Growing up in a town two hours from Norway’s capital didn’t offer Julie Bergan much interaction with the music industry: “I remember looking at my CDs to figure out what labels existed so I could try to get a record deal.”
Speaking to EUPHORIA. over the phone from her present-day home in Oslo, the 26-year old singer-songwriter now boasts two domestic chart-toppers and 500 million Spotify streams. Since the release of her 2018 debut LP, she’s lent her voice to EDM behemoths like Alan Walker and R3HAB, and this year dropped a string of addictive dance-pop anthems, that pair her mighty vocals with empowering lyrics– most recently on the Seeb team-up “Don’t You Wanna Play.” As Bergan’s music reaches a growing international audience, her childhood drive and pragmatism haven’t waned. “To be able to travel or have my own tour in different parts of the world – that’s definitely my goal with this. But I’m trying to take it one step at a time, and one country at a time and just build it stone by stone.”
We chat about her upcoming EP, opening for Justin Bieber, and Norway’s knack for producing international popstars.
“Don’t You Wanna Play” is the new single, and sees you collaborate again with Seeb, following “Kiss Somebody” in January. What were you guys hoping to achieve this time around? I think first and foremost, we just really enjoy working with each other, and I think our sounds merge in a really good way. After we worked together on “Kiss Somebody,” we were just like: “Well we have to do this again.” We just wanted to release a fun, summer song that was really playful and fitted both of our personalities as artists really well.
How did you guys first connect? They’re Norwegian and I’m Norwegian, and it’s a pretty small country so we knew about each other from before. We always bump into each other at the studio, and we’ve always talked about how we really wanted to work together because I’m a big fan of theirs and they’re a big fan of mine. With “Kiss Somebody,” they just heard it because we were at the studio next to them and they were like, “Oh my god, we love the song – we really wanna join!”
For such a small country, Norway’s produced lots of international stars in recent years (Sigrid, Kygo, Seeb, Astrid S). Is there something in the water over there? I don’t know, but I think it’s maybe because we are a small country– unlike when you’re in The States, and there are so many people competing for the same thing. Maybe we don’t feel that much pressure, so we let our creativity just like live in a less competitive way, and then it’s easier to create and think new maybe. If it happens, it just happens in a natural way– without all the competition.
You first decided you wanted to be an artist aged 11. As a young girl, in a small town in Norway, how did you work to make it happen? I was doing a lot of dance classes, and I was singing at home all the time. Both my parents sing and play the piano and stuff as well, so I was always asking them to play while I sang. And, I was doing a lot of research online. I was just like: “I’m not sure how I’m gonna make this happen, but I’m just gonna try everything that I can and try to get as much experience and rehearsal as possible, so I’m prepared the day it does happen.”
Fast forward to age 18 and you signed a record deal. What was it like navigating the music industry as a teenager? I think the hard part is, when you’re at that age it’s hard to know who you are, what kind of music you wanna do, how to stand up for yourself, what you’re gonna wear. It was just having the confidence to say like: “This is what I wanna do, this is the type of music I wanna do, this is the kind of live artist I wanna be.”
Your new EP is more playful and uplifting than the last one. What took you in that direction? I think it happened naturally, because all of the stuff I’m singing about in this EP and the previous one, are themes or concepts that are close to my heart. So, it kind of just happens in a natural way and also for me, being a woman in the music business– it’s about empowering women to stand up for themselves and know their worth, and not be underestimated or judged for taking up space or being who they are.
For one of the tracks, “Commando,” you got your fans involved in making the video. Is it important for you to interact with them a lot? It’s definitely really, really important. Since we’re not doing the tour this year, and since everyone is at home, or not able to go to shows and dance, or have that social part together– I just really wanted to create a video that could bring that feeling of being together and having fun, without having to be in the same room, or city, or country.
It’s obvious in the video that your music really appeals to young people especially. Growing-up, which artists did you love? Different kinds of artists but, Shania Twain– I loved her, and I think she was really cool and really sassy. The same with Rhianna and Beyoncé and stuff, because they seemed so tough. They were like badass women, and they made me feel cool and confident when I was singing their songs.
Like those people, you’ve done some massive performances in recent years such as Coachella or TV shows in Norway. How do you approach creating big spectacles like that? I always try to go in and do something that I’ve not done before. I’m always trying to push the limits and challenge myself and come up with something new and whole. When it comes to the lighting, or the colors I’m wearing, or the choreography, or if I’m going to have a band or dancers or both, or just me– I think I always try to be as creative as possible and always challenge myself and find a new way to do things.
You also supported Justin Bieber in 2016. What was that like? That was crazy because I grew up listening to him as a teenager. So, it was just surreal. But it was definitely huge, and I always think it’s nice to be able to meet new audiences that may or may not have heard about me before because then I get a chance to let them get to know me and my music.
Did you get to meet him? I met him briefly backstage, and he was super nice to everyone.
On the topic of musical heavyweights – this summer you’ve also collaborated with UK Funky pioneer Crazy Cousinz on “Outline.” Tell me how that came about? We’re actually label mates– he’s signed at Warner in the UK and I’m here at Warner in Norway. I knew about him from before, because I had his songs on my playlists. So, I really liked his music as well. And then, I think they found me – I don’t know how. But they wrote that song and they were like, “Oh my god, she would be perfect for it.” And, when I saw that it was Crazy Cousinz I was like, “Oh my god, I know who he is.” So, I really wanted to join.
You’ve managed to scoop some big music awards already in Norway and France. Is there a particular accolade you would love to win in the future? I think of course everyone is working towards a GRAMMY or a BRIT, but something I would like is to be awarded like Live Artist of the Year or Album of the Year because that’s like a whole project. Of course, just getting any recognition at all– I would be super excited no matter what it was.
Speaking of albums, should we be expecting a sophomore record anytime soon? There might be an album in the works, but I don’t wanna say too much just yet. But, I’m definitely in the studio a lot and writing a lot of new music these days.
The lockdown period must have given you a rare opportunity for some downtime too. Apart from making music, how have you been filling it? I’ve been watching different documentaries. The Michael Jordan documentary on Netflix is amazing. I always love watching music, or sports documentaries because I love to see how other people were thinking or working and how their mind works and stuff like that.
And once the world gets moving again, what would you love to achieve by this time next year? I would love to play a show in the UK and release lots of music. And, also I just hope that I keep getting better at what I do and I am actually able to develop and grow as a musician and as a person and that I release music that I’m really happy with and that people can relate to. Hopefully also have a tour outside of Norway – that would be amazing!