On ‘Sucker Punch’ Sigrid goes back on her promise to square up to the gatekeepers of pop
When Norwegian twenty-year-old Sigrid performed ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ in March of 2017 on Later…with Jools Holland, it felt like a statement of intent. Her bare face matched the stripped back production; with just her rasping voice and a piano, she delivered a performance more sure-footed and muscular than few other could even while flanked by their full band.
‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ is in itself a refusal to be pressed into a music industry mould. In its construction, its delivery and, now, its commercial success, it’s a middle finger to the male producers who shut her down, who belittled her capacity to be anything other than a mouthpiece for their music. There’s more where that came from too; though not on the album, 2018 EP title track ‘Raw’ bears a similar message: ‘I just wanna be raw… I get pissed off when you ask me to be more.’ She doubles down on the message on Sucker Punch’s best track, ‘Business Dinners’, recalling all the times she has been wooed with an expensed meal before being asked to be ‘sweeter, better’ and to sharpen her focus on ‘pictures, numbers, figures’. She’s an artist, she tells us, who won’t acquiesce to the industry machine.
And if those were the only songs Sigrid had in her arsenal, I’d have believed her. ‘Business Dinners’ is a PC-music influenced technicolour dreamscape, all lilting cadences and knowing sweetness, and there’s a snarling defiance, an adorable smile turned to bared teeth on ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ that sells her ability to stand strong against the commercialisation of her sound.
Ultimately, though, it would have been misguided to hope that Sucker Punch would see Sigrid holding to her word, given the bombardment of singles that preceded its release. With each one, Sigrid’s refusal to submit to the machinations of the music industry stood on shakier ground. Having started off strong with ‘Strangers’, a lightness of touch in the verses giving way to EDM-inspired fireworks in the chorus, ‘Sucker Punch’ was disappointingly paint-by-numbers. By the time ‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ and ‘Sight of You’ came out, both of which employ the kind of piano and strings combo that would, in the mid-2000s, have made Ryan Tedder’s irises turn to dollar signs, all hope seemed lost. That I can imagine the opening bars of ‘Sight Of You’ sound-tracking a rom-com protagonist’s third-act dash to make a romantic gesture at an airport hardly signifies a rejection of commerciality.
Sucker Punch as a whole is as musically unadventurous as the pre-release evidence suggested it would be. It’s not without merit; the big pop behemoths like ‘Mine Right Now’ are punch-the-air crowd-pleasers, and there’s a lightness of touch in the production of ‘Level Up’ and ‘Business Dinners’ that nods towards Sigrid’s ear for more than mainstream pop. Her voice is crisp and strong, and tracks like ‘In Vain’, on which it rasps with real feeling, showcase what she can really achieve with it. For the most part, though, the production is so glossy as to be mirror-glazed: delicious for the first few bites, sure, but before long your teeth begin to ache a bit. There’s no doubt that it’s a fun, listenable album, but on Sucker Punch Sigrid hasn’t yet squared up to the gatekeepers of pop in the way she set out to.