ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
All this week, we're featuring books, video games, TV shows and music that flew under the radar this year. It's a series we're calling The Ones That Got Away. Today, we'll hear from the Swedish pop singer Victoria Bergsman. She has a voice that's been heard by millions around the world, but she' hardly a household name. This year, she released her first solo album.
And as Joel Rose reports, Bergsman is still somewhat shy of the spotlight.
JOEL ROSE: Unless you've been deliberately avoiding popular music for the last two years, you've probably head Victoria Bergsman's voice. Not necessarily on her own record, but on the massive hit by the Swedish indie rock band, Peter Bjorn and John.
(Soundbite of song "The Young Folks")
Mr. VICTORIA BERGSMAN (Singer): (Singing) And we don't care about the young folks, talking about the young style.
ROSE: The song "Young Folks" was so ubiquitous that for some listeners, it eventually went from catchy to grating. But that voice is another story.
Mr. BJORN YTTLING (Bass Player, Peter Bjorn and John): Music is really hard to pin down what you like. But often, it is a voice that you listen to it very closely. And the best voice that we knew was hers.
ROSE: Bjorn Yttling is the bass player for Peter Bjorn and John. Sarah Tomlinson is a music critic for The Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times.
Ms. SARAH TOMLINSON (Music Critic for The Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times): She has a lovely voice. There's something almost childlike about her vocals which I think adds an innocence to the song.
(Soundbite of song "The Young Folks")
Ms. BERGSMAN: (Singing) Usually when things have gone this far, people tend to disappear. No one will surprise me unless you do.
ROSE: The owner of that voice is quiet and almost painfully modest.
Ms. BERGSMAN: I enjoy singing, but I don't know if I could say that I'm a singer. From the start, I really loved singing. Though I was very shy and I still am, I just felt that my voice wanted to express something. So I went for it.
ROSE: In a band called The Concretes, where she fronted for more than 10 years. Bergsman started the band with two friends in Stockholm, Sweden, where she grew up. She says she wound up being the singer because no one else wanted to. Bergsman says the band's first show was a disaster.
Ms. BERGSMAN: Everything broke during the sound check. And none of our friends really came up and said anything afterwards. They had left.
ROSE: The Concretes got better as they grew into an eight-piece band. They released half a dozen well-received albums and EPs. Their breakthrough hit, "Say Something New," even appeared in a Target commercial.
(Soundbite of song "Say Something New")
Ms. BERGSMAN: (Singing) Say something new. Say something new about something you do, something you do.
ROSE: But playing live never got much easier for Victoria Bergsman. To this day, she suffers from stage fright.
Ms. BERGSMAN: It's about that I can't turn off my feelings and I'm very emotional. And on stage, I stand there very emotional. And it feels like everyone can see through me. And it's scary.
ROSE: So scary that in May of 2006, in the middle of The Concretes American tour, Bergsman collapsed from exhaustion. A few months later, she announced she was leaving the band. Bergsman won't talk about why she quit, but she gives the impression that there were reasons other than her stage fright. By last winter, she was back in a recording studio in Stockholm, working on her solo album.
(Soundbite of song "Julia")
Ms. BERGSMAN: (Singing) Julia, you're not talking quite. Julia, you're not talking quite. Julia, out in your (unintelligible). I hope you know, hope you know, hope you know, you can turn me on the (unintelligible) to speak, but I do think of you a lot. They told me you're afraid of things, had to wish (unintelligible) Julia. I heard you're fond of singing songs, doing it on your own, sweet Julia.
ROSE: Victoria Bergsman released a CD this year under the name "Taken by Trees."
Ms. BERGSMAN: I just thought it was a beautiful phrase to be taken by something and taken away. And it looks good. And, of course, trees are amazing. They stand there for a few hundred years.
ROSE: The album sounds like a quiet forest in winter.
Ms. TOMLINSON: It's a hushed mood.
ROSE: Critic Sarah Tomlinson.
Ms. TOMLINSON: She's telling these stories or singing these lullabies, and you sort of have to draw in close to listen. And I think that's what makes it so appealing.
(Soundbite of song "Cedar Trees")
Ms. BERGSMAN: (Singing) Do you ever think of her (unintelligible). I remember seeing a set of (unintelligible). I suppose the vacancy (unintelligible). I blushed from the snow you take. To (unintelligible) me across this country. And you drove my pain away. Left it hanging along those cedar trees.
ROSE: Victoria Bergsman says she deliberately left room for interpretation in the nine songs she wrote for the album.
Ms. BERGSMAN: It's a bit going back to some of the ideas I had for the Concretes in the beginning, leaving a lot of them open space and air for the imagination for the listener.
ROSE: Bergsman's voice and lyrics are squarely in the foreground. There are no electric guitars at all and no rock 'n' roll drum kit.
Ms. BERGSMAN: It overtakes too much of the melody. There's more dignity in a big lonely drum than a drum kit.
(Soundbite of song "Tell Me")
Ms. BERGSMAN: (Singing) Tell me when the snow has gone its way. Tell me…
Mr. YTTLING: She really wanted to be minimalistic.
ROSE: Bjorn Yttling from Peter Bjorn and John coproduced the album.
Mr. YTTLING: That's my job, you know, when making records, because everyone wants to play on 12 strings at the same time, and overdub and do everything and you have to cut down on everything.
(Soundbite of song "Tell Me")
Ms. BERGSMAN: Strenuous, we'll wait to shake it for me. Why not take me all the way to July? July, July, July, July, July, July.
ROSE: Though Bergsman's native language is Swedish, she prefers to write songs in English.
Ms. BERGSMAN: Swedish is really hard to rhyme and it's too scary also to write in Swedish. For me, it becomes too true, maybe or something.
ROSE: But Victoria Bergsman is slowly starting to face her fears. She's already played a few shows in Europe. And she's planning a handful in the U.S. next year with the band she's put together.
Ms. BERGSMAN: They really inspire me to try and be more brave.
ROSE: Maybe one day, she'll even decide to call herself a singer.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
BLOCK: You can hear complete songs by Victoria Bergsman and discover more new artists at our new music website, npr.org/music.
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