ALMA’s debut album “Have U Seen Her?” has been a long time in the making, with her personal artistic growth and label changes both forcing and allowing the wait. The Alma of 2020 seems to be capable of brushing off dancefloor fillers and switch to handling intimate story arcs in the framework of pop songs. She's not afraid of being honest and standing up for the oppressed. Literally on the eve of her record release, Alma breaks down the importance of her production team, living the Los Angeles life from an East Helsinki perspective, as well as adjusting in suddenly being a celebrity. Now we have – indeed – seen her!
It's less than seven hours until the release of singer-songwriter and pop star ALMA's highly anticipated debut album. Alma, neé Alma-Sofia Miettinen, is ready to rummage through the liquor store and pick a couple of friends up for a party that covid-19 is not going to stop.
"Yeah, we're definitely going to celebrate a bit!", Alma says over the phone.
"Of course I feel both nervous and proud, as this is one the most significant moments of my short life."
The 24-year-old Finnish pop star just cried when reading a four star review of her album in the famous UK music magazine NME. But the reason for her tears was not the rating. Alma felt that Charlotte Krol, the journalist behind the review, really delved into the record and understood something essential about it: the darker moods, personal stories and confessional lyrics.
Alma, still best known from EDM-fueled tropical pop bangers such as Chasing Highs and Dye My Hair from a few years back, feels the album is more mature and honest than anything she's done so far.
"I worked with people I can trust. That led to me trusting myself and getting the courage to reveal these darker things about myself. On this album, I tell stories that I didn't know how to tell before."
The name of the album is “Have U Seen Her?”. The title is a direct take on the superficial front of the entertainment business and a question directed to those reading the headlines.
"Even the interviews that I do are focused on the glamorous side of it all. Yeah, I'm hanging out with Miley Cyrus and everything is so fucking cool. It's all hot air. Instead of asking me, people make all these assumptions about me, or my career, or my future. This album strips down the hype, and answers all the questions that never were asked directly."
"The interviews that I do are focused on the glamorous side of it all. Yeah, I'm hanging out with Miley Cyrus and everything is so fucking cool. It's all hot air."
But in all honesty, Alma and Miley Cyrus do hang out. They are friends and Alma has written songs for the former child star turned controversial pop icon, and even gave her a handful of songs that were supposed to be on her own album. Their friendship has also been the inspiration behind several tracks on “Have U Seen Her?”.
"Bad News Baby for example is inspired by Miley. I love meeting young women who are doing their own thing and not bowing down to anybody. They may end up in one of my songs as strong women who don't give a fuck."
Collaborations with goddesses
When it comes to songwriting, Alma still occasionally doesn’t get all the credit she deserves. As if it wasn’t enough that her CV includes co-writing credits for hits such as Don't Call Me Angel performed by Cyrus, Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey, or the fact RCA Records' co-president John Fleckenstein describes Alma as "one of the world's best songwriters" who's "blessed with a clear vision" on Billboard magazine.
"Without a doubt these are notable milestones on my career. I have to rub my eyes constantly to make sure that all this is for real. For example Lana is basically a goddess to me. Just to have my name on the same track as hers feels sick. My processing of all these things is still underway."
Lana Del Rey is basically a goddess to me. Just to have my name on the same track as hers feels sick.
For Alma the most rewarding lessons on songwriting has come from Justin Tranter and Andrew Wyatt (of which the former is the albums executive producer). They both have worked with one of Alma's all-time favorites, Lady Gaga. Tranter and Wyatt made an impression on Alma from the beginning of their collaboration.
"Right from the beginning of our first session, they wanted to know me: who I was, how I think about things and what's going on in my life. I know it sounds like such a cliché, but I feel I found my place and my voice during those sessions."
Alma says Tranter and Wyatt saw right through her when she tried to polish the stories on her songs. They encouraged Alma just to shamelessly write whatever feels good in the moment.
Life in the fast lane
Most of the album is written in Los Angeles, a city that Alma has developed a love–hate relationship with – which started out with an emphasis on the latter. Before meeting Tranter and Wyatt Alma was struggling in Los Angeles, working with the wrong people and simply feeling like the loneliest person in the world.
"It is a crazy city. I have an advice for all the young, idealistic people dreaming of moving to L.A. to pursue a career in music: don't go there before you have one foot in the door. Otherwise the city will just wear you out and take your money."
One of the album's key tracks is LA Money (watch the music video above!) which continues the theme set by the album’s title. On a universal level, the song channels the angst of a teenager from the suburbs of Helsinki, struggling to get her voice heard. On a more specific level, it tells the story of Alma's circle of closest friends and the curses of her celebrity status.
Don't move to L.A. before you have one foot in the door, or the city will just wear you out and take your money.
"I had difficulties adjusting to be an artist and a celebrity. When I’m going out with my friends, I hate getting special attention. I want no part in that kind of behavior. The song is a plea: treat me equally, like anyone else."
The solidarity isn't just a rhetoric. Alma gave an intimate interview to Gay Times in the spring of 2019. She came out as openly gay, for a number of reasons. Mainly because she didn't want to be part of a negative atmosphere, where speaking about one's sexual orientation was not allowed, like it was something to be ashamed of.
"I've occasionally played down the need to talk about my private life, but I found out the importance of it in tangible ways. For example, after a gig in Poland I met a teenage boy, who was waiting for me in front of our tour bus. He told me that he's gay and not accepted by his parents, and that I inspire him, and my music gives him strength."
And what would any songwriter in the world want, if not that.
"Have U Seen Her?" is out now on PME Records.