Annie

Hey Annie!

Two words to greet a pretty girl. But for the girl, a renaissance. Annie, the blonde beauty and mononominal pop star from Norway, emerges from the London Underground on the third day of autumn, and she’s met with those words – the very same that open her long awaited sophomore album, Don’t Stop. There, the opening track begins with an emphatic roll of drums, the long sounding of an apito whistle, and then, “Hey Annie!” It’s a chorus, a call to arms to stop waiting around and do something. In this case, dance. And after more than a year of delays, disputes with her former label, Island Records, and at least one tracklist shuffle, there’s perhaps an element of surprise in those words too. Because they don’t just signal an introduction—they signal a hard-won reintroduction. And they’re not just for any pretty girl. They’re for Annie, bubblegum pop’s comeback kid.

Crossing Piccadilly into Green Park for a quiet place to chat, she breathes a sigh of relief. Last September, the scheduled release date for Don’t Stop came and went without an actual release. Then, for two months, Island Records steadfastly refused to set a new date and fans were left holding their breath. In November, frustrated with the delays, Annie left Island and took control of the album with her own label, Totally. “I’m so much happier now,” she says. “I feel much stronger since I started my own label.” This month, Annie finally releases Don’t Stop through Totally and Smalltown Supersound, a small label based in Oslo. The scale-down, Annie says, was a relief. “When you’re on a label, they say, ‘Oh, we really like you because you know what you want, and blah blah blah,’” she says. “But when it comes down to it, they don’t want what you want.”

And Annie knows what she wants. “Hey Annie,” the album’s opener, is the song she’s always wanted to make. Something powerful, something forceful. “Lots of drums!” she chimes. The beginning of a new direction. “It’s a little different than Anniemal,” she says, referencing her 2004 debut album, which drew praise for layering synths, electronic blips and drum machine beats on top of one another and then somehow transforming them into perfectly measured, gossamer pop songs. That “Hey Annie” never appeared on Island’s tracklist for Don’t Stop is no coincidence. When Nick Gatfield, Island’s UK president, left to join EMI, Annie was left spinning with a revolving door of newcomers that took over the project and didn’t share her vision. When it became clear that the label didn’t know what to do with her, the two parted on creative differences. “Too many cooks, too much mess,” she says now, sweetly. (Less sweetly: “I think they realized that they fucked up.”)

Now, with a clean slate, the masters to the roughly 60 tracks she’s recorded since 2007, and a new honest-to-God-out-now album, Annie sits in a deck chair on this 47-acre expanse of grassland in the middle of London ready to stop talking business, and start talking music. But before she can, park watchmen inform her that those deck chairs aren’t free – 1.5£ for two hours, 2£ for four – and she decides to get up for a stroll. “I’ll just run away from the people that want my money,” she says in the best deadpan her bubbly Scandinavian accent will allow. Even talking about her albums, it seems, takes more than one false start. But Annie is no stranger to false starts. While it’s been five years since her debut album, it’s been 10 years since her debut single.

It was in the late Nineties that Anne Lilia Berge Strand met her boyfriend, Tore Andreas Kroknes, famous in Bergen’s local club scene as DJ Erot, and downsized from four names to one to become Annie. In collaboration with Kroknes, Annie recorded her first single, “Greatest Hit,” an erratic, infectious Eighties techno throwback that sampled Madonna’s debut, “Everybody.” In 1999 it was released in 500 limited edition, 7-inch vinyls that spread among Europe’s underground music aficionados and launched Annie’s career. But two years later, everything crashed. Kroknes, who was born with a degenerative heart defect, was hospitalized and passed away in April 2001. His death halted Annie’s life. But after a three-year reclusion, she began recording Anniemal. Though the album was full of catchy, witty pop songs and disco beats, its soul was “My Heartbeat,” a simple, punk-tinged ode to Kroknes. It was a pop song, like all pop songs, about love, about dancing with a boy: “Feel my heartbeat, feel my heartbeat now,” sung over a pulsing drum machine and breathy synths. Then, a pop song about not dancing with a boy: “Feel my heartbeat now, somehow.” The beauty was that, despite its palpable sadness, it was still the perfect pop song. Catchy, sweet, and affecting. Annie’s saccharine bubblegum pop and her wide, elastic smile, it seemed, belied a genuineness so rudely overlooked in modern pop.

With Don’t Stop, the genuineness is there again. But this time, it’s a different beast. It shows itself in a newfound aggressiveness—in tight melodies and thumping beats that would approach Eurotrash disco if not for Annie’s steady hand over the synthesizers. (The demo for “Take You Home,” an intense R&B-inspired track, was recorded on Annie’s computer using nothing but GarageBand.) “This time around, I was much more secure,” says Annie. “Much more me.” In “My Love Is Better,” a classic power-pop song with Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos on guitar, she sings with a new exuberance that would make the lesser women on the dancefloor cower. Then “Bad Times,” another personal dance rhapsody that Annie says is still “a little bit scary” to perform, follows like the climax of a love story in a downpour. But where Annie finally bares her teeth most fiercely is “I Don’t Like Your Band,” another track absent from Island’s original list, and one in which she throws every beat and blip, every noise in her electro-pop arsenal into creating an enrapturing dance opus. And when she proclaims that she doesn’t like your band, she spits it out like a bullet.

There’s a tenacity in Don’t Stop that surely existed before the album took so literally to the challenge in its name. But it’s hard not to see how it’s transformed into a sort of promise. As if making up for lost time, Annie says that she’s already started work on a third album. And then, as if preempting another round of introductions, she adds, “It’s not going to take that long.”

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