There are few descriptions in music as reductive as “sensitive female singer-songwriter,” a phrase endlessly deployed to describe any woman who sings in a less combustible manner than, say, Katy Perry. That said, Aurora, a 19-year-old from Norway who released her debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me As a Friend, March 11 on Glassnote, really is sensitive — and more so than most.
“Oh, I’ve always been very… emotional,” she says in perfect English one wet March morning in a London hotel. ” ‘Hypersensitive’ is what they call it, I think.”
Last December, her impossibly delicate version of Oasis‘ “Half the World Away” soundtracked a high-profile British TV ad (for John Lewis department stores) and became a big U.K. hit. Now, with new single “Conqueror,” which rose to No. 2 on Billboard‘s Emerging Artists chart, she’s blowing up internationally — thanks in part to the aforementioned Perry, who called Aurora an “angel” on Twitter after she saw her play. “Finally. New music that makes my heart a flutter,” wrote Perry.
In person, Aurora’s makeup-free face is framed by short hair so pale it’s hard to tell whether it’s silver or blond. Curled up in a chair, she slowly strokes the armrests the way one would a cat. Sensitivity, she says, is a prevailing part of her life. “I can’t read the newspaper without crying. I’m easily affected by horrible events, you see.” And not just the horrible events of modern news, either. “After watching Titanic, I cried for a month. It just broke me down.”
Raised in Os, a small Norwegian town, she was a childhood science buff who wrote songs privately, to deal with emotions. At 16, inspired by Bob Dylan, she wrote and sang a plea for world peace at a school concert. A friend uploaded it to Facebook, catching the ear of Norway’s Petroleum Records. Local hits followed, and then a deal with Glassnote for North America, where she’ll launch a 14-date tour in April. She is now being hailed as one of 2016’s most promising rookies — and no one, she insists, is as surprised as she. “This was never my goal, you know?”
Her songs are eerie fairy tales that pulse with electronic beats, and much like her fellow Scandinavian Björk, she doesn’t so much sing them as appear possessed by them. During live performances, her fingers contort and eyes pop; frequently, she falls into a trance. “My body is quite tiny, but a lot of the emotions I feel are pretty explosive,” she says. “They have to come out.”
Aurora still uses writing as therapy — to help her face fears. “Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)” is written from the victim’s perspective: “He holds the gun against my head/I close my eyes, then bang! I’m dead.”
“I’m just training myself to survive in this world,” she says. “If you try to protect yourself from pain, it becomes a stone in your heart.” She frowns, a V forming between her eyebrows. “But the more you learn to face things, the more likely that stone can become a pearl.”
?This story originally appeared in the March 19 issue of Billboard.