“I’m in the middle of nowhere in Norway surrounded by mountains and trees and goats,” said the 20-year-old electro-pop singer Aurora Aksnes cheerfully over the phone earlier this week. “It’s like Narnia, basically.”
With platinum-blonde hair and an angelic accent, Aksnes is the mythical lovechild of Björk and Grimes. When describing her day, you can almost hear the birds chirping in the background as she says things like: “My mum and I, we made… buns? Is that what you call them? They were really good. I also painted my ukulele because it’s red and I don’t like red.”
On Saturday, the tiny Aksnes performed on a very big stage at the inaugural Panorama music festival in New York City, with the projection of a foggy forest behind her. How does a girl from the mountains of Norway make it all the way to New York? “I’m asking myself the same question,” she said.
Aksnes first started playing the piano at age six when her older sister tossed it aside. “I missed the sound,” she said. “So I went up to the attic and retrieved it.” At age nine, when she had a better handle of the English language, she began writing songs. “I like being able to be on the inside of music, rather than on the outside listening to it,” Aksnes continued. “It’s like swimming in the ocean, rather than looking at it. I’m so happy I discovered early how wonderful music makes me feel.”
It was in 2012 when Aksnes uploaded a personal song onto Norwegian Soundcloud that she first got discovered. Originally, the track was meant as a Christmas gift for her parents, but it quickly found its way to the ears of an agent.
“At first, I wasn’t really keen on the idea of me being on stage having to sing in front of people,” said Aksnes. “That’s why I made the gift for my parents in the first place — so they could listen to me without me having to be there. But then my mom told me that when she heard me sing, she felt so much happiness and sadness at the same time. What a nice gift to give to someone! She told me I should be tough and forget about all the scary things in the world. So I gave it a go.”
In 2015, Aksnes debuted her first official EP, “Running with the Wolves,” and her first album “All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend,” which garnered over 50 million listens on Spotify. She also released a cover of the Oasis song, “Half the World Away,” which caught the attention of Katy Perry, who said on Twitter that Aksnes’ voice made her heart “a flutter.”
In July, W magazine premiered the music video for her single, “I Went Too Far,” which is a song about love and loss, but with the sound and feel of uplifting pop. It’s this mixture of light and dark that Aksnes does so deftly.
“I’m such an emotional and sensitive person, so it only makes sense that my songs are as well,” said Aksnes.
Aksnes’ music is also making Jaden Smith feel all the feels, too. He’s apparently described her music as “cosmic conscious,” which took her by surprise.
“Maybe he means something about outer space,” Aksnes said. “Maybe he means it’s very dark. Maybe he means it’s very lonely. Maybe he means an other-worldly place that we want to go. A very attractive place, but also a very scary place to be. I don’t know! But it’s quite nice. I think that’s going to be one of my new favorite descriptors from now on.”
Her name is Aurora, after all.
Watch W’s most popular videos here: