There are many contradictions and many paradoxes in connection with Lene Marlin and her unexpected success. In the past year, this schoolgirl has turned Norway upside down and caused the kind of hysteria formerly reserved for boy pop stars from Ireland (Boyzone) and the USA (Backstreet Boys). Thanks to her age and her natural charm, she appeals to contemporaries and younger fans, while in musical terms she attracts a more mature audience. The hysteria has spread to the rest of Scandinavia, Italy, France and Germany. Now it is the turn of the English-speaking countries, which so far have not really understood what she is singing about, and are in any case unprepared for a creative artist, as opposed to a constructed pop product suitably packed for contemporary mass consumption.
On the Norwegian lists, she made history and her number one début with the single Unforgivable Sinner and the album Playing My Game. Since then, the songs Sitting Down Here and Where I’m Headed have made their mark in a number of countries. She has been awarded a Norwegian Grammy Award, four Norwegian Hit Awards and won the MTV Nordic Award in 1999. Musically, she is a melancholy hybrid of her idols, Shawn Colvin, Heather Nova and Janet Jackson, mixed with an emotive pop feeling and a well-developed sense for the compact, three- (OK, then, four-) minute melody. What she is singing about is not entirely clear; she does not want to explain the semi-abstract lyrics that are based on her own and others’ experiences. It’s up to the listener to decide what an unforgivable sinner really is.
Tromsø, her home town, has the reputation of being a musical hatchery and quick to snap up new musical trends. In recent years, names such as Bel Canto and Espen Lind have been excellent pop exports, while musical star Lisa Stokke (LtN-3/99) has raised a few eyebrows in London’s West End in Mamma Mia. They do not represent a particular group – they have scarcely heard of each other. Lene Marlin began to play the guitar at the age of fifteen and surprised everyone when she sang one of her own songs to her own accompaniment at a class party.
In many ways she is still a schoolgirl. She most enjoys sitting with her friends round a table in the local café. She has celebrated all her triumphs there with cakes, pop and accompanying peals of laughter. When she calls them on Saturday nights from some European hotel room after miming her song in a gaudy TV show, she is in no doubt about where she would rather be. Slowly but surely, she is absorbing what she has experienced at breakneck speed. She treasures her greatest moment – hearing her début single on the radio for the first time – taking it out to savour it every now and then, but she seldom listens to the radio these days.
Our shooting star has not yet given her first public concert. At her showcase in London for the blasé and, for her, vitally important UK press, she sat shyly on a stool and sang without touching the guitar at the edge of the stage. Nevertheless, the audience was entranced. We all felt we were back at the beginning, in our respective teenage bedrooms, and only Lene Marlin was able to put words and music to our feelings. Not a bad start.