When singer-songwriter Alma-Sofia Miettinen was 16, she placed fifth in a 2013 season of the Finnish show Idols. She returned to school afterward, putting her musical ambitions on hold. A year later, though, one of the show’s judges, rapper Sini Sabotage, asked to tour and write together. Miettinen was all in, and officially started her career as ALMA.
While on the road, ALMA met Sony/ATV Music Publishing A&R executive Sarah Schneider and was invited to a writing camp in Helsinki. It was her first real session, and within weeks, she signed with Sony/ATV as a songwriter. Then 18, ALMA was sent on writing sessions around the world, attracting management reps from Finland, the United Kingdom and the United States along the way.
By 2016, Universal Music Germany’s Daniel Lieberberg had inked her to a worldwide recording deal with Universal Music Group (except for the Nordic regions, where she was signed to Warner). With UMG’s help, ALMA was soon cowriting hits for Charli XCX, Tove Lo and Kash Doll while also recording her own dance-pop solo songs for her 2018 release, Heavy Rules Mixtape, which featured fellow rising pop stars like Kiiara and MØ.
Despite this trajectory, ALMA’s debut full-length kept getting delayed, in part due to her label pushing her to stay with the dance sound she’d initially found success with. “I grew away from that EDM dance-y vibe,” she says. “It didn’t make sense for me anymore.” She wanted to be on a label “that understands what I’m trying to make.”
Around the same time, Lieberberg had been tapped as Sony Music president of continental Europe and Africa, and called ALMA almost immediately. “He was like, ‘Hey, let’s make this record. I believe in you, and I’ve always believed in you,’” she recalls. In 2019, she inked a global signing deal with Sony Music Germany/RCA Records.
As for her debut album, Have U Seen Her? will finally arrive on May 15, boasting credits from Justin Tranter, Andrew Wyatt and Sarah Hudson. “We know her as one of the world’s best songwriters,” says RCA co-president John Fleckenstein. “She’s blessed with a very clear vision of where she wants to go.”
ALMA chatted with Billboard about her upcoming debut album and how her collaborator/friend Miley Cyrus inspires her music.
These new songs are still traditional pop, but less dance. Why go in that direction sonically?
I’m not saying I hate all of my old songs, but that genre was really easy to start with — having dance-y songs, I didn’t feel fearful or anxious to put them out. Then I grew up away from all of that EDM dance-y vibe. It just didn’t make sense for me at all anymore. And now I feel like I’m confident enough to actually make a record that I love, and I’m opening up and it’s 100 percent honest.
That honesty shows in the lyrics, too.
It took a lot of time and confidence — it feels a bit stupid to say but it also took some successful people and people that I admire as a songwriter to say, “You are good and you should open up in your songs more.” I think I just needed that. It took me time, but I’m super ready, and I’m excited and very proud of myself that I made this record and I was able to be so honest. For me, it’s kinda like a therapy session, the whole album. My fans, the real ones, are gonna love it.
Speaking of peers, you’ve worked frequently with Miley Cyrus, who’s also on RCA. Did you get to talk to her at all when you were considering signing?
Yeah, of course. Me and Miley, we’ve been doing her record [She Is Miley Cyrus] for a long time now. [When we write] she’s like, ‘This is the song for you! This should be the single for my record!’ And she [said] many good things about RCA and it just made sense. Miley has been a huge inspiration for my album, too, ’cause she’s like the queen of not giving a f–k, basically.
You’ve been working on Have U Seen Her? for years. How has it evolved into its final form?
In 2017, the album was a totally different album. Now, with that album that I was working on, I’m pitching all of those songs to different artists. Sometimes you just have to do what feels right for you and take your time, I think.
You released a few songs today, including “Stay All Night.” Can you talk about that collaboration?
I’ve been following her for years, ’cause I love her and she’s the best. She started following me and she messaged me, “Hey, I really wanna work with you,” and I was like, “Yeah, let’s work!” Then in a couple hours, it was actually, “Do you just wanna collaborate on this song? I just made this and it’s gonna be the next single and I think I wanna do a remixed version to get one of my idols to jump on it.” And she did it, and it was just so f–kin’ amazing.
And we talked about music. She was a huge inspiration when I was a teenager — it was my first time listening to punk-y pop music and a strong female.
What else can you tease about this era?
We’ve done amazing videos for all of it and we’re also going to be shooting a video program-type of thing where people can see inside my head and my world. When the album is out, my goal is that I’m as close as I can get to the fans and as real as I can get.
I’m very done with just posting on social media about my good life and good stuff, and nice dinners and stuff like that. I wanna actually show the reality — what is it like to be this type of artist that I am and on this level that I am. I think people deserve that. Everyone wants to be a star these days, but they just don’t know what the reality is, ’cause you know, my life ain’t that glamorous! [Laughs]