From Iceland — The Grapevine Music Awards 2021: Bríet & JFDR - In Conversation

The Grapevine Music Awards 2021: Bríet & JFDR – In Conversation

The Grapevine Music Awards 2021: Bríet & JFDR – In Conversation

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published January 25, 2021

At the 2021 Grapevine Music Awards, the three biggest categories—Artist, Song and Album Of The Year—were decided the quickest. In fact, they were more or less unanimous the moment each was brought up, with little debate among the panel.

2020 was unequivocally the year of Bríet. From her explosive debut release ‘Kveðja, Bríet,’ to a slew of unforgettable livestream performances, to her opus—and our Song Of The Year“Rólegur Kúreki”, Bríet came onto the scene this year, made her own rules and consistently wowed. With such a legacy, it was no-contest that she’d win Artist Of The Year too and while we’ve never given two of the biggest awards to one single artist, this year, to deny her one would be disingenuous. “Bríet deserves this and she’ll remind us of why she won these awards in years to come,” one panel member concluded.

On the album front, it was JFDR’s stunning ‘New Dreams’ that caught the panel’s eye. This was another moment where the moment the release was brought up, it was quickly decided on as a winner. “‘New Dreams’ sticks with you. It’s vulnerable in a way that’s so relatable that you can’t forget it. It’s an album that stops you in your tracks,” raved another judge. “JFDR has done it again.”

Both women unleashed starkly raw and intensely emotional releases this year that cut to the heart of the panel. And while their projects existed in vastly different sonic worlds, we couldn’t help but see a thread connecting them. We therefore thought that if these awards were already going to be unorthodox, we may as well throw the rule book out the window and chat with them together, or more accurately, witness them talking to each other. And so, we put them in a room together, asked them a few questions and documented the outcome. What would they have in common? Would they get along? Do they even know each other?

A perfect yin-yang

“Bríet and I haven’t really properly met before today,” Jófríður says as she takes a sip of tea—it’s a cold Reykjavík afternoon. “But then we were just doing the photoshoot for this and we had our faces next to each other and it was like, ‘Hello Bríet!’” She smiles broadly as she turns towards the pop star to her right.

“I kind of liked meeting in that way!” Bríet responds softly, a small grin illuminating her face.

“It’s like well I’ve seen your face very closely now,” Jófríður says. “Yes, I know your eye colour,” Bríet interjects. And together, they laugh.

In truth, talking to them is like watching a yin-yang in real life. They are both somewhat the opposite of what you’d expect and of each other. Watching Bríet onstage, you might assume she’d be commanding or brash, but in truth, she’s extremely self-possessed and thoughtful. She pauses before she talks and chooses her words carefully—never uttering a superfluous line.

Meanwhile, Jófríður is animated. She speaks in a stream of consciousness style, constantly dissecting her own words and thoughts as she goes along as if she’s discovering herself at the same time you are. Hearing her answer a question is a bit like jumping on a sailboat. You don’t know where you’ll end up but you’re sure the view will be worth it.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Two personal albums

Both ‘New Dreams’ and ‘Kveðja, Bríet’ are viscerally personal releases, which is what initially made the panel decide to talk to them together. Each lay their songwriter’s stories bare—dissecting love, heartache, pain and regret with a fine-tooth comb.

“There’s a catharsis in putting out your raw feelings, but there’s also—and this is maybe cheesy—the sense of a higher purpose as well.”

“I feel like I manage to veil things enough for it to make sense to me because I’m not going into super specific details, though I appreciate when people do that, like Joni Mitchell,” says Jófríður. “But I also think that what I do tends to be a bit cathartic at times and I imagine you [Bríet] feel the same way. There’s a catharsis in putting out your raw feelings, but there’s also—and this is maybe cheesy—the sense of a higher purpose as well. You’re placing something inside a little context, which is the song, and you’re releasing it so that other people can resonate.”

Bríet nods. “Writing while feeling. Exactly. My album is my journal,” she explains. “I don’t feel that I’m putting myself out there. It’s just what I’m doing.”

“I think that people sense that,” Jófríður says.

The panel certainly did, certainly when it comes to “Rólegur Kúreki.” The smooth, acoustic country-pop track details a relationship with a partner that always puts you down and makes you feel bad. And in it, Bríet cuts to the core of the insecurity and doubt that kind of relationship creates.

“‘Rólegur Kúreki’ could just as easily fit at Þjóðhátið as it could at Prikið,” one panel member said. “A lot of people are jumping into the cowboy boots but not doing the line dance. And they’re not changing the line dance moves into their own, like Bríet is doing,” another added.

Photo by Art Bicnick

The responsibility of vulnerability

“I knew a few people were meeting on Zoom to go through my album and analyse how my relationship was, and that’s so weird,” Bríet says, looking down.

“How does that make you feel?” Jófríður asks.

“It made me feel like it was hard for him. Because I’ve dealt with it for some time, but for him, people talking about him—he found it very uncomfortable,” she responds quietly.

“Because he’s not the one in charge of the discussion,” Jófríður posits.

“That’s the hard part of having this responsibility of making art about feelings and people. That’s a lot of responsibility,” Bríet concludes.

“It is a lot of responsibility,” Jófríður says calmly. “I think for me no one knows who I’m talking about. I hope not. I’m so private. But I also like it when people are brave enough to say, you know, this is what happened. This is me. This is my past. This is my future. I think it’s really cool to disclose it all.” She looks over at Bríet. “I think it’s a very cool thing to do.”

The higher purpose

For Bríet, putting herself out there—past, future and all—comes naturally, even outside of music.

“When I was growing up, we really talked about feelings. It had to be on the table, so for me, meeting people that are kind of shut—well, it’s harder to connect,” says Bríet. “When you hear a song and it’s telling you what [the songwriter] is feeling, you can connect with that. It’s so beautiful to be able to do that myself and I’m thankful for everyone who listens.” She nods to Jófríður. “Like you said, it does feel like a higher purpose.”

At this, Jófríður beings to laugh. “I almost feel arrogant saying that!” she says, mock-dramatically. But then she stops. “But it has to be. There’s a higher purpose in everything. There’s a higher purpose in working for a hospital or working in journalism, so I should not be ashamed of saying that.”

She pauses. “But it’s interesting you say that about your family. My family, we never talked about anything,” she continues. “But I was always the drama queen. I would be in my room crying about something and my Mom would come and be like, ‘Why are you crying?’ and I’d be like, ‘I have no idea! I’m just sad!'” At this, both laugh. “And then that was the end of that!”

Bríet

Photo by Art Bicnick

The explosion begins

Jófríður’s album came out in early March, just as things began to ramp up in the pandemic.

“Everything was cancelled, so it almost felt like the album was cancelled.”

“I started the year in Australia and then I went back to Europe, did some shows, and returned to Iceland in February, but I was super sad. I was just not feeling it and I felt really strongly that I didn’t want to be in Iceland, but the album was coming out and I felt like I had worked so hard for this moment that I needed to stay. I needed to release the album, do a concert, and begin this big tour, but then COVID started and I was in huge denial at first,” Jófríður explains. “But I had this secret feeling—I kind of wished that everything would get shut down because I didn’t feel ready for anything that was going on. And then one by one, every day, big things began happening. And that first week of March felt like the end of the world. America closed its borders and I thought ok, this is it, everything is going to shut down and if I was going to, I had to go then. So I booked a flight to Australia. I realised I knew where I had to be and I went. I thought it would be a couple of months but then it ended up being nine months. My partner is Australian and we ended up getting married, which is super beautiful and it’s been a beautiful time.”

And so Jofríður stayed in the Australian countryside for the majority of 2020—the time she had originally planned on promoting her newly-released album. “It was interesting to release an album as the pandemic was beginning. It was just right in the explosion,” she continues. “So when I went to Australia, the album just disappeared. I didn’t think about it for a second because the tour was cancelled. Everything was cancelled, so it almost felt like the album was cancelled. It was interesting to have to come to terms with that. Actually, I feel really lucky that I was there. It was a nurturing period.”

Happy & sad

On the surface, it might appear that Bríet’s year was exactly the opposite. With her busy schedule of livestreams, TV shows, and everything else, the pandemic didn’t stop the pop star’s momentum at all. But for Bríet, in her heart, the 2020 journey this year was primarily an internal one. One that, rather than beginning with an album, climaxed in one.

“My year was similar in terms of being sad and falling in love. It started off with heartbreak and leading into COVID, it was very weird to lose something out of your life and then have to be inside all day. It just lead to writing and making the album, which came out in October,” Bríet says. “In the meantime, I met my boyfriend so this year has been a lot of emotions—a lot of new feelings like happy and sad at the same time. And I kind of capture that somehow in some of my songs on the album. It’s the first time that I release an album so I didn’t know what to expect.”

Crocheted souls

At this moment, for both artists, the artistic future feels a bit murky. Not because of pessimism or tragedy, just because—like the rest of the world—they have no concrete plans and more importantly, are unable to make concrete plans.

“It’s the first time I don’t have very strong feelings for this year. It still feels like 2020,” Bríet shrugs, when asked about her plans for 2021.

In response, Jófríður smiles brightly. “I feel the same!” she grins. “New Year came and it just felt unusual, like a continuation. Usually, when you enter a new year, it’s like ‘Wow! A new year!'”

Bríet laughs. “And you have goals,” she responds to Jófríður. “You’re going to do this or work on that, but I have none of that. So I am open for everything.”

“My new year’s resolution is to read more books. I have a stack of books I haven’t read,” Jófríður reveals. “And I want to dress like I’m in a sci-fi film—a subtle one. I want to have a ‘Mad Max’ look. You know, those flowy end-of-the-world earthy dystopian outfits? Where we have nothing and we have to make our own clothes! I already made this.” She points to her crocheted vest.

“I make almost all of my show outfits,” Bríet says, smiling at Jófríður. “I hate wearing something somebody could go in a store and buy. I always feel like I have to make something that nobody has.”

“That’s so good!” Jórfíður says excitedly. She looks over at Bríet—a fellow young, profoundly honest songwriter—and you get the feeling that this topic might be the first thing they talk about after this interview. Something, as is the norm for both artists, wholly unusual and soulful. “That’s how to do it!”

You can read about all of the winners of the 2021 Grapevine Music Awards here

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