Marit Larsen
Photo: Ingrid Pop

Marit Larsen on the Power of Nordic Pop

Marit Larsen is the hyper-talented Nordic pop heroine that many should-be fans in North America have yet to discover. When the Morning Comes should fix that.

Marit Larsen
When the Morning Comes
Warner Music Group
20 October 2014

Norway has grasped something that most of North America has failed to realize. I am not just talking about universal healthcare, a fully multi-lingual society, and black metal. Norway acknowledges that one of its own native daughters, Marit Larsen, is one of the very finest pop songwriters, vocalists, and performers on the planet. From her delicate, haunting voice and her bright, affective production to her relentlessly catchy songwriting, Marit Larsen is the hyper-talented Nordic pop heroine that many should-be fans in North America have yet to discover.

Of course, Marit Larsen’s success is not restricted to Norway. Much of East Asia has been carrying a torch for Larsen’s music since the early aughts when Larsen was one-half of the teen pop juggernaut M2M. Pop fans in places like the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia continue to replay their well-worn M2M CDs and obsessively watch M2M’s Disney Channel Special on YouTube. On the streets of Manila or Kula Lumpur, it is not uncommon to see young men and women pensively clutching copies of M2M’s Shades of Purple to their chests and gazing longingly to the Northwest in anticipation of Larsen’s return.

I enjoyed catching up with Marit Larsen to discuss her excellent new solo record, When the Morning Comes, the undying international cult of M2M, and her future plans.

In 2006, I taught English at a North-Central China high school. On the first day of class, one of my students stood up and asked if she could sing her favorite English language song. She preceded to sing an amazing version of M2M’s “Don’t Say You Love Me”. That was back in 2006, but you still have a devoted fanbase in Asia. The Philippines, in particular, appears to be a real hot spot for the Marit Larsen fandom. Do you have any plans to continue developing your fanbase in Asia? How is touring and releasing music in places like the Philippines and Singapore different from Europe or North America? How are audiences different?

That’s an amazing story. Some of my fondest memories from the M2M years were in South East Asia. My experience with releasing music in different countries has actually taught me more about our similarities than anything else. Music is a miraculous door opener to friendship and connection. Due to being part of the restrictions and geo-blocking of the major label circus, I haven’t been able to maintain my relationships with my international listeners as well as I would have liked to. Now that I have my own record label, all releases from 2016 and into the future will be available worldwide on the same day. Watch out for new sounds in April.

Your career has had an interesting arc. At a very young age, you were part of a wildly popular group that was successful worldwide. Later, you experienced much success in Norway as a solo artist but not as much recognition outside of Norway, particularly in North America. Now, your new record is being released in the US. You seem to be trying to make further inroads into the North American market. What would you like to accomplish with North American audiences? Would you like to tour extensively here, or mainly have people in the US and Canada hear and appreciate your records?

It has indeed been an interesting experience. As an artist, in addition to creating this music, the most exciting thing is watching my songs travel and take on a life of their own. Wildly exciting, actually… I love the thought of being someone’s soundtrack — be it for a day, a week or a decade. It’s an honor. Plans are in the works for a US tour in the fall of 2016, so as I always say, find me on Instagram and keep in touch.

In the summer of 2002, I saw M2M open for Jewel at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Red Rocks is a large venue, and you guys were well received, but I got the impression that my brother and I were the only people there specifically to see M2M. What is it like performing for audiences that may not know your music? Is it an interesting challenge to win an audience over, or is it just stressful?

You were there! This is one of those memories that give me chills and makes me chuckle at the same time. So much of what we experienced was completely lost on us, being so young and new to everything. We played freakin’ Red Rocks, one of the most amazing venues in the world; so much history. But we knew we were lucky to be there, and I felt like that tour was a great match for us.

In any case, being an opener is actually a pretty great thing. There is no real weight on your shoulders; you get to be the pleasant surprise or the new discovery unless, of course, people walk away none the wiser. But it’s a great way to sneak into people’s lives when they least expect it. On those nights when you end up selling out your CD supply, people feel like you contributed something they didn’t expect; it’s the best feeling in the world.

Your new record, When the Morning Comes, just came out in the US. Were you trying to do anything artistically different with this record? Has your creative process stayed pretty much the same, or were you really trying to push your own creative boundaries with When the Morning Comes?

I definitely pushed my boundaries with this one. I have felt so intimidated, almost invaded, trying to invite people into my creative space earlier, but in the making of WTMC, something just clicked. I met a few true artistic and musical soul mates and found myself endlessly curious about what songs were still to be written and what was yet to come of these collaborations. I imagine people who start having children experience something similar to a certain degree: Who haven’t we created yet?

There is a definite perception in the United States that the Nordic countries (and Norway specifically) have exceptionally vibrant music scenes. Do you think that this is the case? How do you think your music fits into the Norwegian music scene? Is there a special tradition of musical creativity within Norwegian culture, or is this just a romantic idea that Americans have?

This is a great time in Norwegian music. Since I’m so in the middle of it, it’s hard to observe us from the outside, but I do think the fact that we’re exposed to so much great music from all over the world in combination with having a really strong sense of being «all the way up north» and being legit outsiders allows for some pretty vibrant songwriting and artistic expression; the best of both, or two, worlds, if you will.

Do you think that pop music has a special function or appeal to listeners unique from other genres? Do people get something out of listening to pop music that is different from, for instance, hip-hop or metal? Or is pop music simply entertainment? Why do you, as an artist, focus on writing pop songs instead of playing other forms of music?

I firmly believe that pop music has the power to carry as much weight as any other genre — and the phenomenon of the chorus, of trying to write something that invites you in right away but is intelligent enough that it decides to tickle your brain for a long time, is a craft and science that I’m endlessly curious about. Pop music has changed my life many times already and continues to do so.

When the Morning Comes is out in the United States, and more new music from Marit Larsen appears to be on the way. It is just a matter of time before North America realizes what much of the world has known: Marit Larsen is genuine pop royalty.