The Nordic countries are having a serious moment within the pop music scene; Norway’s Sigrid and Dagny, Sweden’s Zara Larson and Denmark’s Mø have all dominated playlists and airwaves over the past two years and they are showing no signs of stopping. It’s no surprise that these artists are creating pop music; of course, ABBA and Robyn both hail from Sweden while DJs Kygo and Lido are both Norwegian. Finland, however, a country more famous for its heavy metal bands, has never been well represented in the pop music vanguard. Alma Sofia Miettinen, more commonly known as ALMA, seeks to change this.
ALMA subverts a lot of preconceptions about the modern-day pop-star. The 22-year old dons a head of bright, acidic green hair worthy of a highlighter pen and famously walked on stage at a festival mid-kebab in 2017. She creates the type of music that Adorno would have had a serious problem with; it’s fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
In 2015, the school drop out finished fifth in the Finnish talent show Pop Idol and soon after went on tour with one of the show’s judges Sini Sabotage. After signing a record deal with Universal, she proved her pop proficiency with singles Dye My Hair and Chasing Highs and then a debut EP ‘Dye My Hair’.
‘Dye My Hair’ set the watermark high for its follow up; the EP is a fluorescent collection of bona fide hits that marked ALMA’s true arrival into the main-stream music domain. Having since collaborated with music elite French Montana and Charli XCX her status within the pop music realm is fast ascending.
While ‘Dye My Hair’ was fun and light hearted, its success placed expectations on its successor to be more weighty and ambitious in order for ALMA to assert herself as a veritable pop starlet. This second collection of songs arrived in the form of a mixtape titled ‘Heavy Rules’.
The mixtape gets off to a shaky start with Legend. The song opens with combination of voice memos from a party and the sound of champagne popping. ALMA renders herself a ‘legend’ for staying up partying until the morning light, “I fuck it up, been up all night, but I feel like a legend, I overdosed, got in a fight, I can’t stop winning”. The song is of the calibre of an underage party anthem (although the champagne may be swapped for cans of Tesco lager), a cringe worthy feat. On the bright side, the song features a mesmerising, growling guitar lead line and an interesting, syncopated verse melody.
Things improve considerably with the Mø featured Dance With Me. The song combines the irresistible pulsation of Disclosure with the bounciness of Drake’s Passionfruit, the results of which render it impossible not to move to. ALMA’s voice is an unusual hybrid of silk and husk, while in comparison, Mø’s voice is croaky and raw – the two blend together seamlessly in harmony in the bridge.
Fake Gucci is a standout moment. The song is about as close as listeners will get to a ballad from ALMA, and the lyrics are certainly the most endearing she has offered to date, “If you want some luxury, there is not much I can give you but fake Gucci and love”. The break down section is Lorde-esque with various pitched claves and vocoders, before a steady build up into a triumphant final chorus.
BACK2U sounds like a letter to herself, she switches between the first to third person between the verses and chorus’, “remember to work hard… I hope I don’t make it, because I want to get back to you”. The identity of the ‘you’ here isn’t specified, but given ALMA’s close relationship with her family, one could hazard a guess that it is referring to those back home in Finland.
ALMA is someone who likes to keep her family close; last year, she made the addition of her twin sister to her live band because she missed her, and said that she feels a lot more comfortable on stage now as a result of her presence. BACK2U features some of the most impressive production on the mixtape, particularly in terms of the percussion; trapped high-hats and claves are interwoven cleverly within the layers of synths. The bridge features an intriguing male cut up vocal sample over dreamy, celestial backing vocals.
Unfortunately, the mixtape ends similarly to how it started. Chit Chat (featuring Kiiara) is an exhibition of musical predictability and lacklustre lyrics, “you’re wearing all the coolest brands, I don’t care about the Gucci, I don’t give a damn” (about these lyrics, perhaps?). It’s a song destined to get buried in the depths of Spotify.
Pop music has progressed so much recently in so many ways; Lorde brings thought provoking lyrics to the table while Billie Eilish challenges the very defining characteristics of the genre with her unusual arrangements and subject matters.
Even ALMA’s long-time collaborator Charli XCX is pushing the boundaries of pop with the galactic production on her most recent releases. Of course, pop music doesn’t have to (and for the most part, doesn’t) contribute to the shaping of the genre, but given ALMA’s fast growing status in the music industry and the company she is keeping on Ones to Watch lists, ‘Heavy Rules’ is a weak and disappointing offering.
The music seems to serve a sole purpose of being played at parties and Spotify playlist placements. ALMA’s distinctive voice is the best aspect of her music and we can only hope that it is put to better use in future.