache is dancing on your own; producer Max Martin’s inescapable handiwork, available at a radio frequency of your choosing. The country makes the art form look as effortless as constructing a prefab bookshelf! (Or, if we’re being honest, paying someone off TaskRabbit 20 bucks to do it for you.)
But what about the smaller acts? Does Sweden have a thriving indie scene? Or does it just operate in pop superstardom? This is why I’m braving the terrifyingly icy sidewalks of Norrköping, the country’s 10th largest city: to find out what’s happening at the lower levels.
Norrköping's Where’s the Music festival, held every February, has a talent for inviting promising artists from across Europe. But special attention is given to the home team, as Swedes make up nearly half the bill. While only in its fourth year, the festival has yet to pick the next international superstar, but given the strong pop, folk, and emoji rock (yes) we heard this year, it’s only a matter of time.
Although Amanda Mair released her first album of soft-spoken pop at just 16, long before experiencing any teenage hallmarks like high school dances and diplomas, it wasn’t until later that the singer-songwriter came into her own as an artist. Having time to be a kid and collecting a few life experiences (like getting her driver's license), gave her the opportunity to realize she does want to be a musician.
“I think I would feel a bit relieved if I had something else than music, because sometimes, it feels like it’s the only thing I’m good at,” she confesses. “I also tried to accept myself for taking the time to figure it out. That was a bit hard.”
Now at 23, Mair has returned with a new EP, To the Moon. Thanks to her crystalline soprano, the songs have a deliciously melancholy edge. But coupled with slick, radio-friendly production, the Stockholm native is able to flex her range on tracks like “Stay You and I” and “Rush.” But power ballads and sentimentality aren’t mutually exclusive. Even on the EP’s darkest moment, “Empty Blockings,” a song about giving into a relationship that isn’t good for you, there’s hope. As Mair reveals, the goal was to leave the listener feeling positive. Even the title is a reminder that it’s important to keep looking up.
“[To the Moon is] actually something I say to myself,” she reveals. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t have any self-confidence. I have to remind myself I’m reaching for something bigger. That’s the moon. It’s important to think about something bigger or higher than yourself… all the things you’ve done and you’ve gone through is building you up.”