Pop singer Aurora strikes a chord

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SPECIAL FEATURE: Aurora Aksnes is a 22-year-old Norwegian pop singer who’s been steadily gaining international popularity in recent years. Calla Duffield is a 14-year-old fan and aspiring journalist from College Station, Texas, who got a chance to interview the singer known simply as “Aurora” before a concert in Liverpool this summer. Here’s the unabashedly starstruck Duffield’s account of the encounter, which offers insight into how and why Aurora has struck a chord with so many followers around the world.

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The internationally popular Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes (right) met this summer with a fan and aspiring journalist from Texas, Calla Duffield, who can now help explain why Aksnes’ music and performances have such huge appeal. PHOTO: Hannele Rubin

At the Liverpool International Music Festival last July, staffers led me to a secure area behind the stage where the performers’ trailers were located. I caught a glimpse of Aurora as we passed her trailer and cried a little to myself (I know it sounds cheesy, but she has that effect on me).

Her assistant told us that Aurora wanted to sit outside for our interview because it was unseasonably hot that day and her trailer was sweltering, so we did an awkward dance around some folding chairs (or at least I did) before settling in to talk in the shade.

In person, Aurora is slight and tiny—just 5’3”, like me. She was wearing a sunny yellow dress over layers of tulle skirts along with sunflower wristbands and sneakers (Aurora usually goes barefoot or wears flats onstage so she can run around and dance more easily). She has said she dresses the way she feels; I hope yellow that day meant happy!

Aurora asked my name; I was almost too starstruck to move my mouth. While speaking, she gestures expressively, just like when she performs, with hands flying in the air. Her voice was soft and she was kind, and although I had just 10 minutes to ask questions (another interviewer was waiting and Aurora would soon take the festival stage), while we were talking, I felt like we were all alone.

The Norwegian artist known simply as “Aurora,” in action at the Liverpool International Music Festival this past summer. PHOTO: Calla Duffield

Before we met, I had watched many of her performances online: Onstage she projects a kind of Viking power, storming around like a warrior stalking her enemy. Her presentation is soulful but energizing, and looking out at the audience, Aurora seems to grab fans with her eyes, dancing with them even though they are far apart. Watching her is like watching a play: her lively pale face expresses the meaning in her lyrics, and her melodies and dancing amplifies it.

I first encountered Aurora’s music when I was 12 while sitting on the floor folding paper cranes at my friend Gloria’s house. We were listening to Aurora’s Murder Song, which tells the story of a mercy killing. The haunting melody entranced me because of how well it fit the story.

At first I was drawn to Aurora’s persona: a mix of warrior princess, wise and noble poet, and wild and free fairy, and to her strange style of dancing, of storytelling with her body—jerking her hands around to paint a picture in the air as she sang.

The writer describes Aurora as “a mix of warrior princess … and wild and free fairy,” with an unusual style of dancing. Music critics in Norway have stressed Aurora’s voice, which led to her breakthrough at the Bylarm music festival in Norway when she was just 17. PHOTO: Calla Duffield

Her songs weren’t about love or heartbreak, unlike most other songs on the radio; they were about love for the earth and humanity and navigating life. And I could relate to them because, being 12, I was far more interested in nature and the meaning of life than anything about romance.

After that, I played and sang her music constantly and made sure my parents knew I would jump at the chance to see Aurora in concert. At the beginning of the summer, I learned from fan sites that she’d be performing at the Liverpool festival in July—around the time we would be visiting my grandmother who lives just outside of London. “Was there any chance we could go?” I asked my parents.

They immediately confessed, much to my surprise, that they already had acquired tickets. And because I had previously expressed an interest in journalism, my mother, a professor of journalism at Texas A&M University, had been trying to arrange for me to interview Aurora.

I composed an email that included a short bio, reasons Aurora should grant me an interview, my photo, and a few sample questions. I emailed it to the festival’s press office, and crossed my fingers. Just a few days later, I got my answer: Aurora said yes! My mom and I jumped around our kitchen screaming.

“Aurora seems to grab fans with her eyes, dancing with them,” writes Calla Duffield, an avid fan who lives in Texas. PHOTO: Calla Duffield

Just a week after that, I was sitting inches from Aurora asking questions, posing for photos and even getting multiple hugs. I started off by asking about her theme for the show.

“Everything”, she said — a very Aurora-like answer; with fans and reporters, she can be both playful and vague. I tried not to have any preconceptions of what she might be like, but her distinctive child/sage personality comes through very clearly in her music and in previous interviews.

Celebrating diversity
Her recently released song, Queendom, is about feeling a sense of belonging and “about celebrating all the differences in us,” according to the description on her YouTube video. It is about “a place where we can come and be lonely together and then not be lonely anymore.”

At a time when many people seem so hateful, I asked, what gives her hope for such a place?

“People are quite angry,” Aksnes agreed, “but I think it’s because people are bored … and they are restless and need to feel they are part of something bigger…”

Queendom is also about Aurora’s feeling of connection to her fans, she said. “I feel that we are all family … Queendom is that kind of place, and kind of attitude, that we [should] have towards people.” To Aksnes, Queendom is about spreading kindness and compassion.

Support for ‘the weirdos’
What advice would she give to kids who might feel weird or out of place?

“I always felt like I was a bit of a strange thing when I was little… ” Aksnes said. “I’m still strange. Some people like it and some people don’t.”

Kids who feel they don’t belong should keep in mind that school is “so small, such a tiny world, and there’s so much more, bigger things waiting for you, especially (for) us weirdos…” Aksnes said. Weirdos are “going places, because they are different.”

In previous interviews, Aksnes described growing up in a small town outside Bergen, Norway, without smart phones and computers. “I think it helps with creativity,” she told me. No gadgets means “more time…to just kind of force yourself to make something out of nothing.”

At the same time, Aksnes said, “it would be sad to say that (electronics are a) bad thing because it’s the future, all those phones and screens. I guess we will have to try to embrace it as much as we can, and kind of find the positive sides of it.” Among those positives, she said, “we can connect with people and learn about cultures, [and] you can get to know another girl in Egypt and become best friends.”

On the other hand, Aksnes said, “I thought (technology) would bring people more together than it actually has so far. But let’s hope that it will evolve in the right way.” At the moment, she added, “it doesn’t teach us to appreciate our (lives), it just teaches us to compare our lives (with others), which is very unhealthy.”

Aiming for ‘a long, long career’
Before leaving for England, I had asked Aurora’s fans on Instagram what they would want to ask her. This brought only one response: when would she be performing in Romania?

“Oh it’s ok,” Aurora said, laughing. “Maybe all the others were sleeping.”

Asknes doesn’t organize her schedule, she said; “I have people doing these things for me, because … I have other things to think about. I have a booking manager, a booking agent, and he does everything.” The team behind Aksnes “all have each task for ourselves, that we can be good at and contribute to our main goal,” she said, “which is me having a long, long career.”

Her band is made up of extraordinary musicians in their own right, but they came together in a random way, she said. Bergen is a small town and “they were the first people we found and also the best … and we are still together!”

Although her first language is Norwegian, she writes almost all her songs in English. Will she ever release the two songs she has written in Norwegian?

“Maybe one day, because it’s nice to listen to songs without understanding the words,” she said, smiling and clearly referring to her fans outside Norway.

Some listeners may perceive a spiritual quality in Aksnes’ music. She doesn’t follow any particular religion, she said, but “as long as it does not cause harm, or become an excuse to do harm, then I’m all for (religion),” she sad. “I am very spiritual,” she added, “but not in a material way.”

Last and most importantly, I wanted to know, when is Aksnes coming to Texas?

“I’ve been to Austin once, and I loved it!” she said, smiling. “The margaritas there are very good! I’ll be back,” she added, grinning, before giving me another hug. “Probably next year.”

Special to newsinenglish.no/Calla Duffield