There’s a certain kind of pop song playing in gay clubs that you really don’t hear anywhere else. You know the genre: hard-hitting, vaguely European, empowering in a totally simple way – songs like Ava Max’s “My Head & My Heart” or Rita Ora’s “Bang Bang”, good enough to dance to and catchy enough to sing along to with, but which serve mainly to fill the time between “Dancing on My Own” and “Stronger”. For better or for worse, Norwegian pop singer Sigrid excels in this specific genre of banging: her new album, How to let go, has at least three. It’s a useful talent – “gay club filler” is a very valid, and I would say vital, category of pop song. But like How to let go proves, true neutrality isn’t a solid foundation for a pop star career, and, for the most part, Sigrid works with little else.
Sigrid has always been kind of a blank slate; initially, it was part of his calling. His first album, 2019 Sucker Punch, was emblematic of a new generation of major pop star “real girls” dressed in relaxed haircuts and natural-looking makeup, but selling much of the same kind of girlboss painted-by-numbers pop as their counterparts wearing combinations. Tucked away among moments of faux-rebellion like “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” however, were some real gems: ecstatic Eurodance songs that smile through tears like “Don’t Feel Like Crying” and “Strangers “it suggested that, if her sound became a little less conventional, Sigrid might one day become Robyn’s natural heir.
How to let go, disappointing, counters that thought. On this album, Sigrid could actually be described as anti-Robyn – a pop star who exclusively negotiates simple emotions and easy endings, who has seemingly lost all sense of lyrical tension. On nearly every song, Sigrid introduces some sort of problem (she’s lost her sense of herself, she’s afraid to walk away from home, etc.) only to resolve it with the first chorus, usually by accepting her own shortcomings or, occasionally, just looking on the bright side.
Opener “It Gets Dark” typifies how easily Sigrid moves through the world on How to let go. “I’ve never been this far from home/And all alone/It’s dark,” she sings over booming stadium pop drums, before quickly recovering: “It’s dark/ So I can see the stars.” By the time Bring Me the Horizon’s never-ending collaboration “Bad Life” revolves around nine songs later, the metaphor is gone: “It’s just a bad day, not a bad life .” Time and time again, these songs present sadness or discomfort as problems to be solved, rather than feelings to be questioned or even just sat around. Although Sigrid sings each line as if from a deep revealing, anyone looking for depth on How to let go will quickly end up in the shallow end.