Roughly a year ago now, a strange series of events began to unfold in the indie blogosphere. An unknown Norwegian singer named Annie started making waves through a sugary pop song with a mischievous boy-bashing chorus. “Chewing Gum,” it would turn out, was only the beginning. Before long, other tracks would leak onto the ‘Net and spread like wildfire. By the end of the year, the buzz had reached a fever pitch. That other online magazine even declared “Heartbeat,” another Annie track, to be the top single of 2004, despite that it had yet to be released in North America. A rational individual might ask, “What gives? Why would a scene that champions the left of the dial start drooling over syrupy Scandinavian pop?” More on that later. For now, let’s turn our attention to the source material, Anniemal, which sees its North American release this summer on Big Beat.
It might seem tempting on the surface to pigeonhole Annie as just another young poptart singing vapid ear candy for the masses, but you’d be better served to tune out your inner cynic for a second and dig a little deeper. Annie’s not about to supplant Bob Dylan as a lyricist, but many of the songs found on Anniemal do offer refreshing divergences from the standard pop formula that currently dominates the airwaves. “Chewing Gum,” set to a disco beat and synthed-out handclaps, will take up residence in your head for days with its addictive chorus: “Oh no! Oh no! You’ve got it all wrong/ You think you’re chocolate, but you’re chewing gum.” Closer “My Best Friend” is a touching electro-ballad seemingly in remembrance of Tore E. Kroknes, Annie’s former musical collaborator and lover who died in 2001 at age twenty-three of complications from a heart defect.
The album peaks, of course, with the much-lauded “Heartbeat.” One of the sparser songs on the album production-wise, the organic bass line that serves as the song’s backbone eventually segues into a driving, dance-rock beat. Accented by the occasional cymbal crash and organ flourishes, the song is beautiful in its simplicity. Recounting the thrill of a night out marked by the rush of a romantic encounter; the song resonates so strongly because of its universal applicability.
The truth of that statement leads us back to our original question: Why did a musical community that often prides itself on the inaccessibility of its idols embrace an artist whose music is destined for the mainstream? You could argue that Anniemal, with its more realized sound that references everything from electro-disco to Motown, is in a category wholly different from the current pop landscape. This line of thought falls flat. As much as the album may be a breath of fresh air, it still resembles what the Britney’s on our side of the Atlantic are putting out, closer than many would like to admit. The answer is instead much more fundamental in nature: Pop music, when done right, acts as the universal soundtrack of our lives. Capable of encapsulating the myriad desires and emotions we all share, it serves as a bridge that spans across even the widest chasms of musical taste.