Why ALMA is going to be the next big thing in pop

ALMA, I’m convinced, is currently one of the hardest working people in pop music. In the past year alone, Alma-Sofia Miettinen, the mononymous Finnish hit conveyor belt, has front-loaded her jams with a quality that makes them perfect for belting out at the top of your lungs.

Her label is putting all their money behind her because they know she’s a lock for stardom. She has been co-signed by Elton John, who played her song “Karma” on his Beats 1 radio show. She’s collaborated with French Montana on a hip-twisting bop called “Phases.” Together with other Nordic pop stars MØ, Tove Styrke and Tove Lo, as well as English export Charli XCX, ALMA is on the bleeding edge of pop. And the 22-year-old is burning the midnight oil to make sure you know her name.

The day we chat, on the eve of her new mixtape’s release, Heavy Rules, she is already back in the studio with Britney Spears’s songwriter Jesse Saint John, laying down tracks for her debut album out later this year. “I try to take three days and go home as much as I can,” she says of taking down time, “But I also think that I have this opportunity now and I really wanna use it.”

A lot of hype is riding on the back of Rules, but she’s already fast-tracked to working with the best in the biz, and there’s no question that ALMA will be sticking around to make—and break—more rules in the pop sphere to come.

TREY TAYLOR: You’ve been in L.A. on and off recording new music for the last year. Do you feel like the more that you come to America, the more you adopt the culture?

ALMA: I think I’m super fucking Finnish. I’m so Finnish, so European, so Nordic. There’s always a part of me where I’m like … America—I don’t know how to be here. But I really try.

TAYLOR: What do you mean you don’t know how to be here?

ALMA: You know, the culture is different. Here [in L.A.] the sun is shining all the time and everybody’s super nice and it’s just happy, and in Finland, it’s always dark and snowing and raining and people are not nice. People have their little families and we’re very close to our families and never talk to anybody else. I love that culture because I grew up there. I love that you get to be so much in your own thoughts and in silence in a way. So when I come here I’m overwhelmed with the love, with the happiness, you know?

TAYLOR: Has anyone ever called you out for being cold or bitchy?

ALMA: Yes. When I first started to come here people [I worked with] were like, “You don’t like this song, or you don’t like this beat,” and I’m like, “No! I love it!” In Finland, if someone shows you something you’re like, “Oh that’s nice.” And Americans think [by that you mean], “Oh, it’s shit.” In America you say, “Oh, it’s wonderful, it’s amazing! It’s so amazing!” Now I understand that, but in Finland if you like something it’s like, “It’s nice. It’s good.”

TAYLOR: Is there a kind of Nordic pop alliance between you and MØ and Tove Lo?

ALMA: I just think it’s super easy to work with Nordic people like MØ and Tove Lo and Tove Styrke just because we have the same culture. So I think all the Scandinavian people, we just wanna be close to each other. It’s just easy. It’s super natural.

TAYLOR: I feel like those girls are dominating the pop landscape, and I would include Charli XCX in there as well, because I haven’t stopped listening to Pop 2 since it came out. Why do you think it is—and I’m including you in this—that they are able to push music forward and avoid the formulaic chart-topping stuff that you usually hear on the radio?

ALMA: I think it has something to do with where we’re from. Everybody like me, and at least what I know about MØ and Tove Lo and Tove Styrke—everybody’s making demos and rock songs in their home countries. At least with me, when I’m working in Finland, I don’t think about what this song should look like or sound like; I’m just vibing. That’s where it comes from. When I’m in America, we’re trying always to fit the song [we’re working on] into a box because all the biggest songs come from L.A. When we’re working in Scandinavia and Europe, people aren’t thinking about [that]. There’s no pressure. So people are just doing weird and cool stuff without the pressure.

TAYLOR: K-pop star CL, Grimes and Madonna have all been struggling recently to release music. Grimes and her label 4AD unfollowed one another on Twitter. It’s this weird thing where they’ve created this amazing music that they wanna share but the labels they work with are like, “There’s not a hit here,” or whatever.

ALMA: When you’re signed to a big label and they’re giving money for you to do things, you can’t [do whatever you want]. Like, I wouldn’t be able to make a totally indie punk record. You need to find the balance. You always need to do the most real “you” stuff, but you’re still signed to a label, so it’s a tricky one. But yeah, the Grimes thing, I think she doesn’t even need a label. Why doesn’t she just make her own label or something? She should just go away from the big labels and make her own things without [label support]. I would think that would be the solution.

TAYLOR: Yeah, totally. A few people were pointing out online that it only really happens with female artists. Like Justin Timberlake released his self-indulgent Man of the Woods album talking about how he’s a forest man now and people don’t seem to mind, whereas if Grimes wants to do that her minders are like, “What the fuck Grimes? Where’s the hit?!”

ALMA: Yeah. I don’t have a clue, I haven’t listened to the Justin Timberlake album.

TAYLOR: [laughs] Don’t waste your time.

ALMA: Justin Timberlake is not my favorite.

TAYLOR: I saw that you were in the studio with songwriter Jesse Saint John.

ALMA: Yeah, I’m making the album at the moment. The mixtape was, I wanted to give something to the fans and to the people because I’m going on tour and I have these festival shows and everything, and it feels super horrible to play these gigs and to have so few songs out. I needed to release stuff. But yeah! I’m working on the album and I hope that it comes out later this year, or early next year.

TAYLOR: You’ve gone from zero to 100, working with French Montana and getting compliments from Elton John. When you reflect back on this past year, how does it feel?

ALMA: I haven’t had time to stop and think about all the things that have happened but it’s just crazy. I’m super glad and super honored that people like me. It’s just crazy. Also as a Finnish person that has never happened. I’m the only one from Finland, so it just feels super good.

TAYLOR: I saw that you and Jesse were listening to t.A.T.u.

ALMA: Yeah, I love them.

TAYLOR: What do you love about them?

ALMA: Every time I go to Finland, I go to flea markets and I just buy albums. I saw that album and I was like, “Fuuuuck, I need to buy this!” I just love how rebellious they are. Like, they’re from fucking Russia and they’re talking about lesbian love and crazy stuff that you shouldn’t be saying in Russia, you know? It’s dangerous and I love when people are making super risky moves—especially females. I really hope that they make a comeback.

TAYLOR: Do you remember when you first heard their music?

ALMA: I was in Finland, I was like seven or eight. I couldn’t understand that much but I just felt the energy, then a couple years later I started to understand what they’re saying and I loved them even more.

TAYLOR: I’m wondering if you can explain what the name of your mixtape, Heavy Rules, means?

ALMA: Heavy Rules. Do you wanna know? [laughs] Okay, this is a funny story. I went to a flea market and I bought this heavy metal cap and it said “heavy rules” on it. That’s where I got the mixtape name. It’s like, heavy metal rules. Heavy rules—I think that it has two meanings. It also means there are super heavy rules in the world right now and I’m breaking them.

TAYLOR: How would you say that you’re breaking rules?

ALMA: I think just because I’m different to how other pop artists look—at least I feel that way. I’m a bit different to what the pop girls are at the moment. I would love to see different kinds of women on the pop charts just making music because I’m super fed up with just seeing super pretty girls singing nice songs, you know?

TAYLOR: How do you decide who to work with?

ALMA: Me and Charli [XCX] started chatting on Twitter and then we met at a party and that’s how I started working with Charli and Tove Lo. And I wanted to work with [songwriter] Justin [Tranter] so I contacted him and Jesse [Saint John]. I love Jesse. I just like to work with people that I like and I can have fun with.

TAYLOR: Tove Lo has a very explicit stance on sexuality and singing about sex. Do you ever want to sing about sexuality and owning your sex?

ALMA: Yeah. I think Tove Lo is doing the sexual thing in a good way, I think it’s super fun. I would say someday. I don’t know how to write about sex yet. I’m too young [laughs] but, definitely someday because sex is nice.