Four Swedish female singers have wrangled their creativity out of difficult times and in their own genres have each discovered the positive to be found in music and life
Eclectic entertainer Jenny Wilson, groovy gospel giver Janice, post-punk preacher Nicole Sabouné, and state-of-the-art soul singer Seinabo Sey – these four very different Swedish performers have one thing in common: they have all released excellent new music during this past year, works that share introspective qualities and uplifting messages wrapped in relentlessly realistic writing. Jenny Wilson’s seventh full-length album, Mästerverket (The Masterpiece), is her second in Swedish and her most revealing and self-examining one to date. Janice has put out singles ‘Let It Rain’ and ‘Magic’ from her new EP Feelings Unresolved, songs that offer a warm embrace and reassurance that even the toughest turns can be passed and forgotten. Nicole Sabouné’s 2021 album Attachment Theory, her first since 2015 debut album Miman, deals with rootlessness in entrancing heavy ballads that bring greats like Nick Cave and Siouxsie Sioux to mind. And Seinabo Sey’s EP Sweet Life marks her finding of both herself and a more harmonic way to approach music and the life that surrounds it.
Jenny Wilson has not only released Mästerverket this year, but also produced Nicole’s Attachment Theory. The duo is a surprising match made in heaven. “Jenny, beloved Jenny,” Nicole says affectionately. “She has as much a part of this album as I do. Jenny is the best we have in Sweden, and in my opinion absolutely unique internationally.”
“On Mästerverket, I reflect and reason regarding how things have gone the way they have, how one thing led to another in a dark downward spiral that took place during nearly a decade,” Jenny explains. “I look at repellent feelings like shame and loneliness, trying to understand and to forgive myself and the world I’m living in. But, during this wandering, there’s always hope of illumination, like safety reflectors in the dark.”
Jenny has spent this precarious pandemic period making music at an impressive pace, probably in part due to the isolation. “I liked the feeling of being more by myself, and I finished three whole albums from scratch,” she says. “I quit drinking alcohol in early 2020, so in many ways it was helpful that all nightlife was shut down, and I could do things that were good for me instead.”
Just like Attachment Theory, Mästerverket dwells on difficult topics but manages to point out a stream of light breaking through the thick clouds. “Just as on all my albums, I have used my most personal experiences as material for the lyrics,” Jenny says. “The record ends in what I would call ‘lightening’. Not euphoria, not obvious happiness, but a ‘lightening’…”
Janice Kavander, who is better known as just Janice, is well aware of the healing power of music. “For me, music has been a great salvation for rainy days and difficult periods in life,” says Janice. “During my grieving after the passing of my father, music opened me up to being able to talk about what I felt I couldn’t articulate for a long time. I believe that music’s healing power is enormous.” When listening to her song ‘Let It Rain’, and the rest of the Feelings Unresolved EP, you can both hear and feel this restorative power washing over you like a rebirthing flood, a catharsis of sorts. Resolving these feelings is what Janice calls “a work in progress”, involving the dissection and inspection of the emotions at hand.
“I have spent this rainy year reflecting a lot about what the past years have been like, about what I want to say and meditate with my music,” she says. “I have also thrown myself out there and done things I’ve only dreamt of. I see the light so strongly, it might already be here? I don’t think I have ever been this ready to show much more of myself.”
Nicole Sabouné, whose Attachment Theory shows tremendous artistic development, paired with her growth as a person, says the years since her last album “have really been a journey” that has given her new perspectives on her attempts to revitalize her self-confidence. “I feel like I’ve become calmer and braver,” Nicole claims. “Some say you get less brave with time, but to me it has been the opposite way. I’ve dared to ask for help, dared to be vulnerable, and I think that might be reflected in the lyrics and the melodies in a way that it hasn’t before. I feel clearer now, to myself.”
Though sometimes bleak in tone, the subjects on Attachment Theory are tackled in a manner that I believe can help calm a listener’s anxieties, thanks to Nicole’s memorable and relatable lyrics – and her genuinely emotional performance. The album feels like it can take care of someone in need. “That’s wonderful!” Nicole says when I share this reaction. “To me,” she continues, “this album has been just that.” Maybe that’s why Attachment Theory works in this way for the listener, because Nicole herself has found it personally helpful while working on it.
“To me, music that feels completely right in the moment is crucial, helping me out of situations, boosting both laughter and tears or raising self-confidence – music that feels certain and uncompromising,” she says, also pointing out that she has tried to portray both light and dark angles on her album’s subjects, doing her best to turn “the ugly into something playful and pretty, but also letting the sad and the crestfallen remain the way it is.”
Seinabo Sey says she has learned a lot about herself in the past year, during which she has put out laid-back feel-good EP Sweet Life, and managed to keep herself going by reaching a tranquillity in her everyday life. Looking at the title of one of Seinabo’s hit songs from a few years back, such as ‘Hard Time’, and comparing it to the songs on Sweet Life, one could say the transition into serenity is clearly seen in her music.
“I almost can’t separate my life and my music anymore,” Seinabo says when I ask her about the part music has played in her getting to know herself better. “Music is everything, but at the same time, it’s nothing if I’m not feeling well. My music is only as good as I’m feeling. I think I’m more focused on what makes me truly happy now, than I’ve been before.”
Seinabo’s new, sweet life seems deeply connected to personal peacefulness and freedom, visible of course also in her work. “Freedom to me is choosing love before pride, and making all life decisions based on that,” she says, her voice draped in a wise calm that soothes the soul.
Could it be that this past year’s hardships and setbacks have forced us all into necessary self-reflection? Judging from Jenny’s, Janice’s, Nicole’s and Seinabo’s new masterpieces, this seems to be the case – and music is often the key in such an evaluation of the self.
@jennywilson_official; @janice.this; @nicolesaboune; @seinabosey
Words by FILIP LINDSTRÖM
Photography by ANTON RENBORG
Styling by Ellen X
Hair: KHADDY GASSAMA/SWEDISH HAIR MAFIA
Make-up: ELVIRA BRANDT
Stylist’s assistant: KEN MOGEKWU
Hair Stylist’s assistant: KHADIJAH MIRE
Photographer’s assistant: VANJA RENBORG
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