Pop of colour


The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - By Roisin O’con­nor

Alma knows how to make an im­pres­sion. Whether it’s her neon yel­low hair or pow­er­ful voice, it’s hard to miss her — even in the dark, as it was at her packed show at Lon­don venue XOYO in Au­gust.

A few months later and the Fin­nish pop star is chill­ing with her twin sis­ter Anna, who per­forms with her on stage, be­fore a trip to the US. The 21-yearold is some­thing of an anom­aly in Fin­land; a coun­try left on the side­lines some­what, in the feed­ing frenzy over a smor­gas­bord of pop mu­sic that has emerged from its Nordic neigh­bours in Swe­den, Nor­way and Ice­land over the past five years.

“I think peo­ple in Fin­land have maybe been scared to even try to go abroad,” Alma sug­gests. “But it’s changing a bit; peo­ple tell me that more young artists are emerg­ing. We just haven’t had any­one for years.

“Ev­ery time there’s an ar­ti­cle about me it’s

like ‘Fin­nish in­ter­na­tional hope.’ I try not to think about it too much be­cause it’s a lot of pres­sure, but when I have dark days when I want to say ‘f*** this sh**,’ I think ‘hey, let’s make Fin­land great again,’” she grins.

Alma writes straight­for­ward pop mu­sic that is fun and bril­liant in its sim­plic­ity. At the time of writ­ing, her hit Chas­ing Highs had clocked 63 mil­lion streams on Spo­tify, the ti­tle track from her EP Dye My Hair had 38 mil­lion, and her song Phases ft. French Mon­tana is go­ing steady with 12 mil­lion.

It’s dif­fer­ent to any­thing else you’ll hear in the charts — in­spired in part by the 90s pop that she grew up on in Fin­land. ”It’s easy, ev­ery­body can un­der­stand it, and some­times it’s even cheesy,” she ex­plains. “I like to keep it sim­ple and real.”

And it draws crowds: “Our last fes­ti­val show in Ber­lin, Ger­many … there were 20,000 peo­ple. The organisers were telling us we had a big­ger crowd than the head­liner the day be­fore.”

She jumps over and shows me footage on her phone, of crowds stretch­ing back as far as the eye can see, and her, bounc­ing around on the stage with ap­par­ently re­lent­less en­ergy. “It was the biggest crowd at the fes­ti­val so far,” she says, beam­ing. “The per­fect way to end that sea­son. It was al­most a bit too much, you know?”

With her hair and care­free at­ti­tude, many peo­ple as­sume she’s more punk than pop.

She ad­mits she dab­bled in the mu­sic when she was younger and was in­volved in those scenes a lit­tle. She loves mosh pits and the peo­ple. But she loved pop mu­sic too much to stray from it for too long.

“Some­times it’s hard for peo­ple who see me and think I can’t be a pop mu­si­cian be­cause of how I dress or my at­ti­tude,” she says. “I love the teenage rebel feel­ing in it, and for the next al­bum I’ll re­ally try to get some songs based on that love of the genre.”

She’s been work­ing with friend, col­lab­o­ra­tor and fel­low pop wun­derkind Charli XCX, who di­rected the video for Phases; ap­par­ently, they al­ready have around a hun­dred songs writ­ten down. Re­cently they set up a song­writ­ing camp where they would de­cide who would get what song. Other pro­duc­ers and writ­ers were there, but it was mainly the two of them work­ing to­gether. “It’s very easy to work with her be­cause it doesn’t feel like work­ing,” Alma smiles.

You wouldn’t be­lieve it from her swag­ger­ing, ir­re­press­ible stage pres­ence but she does still lose her nerve be­fore a gig. ”I don’t like when the lights are very bright, it can make me anx­ious about go­ing on stage,” she says. “But it goes away ev­ery time. Anna helps me a lot, telling me not to think about it. Just go.”

For her de­but al­bum, which fans have been clam­our­ing for since the re­lease of her first sin­gle in 2016, she says she wants to find the same en­ergy she heard on the pop mu­sic she grew up on, and cre­ate those feel­ings she had lis­ten­ing to the likes of Pink,

Kanye West and Gwen Ste­fani as a teenager.

“It’s not go­ing to sound dated, but that’s what in­spires me with my mu­sic,” she says. “It’s crazy how you can hear one in­tro from one song and you start to get th­ese mem­o­ries. That’s what I’ve been try­ing to do, to recre­ate that feel­ing in my own mu­sic for the al­bum.

“I don’t want to write an al­bum about be­ing on a plane and do­ing promo and not sleep­ing. I’ve never writ­ten any diary or any­thing, which I think is sad be­cause I won’t re­mem­ber stuff in 20 years. So maybe this al­bum is kind of like my diary. It’s all the good mem­o­ries of first times do­ing things.”

Alma’s sin­gle Chas­ing Highs reached No 10 on the Fin­nish Sin­gles Chart and be­came her first UK top 20 hit.

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