Text by Mandi Keighran
One morning last month, 18-year-old Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes woke up to a surprisingly high number of new followers on her social media. Picking up the local paper, she saw why: Katy Perry, the reigning queen of Twitter, had tweeted about her to 66.5 million followers. “Finally. New music that makes my heart a flutter. Check out this 17 yr old angel @AURORAmusic RUNAWAY,” Perry tweeted.
“It was very weird,” says Aurora (as a singer, she dispenses with the surname) of the US superstar’s endorsement of her single, Runaway, a gorgeous track that’s all crystalline electronic sounds and soaring vocals. “I sent her a private message to say thank you. She replied telling me I had to keep going and that I would be huge one day.”
Perry and Aurora make slightly unlikely pen pals – Perry sings at the Super Bowl, while the teenager from Bergen was too shy to share her music until a friend uploaded one of her songs to a Norwegian streaming site without the singer’s permission. But there’s a raw beauty to Aurora’s songs, which she delivers live – despite serious stage fright – with unshowy conviction that recalls Swedish sibling folk prodigies First Aid Kit. Look up Aurora’s surprisingly beautiful version of Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball or her electrifying performance of her own Awakening live on NRK last year.
Growing up, Aurora wanted to be a medical researcher, and singing was a private passion until her friend intervened. “I was really mad when I found out my music was online,” she says. “I didn’t want anyone to hear it.” But, people did hear it. Lots of them – including Made, one of Scandinavia’s leading music management agencies. Deals with record labels Decca and Glassnote soon followed.
“I had been hiding my songwriting for six years – I didn’t even have the guts to sing in front of my parents,” says Aurora, who has never had any formal training and can’t read sheet music. “But my mum told me it was selfish not to share my music, as I write songs about my feelings to help myself. She said that maybe they could help other people.”
With music that veers from folk to electropop, and naming Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Björk as her influences, Aurora’s music is quite hard to pin down. She says: “I would call my style ‘dark pop’ and songs like Under Stars are inspired by the sounds of heavy metal. I love seeing bands like Mastodon live – it’s really hard and tough but I find it relaxing.”
The next 12 months look set to be even bigger for Aurora. She’s playing this month at the Spot Festival in Aarhus, Denmark; will be on stage in May at the Great Escape festival in Brighton, in the UK; and is currently working with producers Magnus Skylstad and Odd Martin Skålnes on her debut album, which will be released in September. “The album will take you many places,” she says. “Every song will be special in its own way.” Whether or not she likes it, you’ll be hearing a lot more about Aurora, with or without Katy Perry.