If you’re a regular reader of this site, then this lady really needs no introduction. She’s the biggest selling female artist in Scandinavia this year, but it’s strange to think that before February, most of us didn’t have a clue who she was – despite the fact that she had a whole army of fans of a different sort of music altogether pre-2009.
It’s Malena Ernman. The world famous opera singer who decided to try her hand at making a pop song, and witnessed as it took on a life all of its own and brought her along for the hectic ride. On the way, it introduced her to a whole new world and a whole new group of fans. ‘La Voix’ was the song. It entered Melodifestivalen…it won…it went to compete at the Eurovision Song Contest…it made the final…it saw its concept be turned into a whole pop album…the album went to number one and sold platinum within six weeks…Malena earned a considerably large new fanbase. All this whilst still appeasing her old fan base – her album ‘La Voix Du Nord’ is a double album with a pop CD and an opera CD.
The latest development in the fascinating Malena Ernman story is that this weekend when she comes to London to perform at an opera concert at the Royal Opera Hall, she’ll also be performing her very first UK pop concert – at none other than scandipop live! (all details here).
We had a chat with Malena to find out her thoughts, if she’s had a minute to gather them yet! Here’s what she said;
scandipop: Hi Malena, how are you?
Malena Ernman: Fine thank you, how are you?
scandipop: I’m very good thank you, I’m very excited about the weekend. Are you looking forward to your trip to London?
Malena Ernman: Oh I can’t wait, it’s gonna be fantastic! I’m gonna sing as much pop music as possible! I love baroque music but I’ve been singing it non stop for three weeks now, so I can’t wait to do something else.
scandipop: So you’ve got some opera gigs on the Saturday and then of course your pop gig at scandipop on the Sunday. Obviously you’ve made a career out of doing opera performances, but how often have you done pop shows back in Sweden, since making the pop side of your album?
Malena Ernman: I have done a couple of them. But you see, the thing is, I usually mix my concerts anyway. I mix some Mozart, Puccini, with a bit of a pop sound and a bit of jazz too. But I’ve never done music like this before! The last six months have been a big adventure.
scandipop: Do you enjoy the more laidback and fun aspect of the pop shows?
Malena Ernman: I do, yes. They’re a good way of showing off my voice. I find it quite relaxing for my voice to use all of the register that I use when performing pop songs. It’s very relaxing to sing that kind of music, and I find that I can do what I want while I sing it, I can improvise. With classical baroque music, it’s quite rigid and you have to stick to whatever the composer has written. But with pop music it’s different.
scandipop: Are you surprised at how quickly pop fans have taken you to their hearts?
Malena Ernman: Yes, it’s been amazing! We have this chart in Sweden called Svensktoppen, and for the first time ever they have an opera singer on it. And people find that a bit strange (laughs).
scandipop: I think they also admire you for the fact that you’re willing to perform at a venue like the Royal Opera House one evening, and then at a small Soho club the following evening!
Malena Ernman: Yes, I actually can’t wait to perform there more than anything. Because that’s much more me. Yes I’m an opera singer and I’ve been singing opera ever since I was 24 or 25, but you know I used to be a dancer and I used to do a lot of cabaret songs too. But still, it’s been a big big step for me this year to be able to do pop shows, shows other than my opera concerts. I have a whole new audience now, lots of children are writing to me. My audience now is from 5 years old to 95 years old!!! So it’s fantastic. And they all buy the CD too. It sold platinum in six or seven weeks, which is a record for me, I’ve never seen anything like that before. My new audience are the type of people who actually buy a physical CD, because of course not many people actually buy anything any more. Before Eurovision, my fans were always a lot older. But the new audience, they love ‘La Voix’, they sing it to me…..
scandipop: Or at least everyone tries to sing it!
Malena Ernman: Yes, ha ha, they try to sing it. But it’s good, the children sing all the high notes to me. People sing along everywhere. And they don’t even know and understand the French words! They just make up the wrong kind of words and sing along. It’s lovely.
scandipop: It’s actually quite similar at scandipop events when we play songs in Swedish – everybody just makes up words and syllables and sings along, it’s great fun!
Malena Ernman: (laughs), oh that’s fantastic, that’s so funny, I can’t wait to see it! I mean, we all do it don’t we? I used to do it myself, to Abba when I was six or seven years old. I had no idea what they were singing about. Actually I was quite disappointed when I found out what they were singing about – all about love and everything that comes with that. But I sang along anyway.
scandipop: So…tell us about your time at Eurovision this year.
Malena Ernman: Oh that was an experience, ha ha, I have to say. Eurovision is so huge in Sweden, you can’t imagine. And they were ALL watching it and wanting me to win of course. It was an adventure, but also a strange situation, I have to tell you. A lot of people don’t even sing and they end up getting high points anyway! I think some people weren’t used to hearing opera, because you don’t often see opera take part, so I wasn’t expecting to do very well. But then I made it into the finals. And I’m an opera singer for God’s sake, I’m not supposed to be there even. I didn’t have as much time to concentrate as the others you know, I had to work! I’d already had commitments that I had to do, because if I didn’t then they could have sued me. So I didn’t expect to win in Sweden and then I didn’t expect to make it to the finals either. But I couldn’t cancel things, I couldn’t do that. So I had to work so hard, and then of course I have two children, and they ended up getting ill. So yes, it was a hard month, a month I wouldn’t do again for anything in the world (laughs). But no, it was fun, oh my God! It’s given me the chance to do my new CD, and get a whole new audience, and get to do a pop show in London. It’s all good. Many good things have come from it.
scandipop: It’s very fair to say though that you finished a lot lower than you should have. What’s your opinion on that?
Malena Ernman: Well, like I say, I din’t even expect to make the final at all. Norway was always meant to win. But still, there were so many other countries there that really really wanted to win, they put a lot of money into it. Some things are fair and some things aren’t fair, but we all knew that Norway was going to win, which was fair. Besides, I have my own career and others didn’t really have any career outside of Eurovision, so I guess that I’m the lucky one in that way! I got to go along on a ride for a couple of months, look into a strange world, and then go back to my own world afterwards. And I was very happy to do that, very relieved. I have lots of fond memories. I met a lot of nice people. And I also met a lot of gay fans too which was nice, because of course there was a gay parade going on. And then I went on Russian television and said something which I probably shouldn’t have said (laughs). I had an interview on Russian television, and the Spanish representative Soraya was there too. And they were talking about the gay parade and being quite anti gay. And I said something which got me in trouble. They asked us what we thought of the issue and I said that Russia was wrong for wanting to ban the gay parade and for treating the gay people the way that they do. I told them all gay people should be treated the same as everyone else because they are equals. But that didn’t go down very well (laughs).
scandipop: That’s so wonderful that you stood up for what you believed in though and weren’t afraid to speak out.
Malena Ernman: Yes, but it’s just the background I come from, you know. I come from a wonderful country, both Sweden and Denmark and Norway and Finland, we’re all very liberal countries, and we’re all very liberal about things like that. And Russian tv asked me about it and I really wanted to tell them my opinion. For me it’s very important. Especially with the type of music I do. So many people I’ve worked with in theatre are gay, and all kinds of people. And so I thought it was very important to point out that we’re all equal! So many of my friends are gay and I love them so much.
scandipop: That’s so cool of you. So…..have you still got the dress from Eurovision?!
Malena Ernman: Ha ha, the dress. I don’t still have it no. It was lent to me and apparently it cost so much money but I have no idea how much it cost. It was a beautiful dress but I have no idea where it is now. I think they’re giving it away to charity.
scandipop: And have you kept a mask or two?!
Malena Erman: The masks were given away to a drag show called After Dark….
scandipop: Oh wow, After Dark! I love them.
Malena Ernman: Oh I can’t believe you know them.
scandipop: *precedes to sing ‘La Dolve Vita’*
Malena Ernman: Yes, them. They do a show about me and some other Swedish singers, so we gave the masks away to them.
scandipop: And of course since Eurovision, you made your very first pop album! And straight away you’ve worked with the best names in pop music – Anders Hanssen, Alexander Bard, and Fredrik Kempe. Were they people that you knew that you wanted or did your label point you in the right direction?
Malena Ernman: Well with Anders Hanssen, he already works a lot with my record label and so he was there every day whilst I was there. I asked him if he wanted to work on it and he really really did because he had never worked with a classical music artist before, so he wanted to try that. And Fredrik Kempe had written ‘La Voix’ already, so I knew I wanted to make more songs with him. And we ended up with some wonderful songs I think. We recorded it in three days, ha ha! It took me three days to do all of them in the studio.
scandipop: Wow, it certainly sounds very good for three days work!
Malena Ernman: Oh, thank you very much. I was excited, and so I work fast when I enjoy what I do.
scandipop: They’ve each got a rich back catalogue of amazing tracks. Do you have any favourites of theirs that made you really want to work with them? For example, Anders wrote ‘Release Me’ for Agnes which has really blown up all over the world this year.
Malena Ernman: Yes exactly! I know Anders very well actually, he’s a wonderful talent. And of course when I realised that Anders had written all of her songs, I couldn’t really say no to him could I! So all of the Agnes stuff and then my album, it all happened around the same time, and I think Anders has been in a bit of a shock really! It’s been a big shock for him. He’s a really nice man.
scandipop: Yes, I met him actually in Malmo last year. He’s so modest and down to earth.
Malena Ernman: Yes, very modest. A Father of two girls, he’s very ordinary and very shy, a typical Swedish guy. But it’s much easier to work with these guys than somebody who is a God or a diva. There are no divas in this small business, this record company (Roxy Recordings), they’re all very very normal people. I only like to work with normal people, ha ha!
scandipop: So, La Voix Du Nord….it’s sold so well back in Sweden! And it’s been released digitally all around the world, including here in the UK. Is there going to be a follow up single after ‘La Voix’?
Malena Ernman: I think there will be yes. In Sweden they’ve already started playing the Swedish track from my album, ‘Min Plats Pa Jorden’, the one that Benny Andersson plays on.
scandipop: Ok, and what are your plans for the next six months, musically?
Malena Ernman: Musically, my plans are back in Sweden and Denmark and Scandinavia, singing at lots of concerts. And lots of Christmas concerts in Sweden. And then I’m going to Estonia for New Years Eve to sing at a gala there. Then Brussels to do a Mozart opera. I have so many concerts coming up! But also I plan to relax!
scandipop: Yeah you probably need to relax after this year, I imagine it’s been your busiest year ever hasn’t it?
Malena Ernman: Yes I’m more tired than I thought I ever could be. I’m waiting for the winter to call so that I can go to bed for a bit!
scandipop: Ok! When you go back into the studio to record, will it be an opera album, a pop album, or a mix of both?
Malena Ernman: Well we want to do the classical/pop thing again because it sold so well in Sweden the first time. But I also have an exciting project soming up where we are going to do something connected with Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish opera singer. She died 100 years ago. And people always say that I sound more like her than anybody else does. The BBC are actually filming me in London this weekend for a documentary they are making about her. And there’s also going to be a big Hollywood movie about her starring Hugh Jackman. So there’ll probably be a CD in a year or so related to that.
scandipop: That sounds good. So, as the reigning winner of Melodifestivalen, who would you like to see take your crown next year?
Malena Ernman: Hmm, that’s a very good question. I’ve already been asked if I’d do it again and I’ve said no thank you. There are so many good singers out there though! I think it would be good to see not a pop singer, but a singer from a different world, like maybe a jazz singer. Or an actor? I don’t know. Or maybe they should ask Benny Andersson to write a song on the piano with a couple of good singers – it worked for the UK didn’t it, with Andrew Lloyd Webber!
scandipop: So you think Sweden should go for something very different next year?
Malena Ernman. Yes. And I think they need to put on a big show. If we want to participate in Eurovision, we have to put on a show.
scandipop: And my final question has to be, would you enter again?!
Malena Ernman: I don’t know. I wouldn’t. I think you should only participate once, and I won, so that’s it. And I never even thought I was going to do it once! No, I’m not gonna do it again. I’ll certainly continue with the pop concerts, I’m going to be there for my new audience always. But not Melodifestivalen, I think.
scandipop: But it’s good because that means that you’ve done it once and now you’ve left, but you’ve left at the very top.
Malena Ernman: Exactly. Some people do enter again and again like Charlotte Perrelli and Carola, but I’m happy just doing it the once.
scandipop: Cool. Well thank you very much Malena and I shall see you at the weekend!
Malena Ernman: Yes, see you then. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone.
And she performs at scandipop live this weekend on Sunday 11th. Doors open at 7pm, entry is £6, and it takes place at Escape on Brewer Street in Soho, London.
Her album ‘La Voix Du Nord’ is available to purchase on iTunes right now, in most countries, including the UK.