Fame is a funny thing in Norway. You can be one of your country’s most recognized and ascendant pop stars, but you can still walk down the street and not encounter a single paparazzi. So for a singer with nearly half a million Instagram followers, Astrid S passes through the streets of Oslo relatively undetected. “People usually just stare sometimes, when I’m walking down the street or shopping or whatever,” she said. “A few people are really sweet and ask for pictures. But that’s the culture here. People are in their own space.”
In their own space or not, as one of the most buzzworthy artists from Scandinavia today, Astrid is is certainly one to watch. Her singles “2AM,” “Hurts So Good” and “Breathe” have charted around the world, she’s been a featured artist on tracks with Shawn Mendes and Avicii, and she even provided back-up vocals for a track on Katy Perry’s latest album, Witness. She’s been busy putting in studio time with producers in Stockholm and Los Angeles, and even went so far as to drop out of her last year of high school in order to commit to music.
It all began with an initial jolt of publicity when she appeared on Norwegian Pop Idol in 2013, but considering everything she has done since the show, it’s clear that when it comes to building a serious music career, Astrid understands the task before her. “A lot of people might think that when you’re on a big show, you’ve made it, but you really have to start from scratch when the show is done, even after that exposure,” she said. “But nothing happens if I don’t take responsibility and make it happen. Everyone I work with are amazing at what they do and put everything in place for me, but I have to be the one to make things happen ultimately.”
You would hardly know that before she was white-hot pop sensation Astrid S from Oslo, she was Astrid Smeplass from the tiny mountaintop village of Rennebu, population 1,000. It’s a remote place where the summers are short and winters are, in a word, Norwegian. “It’s like Frozen up there,” she said with a laugh, recounting how she used to take skis to get around town. “And there were only six girls in my grade at school. But it was great. All brown cheese and Norwegian chocolate. So Norwegian!”
We are at the Grand Hotel Oslo, and Astrid did not have to take skis to get here. She’s moved to “the big city,” as she puts it (Oslo has about 600,000 residents, the size of Oklahoma City), and was able to walk over from her flat across town without incident. We are in a suite filled with racks upon racks of clothes from local designers showing in the Oslo Runway fashion shows this week, and she wearing a black kimono while a hairstylist blows out her blonde locks. Everyone is dragging this particular Monday morning, except for Astrid, whose charisma and energy are infectious. She answers a few tweets from fans, records some Snapchat videos, and cracks quips with the photographer. “Maybe I should get a long black wig so people don’t recognize me on the street,” she pondered out loud. “Well, this is Norway, everyone is blonde, so maybe that would just make me stick out more!”
The conversation eventually comes to her style, and how Astrid S has changed from Astrid Smeplass. “Oh my god, so different,” she said. “I used to be so into soccer. I would wear soccer team hoodie, another soccer team’s pants, and Manchester United earrings. And I had like five of everything so I would just wear the same outfit all the time!” Today, her style is much more “big city,” much more Oslo. She prefers skinny jeans, and often shops the mens’ sections of her favorite shops, preferring the slouchy fit of a mens sweater or denim jacket.
Today there is a whole range of Oslo fashions to shoot on Astrid—some more avante-garde, some more streetwear —the singer is giddy with delight to try on all the different looks. She’s a bit of a chameleon, after all. As a child she floated from activity to activity, with stints in ballet and soccer, eventually discovering music, as so many of us do, in her teenage years. And it wasn’t just any music she discovered—it was John Mayer. “His Continuum album is the reason I started to write music when I was 16,” she said. “Then I started to get into Foster the People, Jhené Aiko, and eventually Robyn. My sound is really rooted in electronic music right now, but almost all my songs still start being written on the guitar. I feel like if it ’s a good song on a guitar, it’s a good song no matter what.”
Astrid’s new single “Think Before I Talk,” due out tomorrow, is her first track in almost five years to feature recorded guitar riffs. Her enthusiasm about having guitar on the track is tangible—but it isn’t until she starts talking about her upcoming U.S. tour that she starts to really teem with excitement. She has a close relationship with her fans, and actively engages with them on social media. She’s been known to deliver pizza to fans who queue up for hours before her shows, and tries to answer every DM she receives on Twitter and Instagram. But the greatest happiness, she shared, is that her music has brought her fans together. “Some kids might not have friends or might feel left out, so to see my fans communicating with each other and feel included is really special.” There’s a faint suggestion in their that as a small girl from Rennebu, Astrid herself might have felt isolated or lonely before she discovered music. “It’s funny, I’m about to go on tour and I’m seeing my fans tweet that they are just as excited about meeting each other as they are about seeing me.”
But for now, Astrid is pretty excited herself about something seemingly minute. While modeling a shot at the grand Oslo Opera House, the singer suddenly broke out into a giant grin. "Oh my gosh, I just remembered, the granite used to build the Opera House is from my hometown! This is Rennebu granite!”
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