You couldn't go anywhere over the past six months without hearing 7 Years blasting through every speaker in sight. The heartfelt story of a young boy coming of age in a big, big world and being pushed to the limits resonated with music fans of all walks of life. The introspective lyrics and Lukas Graham's impassioned and honest delivery were unlike anything else happening in pop music. As a result, the track is now certified platinum three times over and has erupted into a cultural phenomenon. The Danish band was immediately thrust into the limelight in a matter of a few months. Graham, not surprisingly, is still learning how to handle his new found fame. "I'm just trying to not notice it, I'm not big into compliments and selfies. I just want to tell stories and be a person. I'm finding that a little difficult sometimes with people's attention, but I'll struggle on to be a regular guy who doesn't walk around with a thousand people entourage," he shared with Popdust during a recent sit-down in his chic Manhattan hotel suite.
Scruffy and in recovery mode from this year's bombastic VMAs, the performer was relaxed but alert. "I think it comes with the culture that we grew up in and the country that we're from to be a little more laid back and a little more relaxed about everything," he said of his struggle to balance being a musician and a celebrity figure. "Hopefully, people will let us stay the same, like we walked to the [VMAs red] carpet yesterday because our hotel was so close to Madison Square Garden, and it was impossible to walk there. We had to kind of zig-zag between limousines and cars with tinted windows."
Graham performed his brand new single Mama Said on the pre-show extravaganza, mere minutes before the live show kicked off at 8 pm. He considered, for a moment, what that experienced was like. "It was a really great experience. There was a lot of people, and they seemed excited that we were on stage. It was right after the red carpet also, so [I was] excited from that...cause that was a very long carpet, the white Pepsi carpet. It was breathtaking and also having to then go in and sit amongst the biggest stars at the moment. I still haven't really unfathomed the experience, I guess."
As his first VMAs rodeo, he admitted to sitting back in his seat and taking in the entire room. "We just sat our seats and chilled. Watched the show. You know, like, I think if you've been there before and if you know what the VMAs is about maybe you could have experienced it more. Being from Scandinavia, coming into the VMAs, it was just, like, watch it. It was like the first time on a roller coaster."
In a partnership with iHeart Radio, Shazam and Viacom, Pepsi has launched a brand new music discovery platform, called The Sound Drop. Alessia Cara and Jidenna have also jumped aboard for the program. The intent behind the platform is to give emerging talent a voice and stage to promote their music and connect directly with the fans. "You could say kudos to us that Pepsi wants to collaborate with us. It's a lovely way of getting our music out to more people, the possibility for people to get to know our music and our art a little bit. It is one of the challenges, with so much social media and different platforms, to get out and touch a lot of people. The attention is so fragmented that collaborating with a big brand like Pepsi can make it a little easier to reach some of these people."
10 undiscovered artists will be featured every year. Check out Pepsi's official YouTube channel for more.
Graham also talked candidly about the artist-fan relationship, disconnecting from the digital world and other things. Dig into our exclusive Q&A; session below:
Do you find branding and being associated with such an iconic brand essential for any artists' career?
You know, every choice creates ripples, so there will always be some reaction to a collaboration, whether it be good or bad. I think it can be a very big help, especially in the early stages of building a career to have some big, good, strong collaborations with big brands like Pepsi so as to further your career quicker.
Since we're talking about Pepsi. Do you drink Pepsi products, and do you have a favorite soda?
I don't really drink sodas unless we're drinking at parties or have a hangover, so like today I'll have a Pepsi. Pepsi's always been associated with iconic musicians like Beyoncé and Michael Jackson and that's why it's a cool collaboration. But no, I'm not a big soda guy.
With social media blurring the lines between the artist-fan relationship, how do you set up boundaries for yourself?
I've stopped taking pictures when I'm not 'working,' essentially. I just try to not take pictures at all because I find that we're shifting away from where it should be right now. The focus should be on the music, not on the selfie. They just want a selfie because they see someone famous not because they like the music necessarily. I just think it's a little over the top now. People, they're like hunting, and it is a debate to be had. Should we take pictures of everything? Should we post everything? Shouldn't we sometimes be happy with just experiencing something rather than having to feel that we were documenting it. I mean, camera pictures are fucking ugly anyway and your concert video is one out of 10,000 concert videos recorded on a bumpy iPhone at some stupid concert, you know what I mean? It's like, if you want to see a video, there are plenty of videos already on YouTube. Some of them professionally filmed and in great quality. Your iPhone camera is not going to make this experience more memorable, possibly quite the contrary. You might end up not remembering it because you were fiddling with your iPhone, some app didn't work or the filter wasn't really…you know? And people are so afraid that they can't tell the world all the great things they're doing. People are so caught up in telling everyone about what they're doing that they aren't doing it. They're only watching things being done; they're not doing anything.
What have been some of your favorite concert experiences?
I've enjoyed countless shows, especially in the folk music end, a Danish folk festival called the Tønder festival where I've seen great performances like Irish folk and Scottish folk, American folk. I've also seen a lot of rap music, but my memory is failing me here to mention some epic concert moments. Rage Against the Machine warming up for the Stone Temple Pilots was a good one – late 90s show. For us this year, performing at the epic Wembley Stadium. The Capital Summertime Ball and yesterday, I mean, we performed at the VMA pre-party, I mean that's crazy.
Who are some artists you hope blow up within the next year?
I wouldn't really say I have hopes like that. I really hope a girl like Alessia Cara gets a lot of good wind because she just seems like a genuine person and I think the music industry needs more real people, needs more people who've got a personality and want to do something in a different way. The way things are being done right now is just a little off track – back to the whole too many selfies, not enough music, lots of content but not enough depth.
Coming off the success of 7 Years, how did you select Mama Said as the next single?
We had music videos for '7 Years' and 'Momma Said,' and they've been two, very reaction-based songs, like the audience reacts to them very, very powerfully when we play them live. It's also very much an audience decided thing. With Spotify and all these streaming services, you can see what are people more interested in when you have a record, so you can decide something in the audience direction. You can also see, when you send a record out to all the radio stations, which radio stations like which songs and stuff like that.
I stumbled onto your EPK on YouTube a couple weeks ago just doing research and you were pretty transparent, especially about talking about your father. Did you always find it easy share that story with the world?
I think I've always found it easy to share. We grew up in a fairly touchy feely environment in Denmark where you could talk about feelings and how you feel and what your thoughts are. We were also taught that it was an empowering thing to do rather than a shameful thing to show people how you feel, which is the way most people deal with it – they won't deal with it and they'll hide it away. I think it's counterintuitive way of dealing with your situation.
Have you had a ton fans come up to you and thanking you for your music because they've related in a huge way?
Yes, we have. Of course, that's amazing. That's why we do what we do – to touch people. But it's also, emotionally heavy sometimes. It's a little too much sometimes, but I mean, what can you do? People like the music.
A pivotal moment for you was the release of the Criminal Mind video. Do you ever considered where you would be now if you hadn't posted that on YouTube?
Yeah, it's a funny world we're in and sometimes its lucky that we do the things we've done because we end up where we end up.
Also in your EPK you talk about how you describe your music as "ghetto pop." Is that still the case now?
Well, you could say, in America, the word 'ghetto' has some more negative connotations and especially in these times, there's a lot of talk about the words 'black' and 'ghetto' and all these things. You could say in Europe and Scandinavia it's an easier way of describing our music as 'ghetto pop' or saying it's inspired by black music, because that's what it is. But over here, suddenly it becomes a racially jaded and tinted expression, which is not the intention. It's very difficult sometimes when you talk to journalists over here to maintain the tone without misunderstandings. What I mean is I come from a neighborhood that has no street lights and no police force and dogs without leashes, and it is defined as a ghetto because of the social construct and the music that we play is mainly hip-hop, rap based, R&B; based, but like old school -- B.B. King rhythm and blues, and folk music, so it blends genres of music, jazz, funk. So, naming it 'ghetto pop' is also away of getting away from every other genre and because everybody wants to put things into boxes. I don't like boxes. So we created out own little box to get rid of everybody else's little fucking box and now its coming back to bite us in the ass because Americans are like, oh ghetto pop, that sounds like something but it doesn't…so you know.
As a child, you were a soprano soloist, what things did you learn from that you're still applying to this music?
Just vocal training, in general, but also just a will to get better and a knowledge that its hard. When was 12, we had a three and a half week choir tour in South America. Seven flights in three and a half weeks as a 12-year-old and that's also been part of hardening me as a performer and a traveler and an entertainer. It is not a difficult job, but its OK, I would not have it any other way.
If your U.S. break hadn't arrived, would you have still remained happy?
Oh yeah, but then again, I haven't been more or less happy because of the success I've had. I was happy because I was happy. But, we have a world here that has gotten everything all wrong, everything that is worth money we place value on and everything that is worth money isn't actually worth anything because it can be replaced by more money. The things that can be replaced, the things that are actually free, we don't give that much thought when we become grown ups. Family, friends, love, compassion, respect, generosity. And, yeah, that's the stuff that makes me happy, you know, my friends, my family, the time I can get back home.
What is next for you? Are you planning a new album or are you just planning to ride this one out until next year?
We're always writing and recording new music because we can't stop. You have to be continuously creative for it to be easy. In September and October, we're going to be writing a lot of new music.
You revealed some tremendously personal things with your latest album. Where will you turn for new stories to tell?
Just talk with people in your daily life, traveling around the world and try to suck up a bit of inspiration. Read books, read the newspapers and try to get a bit of culture. Go to museums -- you could say the religious centers of inspiration, museum exhibitions where you can go and touch other people's inspired moments.
Make sure you grab Lukas Graham's latest self-titled release now on iTunes.
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