People look for liberation in all sorts of ways. Anna of the North found hers in a pair of pointy elf ears that would make “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson proud.
It all began when the Norwegian electronic-pop singer-songwriter — birth name Anna Lotterud — traveled to Los Angeles for a video shoot. She started sharing some of her artistic ideas with the project’s director. He told her she could do whatever she wanted to do.
“I said, ‘OK, I want elf ears,’” Lotterud remembers with a laugh, calling from her home in Oslo. “I love elves. At the same time, it’s so unreal when you see ‘The Lord of the Rings’ — it’s another world. But as soon as I got those elf ears on, I felt unstoppable. I felt that I was part of that dream world in the film. It’s hard to explain, but I felt a bigger part of myself. I knew the ears had to be a part of it.”
The end result was the video for the wistful dreamscape “Leaning on Myself,” the first single off Lotterud’s latest album “Dream Girl” (300 Entertainment). “Leaning on Myself” is a vulnerable meditation on trying to move on after a break-up. Lotterud sings in an ethereal voice, “Driving through the streets/ nowhere I wanna go … Thought that I’d feel free/ but the freedom comes slow.”
“That song is one of the most important ones on the album,” Lotterud says. “It’s a really fragile song, even though the lyric ‘Lately I’ve been leaning on myself’ might sound powerful. It’s a song I needed to hear at that point in my life, to help me get my stuff together. It’s not the end of the world if someone breaks up with you.”
A former graphic design student, Lotterud’s personal style pervades her work from video concepts to album covers. At times, Lotterud’s choices recall the idiosyncratic Icelandic singer Bjork, whose sartorial flair has included the memorable “swan dress” that created an international hullabaloo at the Academy Awards in 2001. On the cover of “Dream Girl” and in the video for “Leaning on Myself,” Lotterud dons a pair of white feathered wings, like an angel fallen to earth.
“With graphic design, it always starts from nothing and then you add layers and it becomes something,” she says. “It’s the same with a song. Photoshop and the music program Logic are quite similar — both are about adding layers and tweaking those layers. Everything I do is tied together; every part is important to me.”
The title track is an alternately unhurried and swinging electronic number with dashes of a throwback doo-wop vibe. Lotterud quietly sings out a jazzy tumble of words, punctuated by a sweeping chorus and a childlike “la-la-la.” The lyrics capture the narrator in both strong and weak moments when it comes to a former lover: “I kinda like the girl that I’ve become/ when I’m all alone/ since you been gone/ But now I’m calling you at 3 a.m./ to speak to you again.”
For Lotterud, the concept of “Dream Girl” is not about being flawless, but about doing your best despite the flaws.
“‘Dream Girl’ is not in any way about being perfect,” she explains about the project. “Perfection doesn’t exist. It’s more about being your own hero. That’s a dream girl. When I scroll through Instagram, there are all these pretty people with money and expensive clothes. But however much money we have, we’re all going to die. So don’t waste your life being something you are not.”
Lotterud originally formed Anna of the North with Brady Daniell-Smith, a New Zealand-born producer she met while studying in Australia. The two released their debut single in 2014 and their debut album “Lovers” in 2017. Shortly after, they ended their artistic partnership, leaving Lotterud to carry on with the name Anna of the North as a solo project.
The song “Lovers” was used in the 2018 Netflix teen romance film “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” The song has since been streamed on Spotify nearly 46 million times. It shot through the roof the instant the movie aired.
It was a breakthrough moment for her career, one that took Lotterud by surprise.
“I was in my bed watching TV when I suddenly got a lot of notifications on Instagram,” she recalls. “People were posting, ‘Anna is finally getting the recognition she deserves.’ They were saying my track was in the movie. I didn’t even know that was going to happen. It was like winning the lottery. I sat there watching the song go from nothing to everything. It was crazy. It really showed me how much power the movie industry has. You can’t just release a song and hope for the best. It needs a platform for people to hear it.”
She hears from fans who are passionate about her work. Many tell Lotterud that her music has helped them through their own hard times. At a concert in Denmark, she met an appreciative young man and his younger sister. A week afterward, she received a message from the brother.
“He told me how great it was meeting me,” Lotterud recalls. “The young man said his sister had been struggling with an eating disorder after their mom died. He said she has been so much happier since my show. There are lots of people out there with stories. Getting those messages really makes me want to do this more.”
Lotterud keeps her life advice simple.
“Be the best version of you and let go of what other people want you to be,” she says. “You can even wear angel wings and elf ears.”
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