“Women in music need to create their own rules and not live by other people’s” NME meets Glowie

We caught up with the rising Icelandic star at the third of our 'Girls to the Front' events

It’s been a whirlwind few years for Icelandic artist Sara Pètursdóttir aka Glowie, one of the musicians who performed at NME’s  third Girls to the Front event at London’s Shacklewell Arms last night.

Winning a singing contest in her native Reykjavik aged just 16 sparked a label bidding war thanks to her bold style and assured artistic vision. Yet Glowie resisted the temptation to sign a record deal immediately, wanting instead to learn her craft and develop as an artist; she did, however, release two songs – both of which reached number one in Iceland.

Eventually, more confident of the 90’s tinged R&B pop sound she wanted to pursue, Glowie signed with Columbia, moved to the UK and released two critically acclaimed songs, each dealing with body positivity and mental health. She is currently working on her debut album.

In a recent Gurls Talk article that the 22-year-old penned, Glowie argued for women to be body positive and to resist conforming to age old industry norms and standards about how women should look and behave. “We  all try to ‘fit in’, we put on a mask, we pretend and we try to change ourselves for other people to take us seriously,” Glowie wrote. She later went further: “This year, I’m not going to be flawless, I’m going to be me: happy, emotional…me.” Writing candidly about the need to challenge damaging stereotypes of perfection, Glowie is developing her own powerful narrative and manifesto for change.

We caught up with Glowie ahead of her first performance at the Shacklewell Arms to discuss her roots in Iceland, why the music industry still needs to do more to ensure women have the platform they deserve and how issues of body positivity and mental health are important for her to explore.

Glowie

Photo: Chloe Hashemi

NME: You grew up in a very musical household in Iceland. Your dad was in a rock band, several of your siblings made music and your dad even built a recording studio at your home. When did you start to make music and how did being from such a musical family influence you?

Glowie: It was just music all the time at home so it was super normal to me. My dad used to have band rehearsals in our living room [laughs] and I would just watch, observe and learn. When they would take a break, I would sneak in and pretend I was in the band [laughs]. Music was the dream from as early as I can remember and it was the same for every one of my siblings too, they all did something in music but only me and my oldest brother are now doing it full time now. There was a lot of different kinds of music playing in my house; as I was the youngest one, I was just kind of just running around, getting a little bit of influence from everyone. My oldest brother introduced me to hip hop, my sister was more into Destiny’s Child and R&B and my younger brother was more into indie and rock so I was just kind of taking in everything and finding my own taste amongst all that.

NME: You’ve spoken about how making music in Iceland was very different from the UK and how as a woman, greater attention brought greater pressure in the industry over here…

Glowie: Yes it definitely does because there’s so many people and so many artists, you just have to fight a lot harder to be able to get some attention as a female. You often have to fit in this box that most people listen to. In Iceland, everything was so free and everybody was taking more risks, doing something different and you were okay to do that without much criticism. Here, I definitely have a lot of things to play with but I have to fight more to be heard to do that and to find my own style. I’m still kind of finding my sound and the sound that I want to pursue in the future; I think I’m leaning more into R&B and pop but I’m kind of mixing both together right now and finding a space within that.

NME: You’ve recently moved from your native Iceland to London. How have you found the change?

Glowie: At first, I was a little bit shocked because it’s so different, London is so large and crowded and there are so many people; I’m not used to that in Iceland where it’s so very quiet and very peaceful. It definitely took me some time but I really enjoy it now; I’ve been living here for about ten months and I actually really love how active it is and how no one really cares if you’re wearing something crazy or if you’re just singing out loud, no one cares [laughs]. You can just do what you want and be who you want to be and that’s what I love because in Iceland it’s very different. It’s likely that you’re going to meet someone you know when you go out and often you feel like you’re being judged all the time so here in London I feel really free; it’s liberating.

Glowie at NME's Girls To The Front

NME: Girls to the Front is all about showcasing female talent and creating a space where women and non-binary people in music can play and have a platform to express themselves. Do you think events like this are still needed to show the industry that greater equality on festival line-ups, for example, is easily achievable if the opportunity is given?

Glowie: Yes, I definitely think things like this need to be done more and more because there’s so many great women out there that have something important to say and have such great music to back it up and they’re not getting the opportunities they should be. We just need to shine a light on that a bit more I think.

I feel like the focus has been a lot on men for such a long time and there are so many great women in the music industry that really need to shine and need to get a chance to shine; I think it’s so important that we have these kind of nights where women can really open up and show just how incredible they are.

NME: What advice would you give to women starting out in the industry now based on your own experiences of what support is available? What barriers do we still face in the industry?

Glowie: First of all, I really get it. I’ve been through all of these things and I’m still dealing with it. It’s a long process but you have to just feel comfortable with who you are, what you want to wear, what you want to say; you mustn’t feel scared or like you ‘don’t fit in’ or ‘don’t belong’ which is what I felt. You have to express your opinion and just get it out there, not being afraid to share it; you have to block out the negativity of the industry and just stand on your own feet, be strong and also I think look to those female artists who’ve led the way before.

I think the industry is very slowly getting better definitely but it’s still a process, it still needs a lot more work. The pressure for women is still there but I think more and more females are starting to realise that they don’t have to follow the set rules and they can just do what they want; they’re starting to realise the importance of breaking down the barriers and we’re moving forward because of it.

So much of it is about believing in yourself and finding your own confidence and not letting other people’s opinions or how other people look and judge you affect you, you just have to be yourself, stay strong and be determined.

Glowie

NME: Recently you said “This year, I’m not going to be flawless, I’m going to be me – happy, emotional…” Do you think women still feel a pressure in the industry to still “look” and “behave” a certain way? How do you think women are starting to challenge that in the industry now?

Glowie: It’s just that awful word, “perfect” and “flawless”, what does that mean exactly? How can a person be flawless or perfect, because we aren’t that way naturally and yet it’s expected of us so much. We are just humans. We just have all kinds of emotions and we’re all different so why are we trying to conform to something that doesn’t exist? We can never be happy in that flawless world so why don’t we just embrace our differences and our flaws?

Oh the ‘Body’ video, my incredible director, Wendy Morgan, deliberately picked a huge big range of people, all sizes, shapes, backgrounds. We wanted it to look like real people, not full of super slim dancers that you always see in music videos; we just wanted it to feel like real people so everyone can connect with it and relate to it.

When I first started in music, I felt like I needed to dress a certain way, behave a certain way and talk a certain way for people to take me seriously because it’s just the way some people look at women: they don’t take you seriously if you look a certain way. We’re not allowed to have an opinion; we’re just supposed to be pretty and sing pretty songs.

I changed myself a lot in the early days; I changed the way I dressed and I saw a difference – people took me more seriously and they really looked me in the eyes when I was talking. That was really great, but still, I needed to be able to be myself and feel comfortable and be taken seriously at the same time. Ultimately, it’s just about fighting for what you believe in, getting your opinion out there and being strong. I think it’s changing, definitely, but it’s a long process; I think we just need to keep going, keep doing it and eventually change will come.

Glowie NME gig

NME: Your latest single, ‘Cruel’ is about your experiences of being bullied at school. Was it difficult to channel such a personal experience into your music?

Glowie: Definitely, yes, but it’s just so important to me to talk about these things and that outweighs the difficulty. I feel like that’s kind of my main purpose as a musician is to help people so I’ve been really pushing myself to talk about challenging things even though they’re difficult for me. It definitely took me some time to talk about the experiences of being bullied about my appearance at school, but today I actually feel strong enough to be able to talk about it, even though I get emotional sometimes in interviews or while I’m performing the song but that’s the beauty of it. It’s just me opening up and just giving a piece of my heart out there to hopefully help and inspire other people.

To me, music is always personal; it’s always something that is coming from my heart and I’m never just singing for the sake of it or to sing certain things people are asking me to sing about or what they want to hear. I sing what’s coming from my heart. 

NME: You’ve spoken a lot about how you are your own worst critic. Do you think this is something that women in the industry feel more intently thanks to being under a greater critical glare?

Glowie: I’ve actually never thought about that but it could be. I’ve definitely been really hard on myself since I was little. I think it’s just something in me you know. It’s a process of learning of how to deal with it, not letting it break me down but to make me better at what I do so it’s just about that balance which is not easy.

Women in music need to create their own rules that work for them and not live by other people’s. It’s always good to have someone that you trust, to have someone who understands and can listen and can help you get the balance, to give you some positivity and some outside focus.

Mental health is a huge focus in my music. Like with ‘Body’, that’s kind of about mental health too because it’s about gaining confidence and feeling good about yourself in your body whereas ‘Cruel’ is more about the difficult emotions that we get that we can’t really control, the emotions that we usually hide or are ashamed of. It’s so important to let them out because that only makes you stronger; it’s not about weakness, you know, it’s okay to not feel okay. It’s okay to cry, we need to cry, we’re emotional people and we should just accept that. We need to be more honest about all of this, in art and life.

NME: You’ve had such an incredible journey after winning a talent competition in Iceland to a record deal with Colombia in just the space of a few years…

Glowie: Yeah I released music in Iceland and it didn’t take long for labels to reach out. I wasn’t ready! I was just like ‘wait a minute, let me get some more experience and just grow up’ because I was about 18 when I first got some interest. I waited one or two years, got more experience, found more about who I am, who I want to be, what kind of artist I want to be and I got interest again.

It was a long nerve-wracking time you know, rejecting those kind of opportunities but I wanted to wait. I was so happy that they wanted to sign me again. I had another few labels reaching out and I was in meetings for weeks in London; it was crazy, very overwhelming time and I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was so confused. Everything happened so fast. It’s been two years now since I signed with the label and it’s been a process you know and so much that I have to learn so fast, especially when I’m coming in not really knowing anything, what anything works here because I’m from Iceland where everything’s so different. So yeah, it’s been crazy [laughs].

NME: Belated Happy Birthday wishes for Wednesday! How did you celebrate?

Glowie: I was with my boyfriend and he just flew over especially for it from Iceland; he still lives there because of work so we kind of just both have to fly back and forth at the moment. We met for a nice lunch and went to the park; we are kind of very chilled people so we just went out, took pictures – he is a photographer – and we chatted all the time [laughs]. Then work wise I went back to see a movement coach, then I had a performance and then I went home and relaxed. It was kind of just chilled, nice and social. I finished it by watching a movie [laughs].

NME: You music videos seem to combine your love of dance and art – they are very visually arresting. Do you have a lot of creative control over these?

Glowie: Yes, I love the music videos, I love making them and I always have a very strong opinion on everything involved with them [laughs]. For both ‘Body’ and ‘Cruel’ I had a very distinct idea on everything what I wanted to achieve with them.

NME: How is your debut album coming along? 

Glowie: I’m working on it [laughs]. I have so much music amassed and right now I’m just thinking more about how I want to tie it all together; hopefully we’ll get an album this year or early next year. I think it’s going to be a mixed pop and R&B record but with a dark twist, darker themes. I’ve learned I don’t want stay in one box. I like to mix things together and do things so the music doesn’t all sound the same: I want it to be lots of different things.

I don’t actually write music. A lot of people pressure me to do that but I’m not embarrassed to say I don’t write music. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, I don’t want to force it if I don’t feel it. I’ve been working with some incredible writers but everything about the song and the message that comes over is fully coming from me so I try to have a very tight relationship with the writers to find a way to make the songs mine and connect with the song. While I’m still not writing my own music yet, I think I will do it in the future but I’m just going to let it happen naturally as I learn more.

NME: What are you up to in the coming months?

Glowie: There are some exciting festivals this summer and many gigs coming up which I’m really excited about. More touring will come when I have more music out but for now, I’m just doing all these gigs and recording.

NME: If you could give one message to the industry on how to better support gender balance, what would it be?

Glowie: I think women are really smart and we have to find what we want to say and what we want; we need to focus on not letting anything else stop us from getting it and the industry needs to give women more space and [platforms] to do that. Change is happening but slowly.

There’s so many other things, I think just using the terms “female managers” and “female artist”: why isn’t it just managers and just artists. I feel like we should just all be treated equal, we should forget the [gendered] terms and know that we’re all just people instead of female and male.

Glowie