NME Radar: Breakout

COBRAH: Swedish pop newcomer mastering “gay workout music”

The Swedish artist reflects on the influence of Stockholm's "BDSM party scene" and why indulging in "yourself and your sexuality" as a songwriter is just as valuable as heartbreak

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Until recently, COBRAH was living a double life. A primary school music teacher by day, the artist was also a latex-clad purveyor of filthy pop. “It was very much a Hannah Montana moment,” laughs Clara Blom Christensen. “I was afraid that if I told my colleagues I would get fired for not being a good role model! I would go there with my teacher’s look: my glasses and shirt, looking really professional. And then I’d get home, take everything off, and take a picture for Instagram.”

Last October COBRAH quit her job in order to focus on music full time, and build on the buzz around her 2019 debut EP ‘Icon’. Heavily influenced by ballroom culture and taking visual cues from Stockholm’s BDSM party scene, the release celebrated sexual pleasure on sherbety bangers like ‘Wet’, and reflected on darker moments in the menacing ‘Glue’.

Tellingly, her second EP – a self-assured slab of sexy, celebratory wonky-pop – is self-titled. NME caught up with her to find out more about  “gay workout music”, performing with Charli XCX, and her love of getting straight to the point.

How are things, COBRAH?

“I’m in my apartment in Stockholm, and the weather is shit. Clubs are closed at the moment. It’s come to a point where you kind of forget that partying was a possibility – a year ago I would’ve been out. Now I’m binge-watching some shitty Netflix series…”

Whereabouts in Sweden did you grow up?

“In Gothenburg. When I was a baby we lived in the city, and then when I was four we moved out to the suburbs – and I always felt like that was wrong. It made me very drawn to things that are a bit different, anything that felt a bit alternative. I always wanted to be a part of the big buzz of someplace else.”

There’s a pretty established metal scene in Gothenburg, right?

“Yeah. I met some kids at my school who were really into the scene. At that age, metal was the only place we could really go to be out with friends without getting into clubs. There was this place above a big shopping centre in the middle of the city, and on the top floor they used to have concerts every weekend. I’m not a very subtle person in any way. I’m very loud, and I definitely think there’s a connection from metal. I like the whole idea of punk culture – being and doing whatever.”

You’ve chosen to self-title your next EP ‘COBRAH’. Do you feel like you’ve arrived into yourself as an artist with this release?

“There’s many reasons why I self-titled it, and that is one of them. This is the best I’ve got at the moment; not that it’s never going to get any better or bigger. But this is also my final project on my own label GAGBALL, so it’s like a debut and goodbye in the same move. My first EP ‘Icon’ was all about trying and exploring and having fun, being creative without consequence, and then the ball started rolling. This is a bit more self-assured.”

How else do you think ‘COBRAH’ differs from ‘Icon’?

“Some people wrote about ‘Icon’ as being this BDSM-[inspired] thing, but for me personally, it was very self-reflective. This is a lot more… well, how people described ‘Icon’. Much more joyful. I was writing it during the pandemic wishing for a better life.”

How has the BDSM scene influenced you as an artist?

“I lived in Berlin for a short time, and when I got back to Stockholm a photographer messaged me wanting to do a shoot. We shot at her apartment – and it turned out she was this crazy woman with a pole in the kitchen, and a swing in the living room. She filmed fetish cooking videos, too, and introduced me to all of these things. She said I should come to a party, and I wanted to perform – so I wrote to them and asked. That was my ‘in’ to the whole scene. I remember being blown away by all the people. It felt like going to metal concerts; the adult version of that culture.”

Was that one of your first ever shows, then?

“Yeah. They had a big stage, which is the fun thing. They had a very good sound system, too, so it was just like a regular concert really… except the people looking at you are either in head-to-toe latex, or naked.”

You also performed live with Charli XCX, pre-pandemic. How was that?

“So fun. I was in London; I had been to a rave the night before and checked out my hotel room, and I was just at this cafe waiting for my plane. Dorian Electra messaged me and asked if I wanted to perform with Charli, tomorrow in Stockholm –  and asked me to bring some drag queens. I was messaging every queen I know to make it happen. I just blew it at the rehearsals, I was the worst. The actual performance turned out great, though, and Charli and I talked a lot about music.”

What’s ‘Gooey Fluid Girls’ about?

“At first, it was a celebration of girls. Now, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve always been really into the myth that I make gay workout music, and this whole EP is kind of an ode to crying and girls, and being a hard worker. Now, ‘Gooey Fluid Girls’ is my gay work-out track. It’s wet and fun – all I can see in my head is girls in tights pulling big weights and doing squats. My goal is that Spotify will contact me, and let me do the official gay workout playlist. It’s a bigger goal than winning a Grammy.”

“I sometimes fear that people will take me less seriously as an artist because I talk about female pleasure”

‘Good Puss’ is a straight-to-the-point ode to… well, good puss. Is that your favoured approach?

“I think people focus too much on sexuality, and sometimes I’m just a bit over it. Whether my music is about girls or boys or whomever, that’s not really interesting. People label music as queer music, sometimes, which makes it sound less good than regular music. I’m all about writing about sex, but I think it’s more relevant how you write about it, and [thinking] what’s my take on it?”

Society often doesn’t talk about the things you’re celebrating in that song– generally women’s pleasure isn’t really portrayed very much in the mainstream at all. Have you found that to be the case?

“Yeah, female pleasure is shown less, and judged harder. I sometimes fear that people will take me less seriously as an artist because I talk about female pleasure. Indulging in yourself and your sexuality is a bit taboo, but it’s just as valuable as being Adele and writing about heartbreak. It’s all part of being a human, though it sounds cheesy.”

People sometimes draw comparisons between your music, and that of the PC Music scene and the late producer SOPHIE. Were those artists on your radar starting out?

“I’m definitely a fan, but it’s coincidental. I knew one or two SOPHIE tracks when I made the ‘Icon’ EP, and then after releasing it, I saw a PC Music forum on Reddit where people were chatting about it. That was where I discovered PC Music. For me, it’s not necessarily a big influence – I love it when it’s really sharp, and crisp, and bright, but I also like a very groovy beat, and darker types of music too. I wouldn’t say I’m a hyper-pop artist.”

In that case, what are your main influences?

“Skrillex’s label is called Owsla and he has this compilation called ‘Howsla’ – that’s a big influence. I listen to a lot of Valentino Khan, a lot of house music, FKA twigs and Tommy Cash, who made his second album with PC Music. I was really blown away when I saw the ‘Winaloto’ video.”

And what’s next for you?

“We’re shooting the music video for ‘Good Puss’ this month – that’s my big project right now. I’m working stuff out with a choreographer and just trying to get everything together. I’m also trying to be in the studio right now making more music. I really want to do an album. No more EPs!”

COBRAH’s new EP ‘COBRAH’ is out now

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