Magic and sorcery run through the rivers of SÔNGE’s hometown. “It’s a land of things!” the young French singer enthuses: eyes wide, gappy smile on show and teeming with the memories of her upbringing. We might be in Paris now – tucked away in a mirror-lined green room just hours before she plays to a packed out festival crowd – but this woman hails from Brittany, the rocky, rustic Northern region that stretches out into the Celtic Sea. “It’s not like Paris at all. In Brittany, every grandmother has told their granddaughter tales about the creatures that live in the woods!”
That folklore and mysticism transformed SÔNGE into a dreamer of sorts; even her stage moniker translates into “dream” in English. She’s a songwriter whose penchant for the strange has played a pivotal part in her foray into music. It came slow at first: she toyed with the industry through internships at record labels and acoustic sets at open mic nights, but before long, she’d start making her mark as one of the most fascinating new names in French pop.
But she hasn’t always been boxed in to that fascinating French region. SÔNGE has spent so much of her formative years as a musician finding a spot that felt like home. Everywhere had its positives: Germany gave her the scope to become a creator, Amsterdam forced her to “leave her bubble” and perform live; Belgium introduced her to the ‘ins and outs’ of the music business. Now though, she finds herself happily settled in Paris. “There’s a creative spirit here,” she claims, “There’s art in the wind that blows down the streets.”
The music she writes – abstract lyrically and harnessed by a flickering, electro-house production – is the perfect kind of pop for a time when the genre’s landscape is getting more ambitious and greater in scope. It’s no surprise that they’re not made in the traditional factory line that most stars tend to follow. Instead, almost every SÔNGE song, erratic and unpredictable in structure, is written in the dead of night.
Since she started making music professionally, she’s been plagued by long bouts of insomnia, but she’s not willing to let that hinder her creatively. “Sometimes I begin a song at midnight and finish at 7am,” she confesses. The nighttime, I say, can be a great time for artists to create; things look and feel different. The slightly reserved singer nods in response. “It’s so calm,” she says, her voice so soft and comforting it has a slightly disarming element to it.”It’s like the light are shining on your ideas from a different angle. They glow in the dark.”
The conversation naturally leads SÔNGE on to the topic of synesthesia: the condition that she, along with swathes of other songwriters nowadays – including Lorde to Charli XCX – seem to suffer from. The condition allows someone to envision certain musical notes and chords as a colour, and vice versa. In most cases, it’s a fairly uninteresting topic of conversation, but SÔNGE’s once reserved mannerisms have given way to unveil a woman passionate about how the trait shapes her craft. “It’s like a painting,” she gushes, “It really is the same. When the colours are there, the melody shines through and little by little, the lyrics come through too.” She describes her melodies in minute detail – the nuances of deep sea blues and the melancholy that comes along with them is something she often dwells upon. And another? She points to a bubble-like, iridescent jacket strewn across her dressing room table. “What do you call that again?” she asks herself, muttering a few words in French.
“Hologram,” she affirms. “It’s a very strange colour, yes, but what I like with music is that you can’t describe it with one word, because it’s so much bigger. That colour is so heavy – so huge! It’s hard to piece together, but some others are more clear. Hologram gives me mixed feelings. I can’t tell if I’m happy or sad – it changes all the time.” Our emotions, I remind her, are often quite ‘holographic’ too.
Since she broke out with her self titled EP back in 2016 as a half-French, half- Cameroonian woman making slightly genre-ambiguous electronic music, SÔNGE has been constantly compared to the likes of M.I.A. and Santigold. “I don’t feel like [those artists] at all,” she replies, shrugging it off. “When people don’t know you yet, I guess they just need something to go to to understand your work more.” It seems this woman knows that these comparisons – perhaps rooted in their shared skin colour and her choice of instrumentation rather than the way she executes her work – are somewhat reductive. In reality, there’s something softer to the kind of politicised songwriting and production that SÔNGE dives into. The singer has something to say about her identity, but she’s not afraid to lace it in with the kind of florid, evocative imagery that some might think would weaken the music’s core message.
Songe’s latest single Magic Hairdo, a bass-heavy and spectral pop song about her blackness and the shared mystique surrounding it – something that’s often fetishised by white audiences – is a prime example of that. “It compares the mysteries of the universe with the secrets of the beauty of afro women,” she says of the song’s inspiration. “People always say to us: you had short hair yesterday and today it’s so long. The day before it was blue, but now it’s green! They see Beyonce with crazy hair and wonder how it all happens.” She smirks. “Everytime, we say it’s magic! There are a lot of secrets that women are keeping to themselves.”
So far, her path to pop fame has been a slow-burning and sweet one: she has loyal fans, great songs, but has maintained a pleasant level of industry respect that doesn’t hinder the way she lives life like a normal person. That might change with a fiercely exciting debut record ready to be unleashed onto the world come 2019.
Right now, though, I wonder if her ambitions have shifted since the pop star known as SÔNGE came to the fore. “I still can’t cook for myself! I still have that ambition,” she laughs, throwing a quick-witted curveball into a question that usually warrants a more existential response. She has a point though: “When I don’t have friends with me, I starve, and I need to not starve if I ever want to get on Billboard!” Before we part ways, SÔNGE is coming out of her shell – out of the darkness of night that she finds so inspiring – with a humorous side you sense few others are ever exposed to. “It’s a little detail,” she winks, “but it’s very, very important!”