Since the release of her debut album All Of My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend in March, 20-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora has slowly been introducing herself to American audiences, from her U.S. TV debut performing lead single “Conqueror” on “The Tonight Show” and a brief club tour in April, to this week’s performances at New York’s Panorama Festival and on “The Late Show” as well as an extensive interview on “The Howard Stern Show.”
To further accelerate her Stateside takeover, Aurora has teamed with YouTube to be the first in a planned series of partnerships with emerging artists. As part of the program, YouTube will fund and distribute a series of creative projects starring Aurora, while co-marketing its fledgling app YouTube Music, which rolled out last November.
Aurora is currently featured in a :30 trailer that debuted this week with online music publications, and on Aug. 4 will star in her own documentary, produced by The Fader, about life in her hometown of Bergen, Norway. Also in the coming weeks, YouTube will debut an alternate version of Aurora’s “Conqueror” music video featuring original choreography from popular YouTube dancers, produced by Vice.
“And we’re making a few more pieces, which will be creative and a bit more about the music than Aurora’s heart and brain,” the singer told Billboard during a rare break from her hectic New York promo schedule this week.
For Danielle Tiedt, chief marketing officer of YouTube, the Aurora partnership represents one of the first musical faces to its ongoing marketing behind YouTube Red, the umbrella brand of the streaming service’s paid subscriptions, which earlier this year have included popular creator Lilly Singh‘s original documentary A Trip To Unicorn Island.
“We want to lean into what we can do to help make these artist’ rise on YouTube faster, and help make YouTube an even better place for emerging artists to access their fans,” says Tiedt. “Aurora has been playing festivals, appearing on ‘Colbert,’ she’s performing at Lollapalooza this weekend – we want to make those moments even bigger on YouTube.”
The Aurora partnership accompanies a six-week campaign for YouTube Music, running through August 11, which encompasses five different commercials showcasing the diversity of YouTube’s userbase. The spots, created with ad agency Anomaly, are currently running in cinemas and high-traffic music and news sites like ESPN, New York Times, Pitchfork and Pandora.
Billboard caught up with Aurora days before she was set to play back-to-back festival dates at Montreal’s Osheaga and Chicago’s Lollapalooza to learn more about her unique “possessed” performance style, upcoming projects with YouTube, and which musician’s recent nod made her so happy “I almost peed my pants.”
Tell us about this crazy week you’ve been having. You played Panorama on Saturday, spoke with Howard Stern Monday, played Colbert Tuesday and you’re heading to Lollapalooza this weekend. What’s that been like for you to take in?
Aurora: It’s kind of like, if I have one TV show in one week, it’s like seeing a big skyscraper in Norway. But now, we’ve done so many big things, and I’ve met so many wonderful people, so it feels like being in New York where there are many skyscrapers and they all just become a big thing, if that makes sense. It’s been very fun, I’m very happy to have such a great team working around me that’s given me the opportunity to do all the things I’ve done this week so far. But then again, I don’t know that much about anything. So it kind of helps with nerves when you don’t know what you’re going into. And everyone is just people – even though there’s a lot of pressure, and I know that today is a very important day with an important cause, it’s still just a performance and I’ll have many opportunities to do others. So it’s been very fun.
And one of the main reasons you’ve become so known out here is because of your performance style. Who or what influences that? You seem very self-possessed and unaffected by what’s around you.
Well, “possessed” is a very nice word to describe it. I remember seeing myself performing live in 2014, after my first performance, and I was standing like this [freezes] the whole time. And it looked like I was possessed by the devil or something, something really strange. And I remember thinking, I didn’t know that it was happening because I was really nervous. And I had only done five performances up to this point, it was me and my piano every time I played live.
But then I got a band, and I had my first real show in February of that year, and that was a time where I think I was just used to moving my hands. And there’s a lot of emotions going on in this tiny body when I sing. And I think I just had so much equipment to tell my story – my eyes keep very open at many times, and my hands. I don’t know, I feel desperate when I sing. And I look desperate – it feels like I’m singing for my life, which makes me twitch, if that makes sense.
It definitely does. Did you have much experience with public speaking or performance growing up? It feels like you’re channeling that first stage fright in a really cathartic way every time you perform.
No, because I don’t like talking. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone about this, actually, but I used to – what’s it called – on certain letters, like t-t-t-tongue.
Yeah I do that sometimes now, and I did that a lot when I was a child. And I remember talking in public was the worst thing that could ever happen to me, and it would activate my stutter, and I would get really anxious. But that’s what’s so wonderful about singing, you don’t have anything holding your words back. So it doesn’t feel that scary, performing. It’s just the talking, I find.
Tell me about your partnership with YouTube Music. I understand there’s a new version of your “Conqueror” video coming soon as part of this?
So they had some dancers perform choreography, and I think they shot it one week ago. I think it will be released quite soon. That’s very interesting to see, because I love dancing. It’s the most beautiful thing a human can do with its body.
And we also made a documentary, in Norway, which will be released soon. And we’re making a few more pieces, which will be creative and a bit more about the music than Aurora’s heart and brain.
What can we expect from this documentary? What will we learn about you and your life back home?
The purpose of the documentary is me wanting to show people what I find beautiful, which is my home. And the small things I talk about, and dancing. And rain. And beautiful people I have in my life – music people. It’s more me showing you a bit about my thoughts and what I find wonderful.
As a 20-year-old, you’re certainly of the digital-native generation. Did you grow up discovering music through YouTube and other digital channels?
Well, I didn’t have a computer in my house before six years ago. But I still got vinyl LPs, and had an LP player, but I don’t have iTunes or Spotify or Tidal or WiMP or anything. It’s just because it just seems very confusing, and complicated. I’ve been a lot more into Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, which was a bit complicated for me to understand the language of each social media, because they all talk in different ways. It’s a nice way for me to tell people I appreciate them, which I forget to do sometimes. Because I want people to know I wouldn’t be here without…people, right?
What did coming back home to Norway teach you about yourself, given this crazy year you’re already having?
I like it because I can tell that I haven’t changed. My surroundings have changed – it’s not classmates and neighbors anymore, it’s musicians and labels and booking management and newspapers and magazines, you know? The world around me has changed, and I have learned to adapt, but not change. But I’m changing into the woman I am meant to be. You learn a lot from traveling around.
You’ve said that Bob Dylan and Kate Bush are among your musical heroes. As you’ve begun making the rounds of the festivals worldwide, have you had a chance to meet any of your musical heroes?
I passed by Iggy Pop at a festival in Belgium recently, and he gave me a nod. I was so happy I almost peed my pants.
Andrew Hampp is a vice president at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents.