Chartbreaker: How Alice Merton Turned Her Nomadic Past Into A Pop Hit

Tim Bruening
Alice Merton photographed on Oct. 11, 2017 in Berlin.

Chartbreaker is Billboard's monthly series spotlighting an artist making their introduction to the charts.

Berlin-based pop singer Alice Merton maps the Billboard debut of “No Roots," which sits at No. 16 on the Alternative Songs Chart (dated the week of Oct. 28).

She grew up loving classical music

At age 5, Merton began training in classical piano and clarinet. “I loved a lot of the romantic composers,” she says, name-dropping Chopin and Rachmaninoff. After moving to Munich in her teens, she discovered a massive music library in the city and started listening to The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs and The Alan Parsons Project.

Moving 12 times in 24 years inspired her breakthrough hit

Merton has lived in Germany, Canada, England and America. While visiting her parents in England three years ago, she realized, “I didn’t have just one place where I could say, ‘That’s my home.’ ” Her nomadic lifestyle is the subject of the bass-driven pop-rock song “No Roots,” which hit overseas in December 2016.

Honesty is her policy

“My parents would say, ‘Are you sure you want to put that in a song?’” recalls Merton of her early writing efforts, which touched on homesickness in a “brutally honest” way. But the singer values truth in her music above everything, even when that means unearthing the feelings of loneliness and uncertainty that are the backbone of “No Roots.”

Her label is an homage to M.I.A.

Merton says that she and her manager, Paul Grauwinkel, met with several major labels, but none felt like a match. She thought to release the song on her own label, which she’d call Paper Plane Records -- partly a tribute to one of her favorite songs, M.I.A.’s 2007 hit “Paper Planes.” “I have complete creative freedom,” says Merton, who in August signed with New York indie Mom + Pop Music for U.S. representation. “If I want to put a song on the album, there’s no one stopping me.”

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 28 issue of Billboard.