Sigrid’s How To Let Go Is White Feminism, The Musical

Sigrid’s How To Let Go Is White Feminism, The Musical

When a 20-year-old Sigrid first showed up in 2017 with the glass-ceiling-breakout anthem “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” penned in response to a patronizing writing session with some older male writers, the Norwegian pop singer correctly concluded that those men were so quick to dismiss her abilities because they probably, on some level, felt threatened by her. That depth of you’re-projecting-on-me insight was so on-point, so specific and relatable to anyone NOT a straight, white man, it’s no wonder Sigrid shot to fame as quickly as she did.

In addition to “Don’t Kill My Vibe” achieving millions of streams, in her early days Sigrid presented as — and was marketed as — a chill gal. A no-makeup, jeans-and-a-white-T-shirt gal. The anti-pop star. Given the time period, it’s easy to see why Sigrid’s team would be happy to play up the au natural thing. Not only was Sigrid naturally clear-skinned, young, and gorgeous (ahem, and white), her rise coincided with that of dewy-faced brands like Glossier which markets to naturally stunning archetypical women who only “need three products to get ready.” This woman, in other words, has a certain privilege in that she is already set up to succeed, aesthetically. And the product she wears is exclusive to her and people like her.

Point being, Sigrid’s whole shtick from the start was her perceived authenticity. She called out the old guard that just didn’t get it and she resisted the usual pop-artist archetype, aesthetically speaking. Her scintillating Scandipop anthems might contain all manner of production bells and whistles, but it was at direct odds with her visuals. Take the cover of Sigrid’s debut album Sucker Punch: her 2019 debut features 12 expertly produced disco-pop tracks with soaring choruses (“Strangers” is especially memorable) and hook-laden synths, strings, and beats that seemingly position Sigrid as being this decade’s Robyn. Or perhaps Norway’s answer to Maggie Rogers.

While I don’t doubt that Sigrid as a person has positive intentions, I do think that there has always been something fundamentally lacking, from a branding perspective. Let’s use Robyn and Rogers as the example(s) again: from the beginning of their careers, those two had such a self-assured quality, and their presences were so magnetic, that fans could easily feel like they were the driving creative force behind all of their decisions, even if that wasn’t true. I think the most wildly successful pop stars make it easy for fans to suspend their disbelief — that they have teams of people working behind them and that they spend long, sleepless hours on sweaty tour buses. Their lyrics and overall musical presentation contained a level of depth and vision that is both singular to them and thematically nuanced. In other words, Rogers and Robyn go deep.

On Sigrid’s sophomore album, How To Let Go, she attempts to address universal themes like self-love, isolation, anxiety, depression, and personal growth, but her articulation of those things feels archaic. Though the album is not lacking for Scandipop hooks, Sigrid still has a ways to go before achieving Valhalla-level star quality.

How To Let Go has been presented as a portrait of a pop star reconciling opposing forces in herself: “The chill girl who loves to ski and hike and cook versus the other part of me that’s like ‘let’s go out,’ or let’s play massive shows, go on stage and not be scared of anything.” As a result, How To Let Go is a collection of catchy-on-the-outside, basic-on-the-inside empowerment anthems that encourage personal growth and self acceptance. I’m all for inner-evolution, introspection, and self-actualization, but from a substance perspective, the themes Sigrid pushes throughout How To Let Go make me think about what the writer Koa Beck talks about in her book White Feminism: From The Suffragettes To Influencers And Who They Leave Behind. White feminism and wellness culture is only inclusive of some women — white, wealthy women — and I’m afraid How To Let Go has all of the empowerment of a Goop Vaginal Jade Egg.

As Beck explains it, “white feminism” is about “what we might call lifestyle feminism, empowerment feminism, or corporate feminism… a white success model or an aspiration to whiteness.” White feminist ideology — however unintentional — was employed in Sigrid’s initial marketing, particularly driving home her no-makeup-makeup, anti-pop star persona. The no-makeup-makeup campaign, ostensibly a call for women to accept themselves minus augmentation, tends not to be advertised via real women of many ages and backgrounds, but has historically been promoted by thin, white, young, fresh-faced women who exemplify Westernized beauty ideals. Meanwhile, in real life, the only women who can realistically achieve the no-makeup-makeup lifestyle are privileged enough to spend exorbitant amounts on skincare.

This may sound like I’ve gotten off topic, but stay with me: The bare-faced-privilege conversation isn’t new; it’s been a topic of discussion for nearly 10 years, since the first #NoMakeupSelfie was posted to Instagram. Where Sigrid was initially sold as the anti-pop star who just woke up this way and happens to write killer hooks, her sophomore album is still riding the superficiality train, especially when you take all 12 tracks together.

Thundering opener “It Gets Dark” — written with Emily Warren and Danish producer Sylvester Sivertsen — is innocuous enough, with Sigrid ruminating over how lonely and vulnerable it can be to leave home and embrace your destiny as a Big Pop Star who tours and travels. Disco-driven follow-up “Burning Bridges” is an “I choose me” anthem, full of lyrics about realizing when to say when in a relationship that isn’t serving you anymore. The soaring “Risk Of Getting Hurt,” meanwhile, encourages the listener to take a chance on your dreams! What could go wrong! It’s not a thing worth doing if there’s not a risk of getting hurt! Shoot for the moon! If you miss, you’ll still land among the stars!

The pulsating “Thank Me Later” is a strong point on How To Let Go, as it echoes the sentiments of “Burning Bridges” with soaring calls to move on from a deteriorating relationship. Later, advance single “Mirror” is a booming, strings-soaked ballad that clearly is the work of Danish producer Sly, who previously has worked with noted disco enthusiast Dua Lipa and Danish pop star MØ. While the song itself is a straight-up bop, “Mirror” also comes off like the EZ-Bake Oven version of Lizzo’s “Good As Hell,” one of the most defining empowerment songs of the last decade (and one that pushes the “love yourself” ethos with humor, self-awareness, and wit). “Mirror” by comparison sounds ready to soundtrack the next 50% off sale at Sears. As Lizzo, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, and TLC (just to name a few) have shown throughout pop history, you can have hooks and a complex message around equality and/or self-love.

Other points on the album are painfully derivative: The lighters-out “Mistake Like You” sounds like an Adele cast-off accented by cheesy, un-ironic ’80s guitar licks. The Coldplay-core “Grow,” which looks for coming-of-age answers, is pleasant if unremarkable (it definitely lacks the self-assurance of WILLOW’s song of the same name). Anyway, Sigrid has proved herself capable of identifying her feelings, but she just doesn’t deep enough to achieve a real “a-ha” moment. Instead of anything approaching complex, we get surface-level platitudes masquerading as deep insight.

Perhaps the most disappointing entry on How To Let Go is the wildly contrived mental-health ballad “Bad Life” with Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes. It’s the album’s only collaboration (and also one of its singles) and throws the entire mood off kilter. What at first felt like a millennial pink women’s empowerment seminar pivots to a mid-’10s YA novel-turned-movie soundtrack. Is The Fault In Our Stars on TV again? Either way, talk about a vibe shift. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the uber-schmaltzy “Bad Life” when I blurbed it for last week’s column, and now I think I hate it.

I definitely don’t hate Sigrid, though, or even How To Let Go. I just think the album could go so much further in its conversation around self-love, growing up, and reconciling a personality’s opposing parts. Despite its grooving, mirror-balling melodies and Sigrid’s strong vocal chops, How To Let Go ultimately plays it so safe that it accidentally regresses into the last decade. Based on the tart, bullshit-calling “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” I know Sigrid is capable of much more.

Gregory Stewart/GQ

CHART WATCH

Chris DeVille here with your weekly update on the top of the album and singles charts in what might be the best statistical week of Future’s career.

The big man from ATL scores his eighth #1 album on the Billboard 200 with I Never Liked You this week. Per Billboard, the album tallied an exceedingly strong 222,000 equivalent album units. That’s Future’s biggest ever week for a solo album (though What A Time To Be Alive, his 2015 collaborative album with Drake, debuted with a whopping 375,000 units) and the biggest week for any album of 2022 so far. Notably, the album’s total includes 214,000 streaming equivalent units and only 6,500 in sales.

The Weeknd’s Dawn FM returns to its #2 peak this week with the release of various physical formats, ending up with 57,000 units including 44,000 in sales. After Morgan Wallen at #3 comes Miranda Lambert’s Palomino, debuting at #4 with 36,000 units and 24,000 in sales. Next comes Olivia Rodrigo at #5, Lil Durk at #6, and Encanto at #7. NoCap hits the top 10 for the first time with a #8 debut for Mr. Crawford via 29,000 units, while Drake (#9) and Doja Cat (#10) close out the top 10.

Perhaps more significantly, Future also tops the Hot 100 singles chart for the first time as a lead artist. “Wait For U,” his collab with Drake and Tems from I Never Liked You, enters the chart on top, becoming Future’s second chart-topper, Drake’s 10th, and the first for Tems. (Technically she’s just sampled on the song, but it was enough to earn her a feature credit, so good for her.) Per Billboard, this is the seventh time an artist has debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 simultaneously.

Future’s previous #1 came via a prominent feature on Drake’s “Way Too Sexy” last year, and his sole #2 hit was the 2020 Drake collab “Life Is Good”; are you picking up on the trend that Drake and Future collaborations are extremely commercially potent? “Wait For U” pulls Drake into a tie with Stevie Wonder and Janet Jackson for eighth most Hot 100 #1s of all time, and it’s his 55th top-10 hit on the chart. Tems previously cracked the top 10 with her star-making feature on WizKid’s “Essence,” which peaked at #9. Future debuts three more tracks in this week’s top 10 — “Puffin On Zootiez” at #4, “712PM” at #8, and “I’m Dat N***a” at #10 — giving him nine career top-10 hits overall. This is only the sixth time an artist has landed four or more songs in the top 10 concurrently.

The rest of the top 10 includes former chart-toppers at #2 (Harry Styles’ “As It Was”) and #3 (Jack Harlow’s “First Class,” which could see a surge next week due to the debut of Harlow’s new album). Another former #1, Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves,” slides to #5, followed by Latto’s “Big Energy” at #6 and Imagine Dragons and JID’s “Enemy” at #7. One more previous #1 hit, the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay,” fills in that #9 spot. And now it’s time to hand the keyboard back to Rachel.

POP FIVE

Tove Lo – “No One Dies From Love”
Not only is this a riveting dance-pop bop, Tove Lo’s “No One Dies From Love” has one of the most unexpectedly moving music videos I’ve seen in a long minute. This “musical sci-fi love story” is highly recommended viewing, that’s all I’m going to say without spoiling anything.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand”
How do you follow up a movie soundtrack classic like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”? Gaga’s epic Top Gun: Maverick contribution is a strong contender.

Doja Cat – “Vegas”
I feel so split about “Vegas” — on one hand, I really like the Big Mama Thornton sample. But as soon as Doja starts harmonizing the words “hound dog, hound dog, hound dog,” the update starts to feel really forced.

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Western Wind”
Hey, as a chronically cold person who moved to Los Angeles from New York and doesn’t miss seasons at ALL, I can both relate to and appreciate Jepsen’s grooving, pastoral-minded ode to California. (Even if the music video has some major 40 Year Old Virgin-meets-“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” vibes.)

Jack Harlow – “Dua Lipa”
I know Harlow kinda-sorta got Dua’s halfhearted approval for this thirsty song, and I know Harlow is, like, horny for everybody, but IDK about this. Personally, I’m getting the ick.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Harry Styles will play a Harry’s House album release show on Long Island on 5/20. [Instagram]
  • Billie Eilish is hosting Overheated, a climate seminar, in London next month. [Forbes]
  • Kacey Musgraves will cover Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” for the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. [Variety]
  • Justin Bieber says his new album will have a “wicked” John Mayer solo. [Billboard]
  • Post Malone is gonna be a dad. [TMZ]
  • Drake trolled an Instagrammer commenter he was arguing with by DM’ing the guy’s wife. [TMZ]
  • Out 6/10, BTS’ new anthology Proof will have three new songs. [Republic World]
  • A new Måneskin single, “Supermodel,” is coming next week. [Twitter]
  • COIN did an acoustic cover of Third Eye Blind’s “Never Let You Go” for SiriusXM. [YouTube]
  • Billie Eilish and Cardi B appear in a new season of David Letterman’s Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction out 5/27. [Deadline]
  • Charlie Puth released a video for “That’s Hilarious.” [YouTube]
  • Beyoncé received a Daytime Emmy nomination for performing the theme to her mother’s Facebook Watch series Talks With Mama Tina. [E!]
  • In July Maroon 5 and Usher will play the Beloved Benefit in Atlanta honoring the late congressman John Lewis. [Beloved Benefit]
  • Beyoncé has invested in the water brand Lemon Perfect. [Lemon Perfect]
  • Lil Nas X teased a new song on Twitter. [Twitter]
  • Kane Brown has shared a new song “Like I Love Country Music.” [YouTube]
  • DNCE has shared a new song “Move.” [YouTube]
  • YUNGBLUD and WILLOW teamed up for a new song “Memories.” [YouTube]
  • LAUV covered Post Malone and the Weeknd’s “One Right Now.” [YouTube]
  • Doja Cat and Dolly Parton will star in a musical Taco Bell commercial about the return of Mexican Pizza. [Broadway World]
  • Rina Sawayama confirmed her second album is on the way and performed new song “Catch Me In The Air” [Twitter]

CLOSING TIME

more from The Week In Pop

Hi. It looks like you're using an ad blocker.

As an independent website, we rely on our measly advertising income to keep the lights on. Our ads are not too obtrusive, promise. Would you please disable adblock?