Pop

Don't Sleep on Marlene, Sweden's Next Pop Hero

Marlene
Linda Castillo Skogh

Marlene

With standout single "Next To Me," the singer-songwriter starts making her way to the States

June has been a busy month for pop releases -- Halsey and Katy Perry have scored No. 1 albums, with Lorde barreling toward doing the same; meanwhile, DJ Khaled and Calvin Harris seem to be dropping dueling star-studded singles every week (even teaming up for one on Khaled's just-released album, Grateful). Yet peeking out from all the A-listers is one of 2017’s most revelatory listens: Sweet, the sophomore EP from Swedish singer-songwriter Marlene that oscillates between heartbreak and infatuation over shimmering, rhythmic production.

The eight-song project, which was released on June 9, includes “Next To Me,” one of the year’s most intoxicating and intricately produced pop singles about stumbling into love at an inopportune moment. Imagine a gorgeous refraction of Solange’s 2012 True EP a half-decade later -- or Drake’s “Passionfruit,” but with a more distinct citrus flavor.

“I’ve never had this much response from people -- everyone is DMing me,” Marlene, who was raised in the small Swedish town Jönköping and is calling from Stockholm, tells Billboard. "People are so supportive. It feels so good to have it out, because I’ve writing a lot of songs over the past three years.”

In 2014, the same year Marlene debuted with her Indian Summer EP, she broke off a long-term relationship after realizing the boyfriend whom she lived with wasn’t right for her anymore. "I was like, okay, I’m stupid, but this doesn’t work,” she recalls. "And we had this apartment together, and it’s like, ‘Now I don’t know where to live. And his dad is my accountant and he has all my money!’

"Then you stay together for longer than you should,” she adds, "and that’s where I was. It just didn’t work.” The same night Marlene broke up with her boyfriend, she performed a local show. "I was like, ‘Oh my God, how am I gonna do this? How am I gonna be on stage and present myself?’” she says. "But then I met my friend [after the show] and she was like, ‘Congratulations, Marlene! You’re free! You’re out of it!’ And then… this new person was in the audience.”

After meeting her new (and current) boyfriend at that show, the “intense” relationship that is chronicled on the Sweet EP started to blossom. "I just expected myself to be single for... I don’t know how many years!” she says with a laugh. "It was overwhelming. It feels weird to talk about love, because it’s the foundation in everyone’s life. I was supposed to focus on myself after that breakup -- 'Now I’m just going to go into the music full-time, and spend all of my energy on myself!' But I just got into that new relationship, and it was crazy. And really good. I just had to write about that.”

Marlene’s Indian Summer EP captured the feeling of “getting away from Sweden, from everything,” when the singer-songwriter was younger. Three years later, Marlene still wants to travel more, and play her first U.S. shows as she already preps her next musical project. “I was just in L.A. for a few weeks,” she says, “and I really want to go back and write more. I really want to tour the U.S. I feel like I have so much more to do there."

Check out Marlene's Sweet below.