Maria Mena is a singer/songwriter/ performer with a rare and precious gift. Her songs come directly from her heart and her experience, are written with candor, clarity and purpose, and are performed with a disarming guileless charm. That she is 18 years old makes her talent all the more remarkable and all the more vital. She gives voice to the roiling emotions of adolescence and to those deeper emotions we never outgrow.
"I've always tried to be really honest and really direct and not hide anything," she says. "I just write songs that I would want to listen to. One song can create one emotion or several."
White Turns Blue serves as the perfect introduction to the music of Maria Mena. Taking its title from a poem written by a close friend of Maria's, White Turns Blue brings together 12 of her songs, from buoyant pop tunes to heartfelt ballads, each illuminating a different aspect of her psyche.
"I've always looked at music as an emotional thing," she says, "something that has to do with feelings, whether it's happy or sad. I had never been able to explain to my friends or my family how I felt until I started writing songs. You know how there's that one song that you put on when you feel really bad, when you're having a bad day and it makes everything better?" White Turns Blue is a showcase full of just that kind of song.
In a song like "You're The Only One," Maria captures the intoxicating exhilarating rush of young love in finely-wrought details, awkward moments boldly stated. The dazzling hook-dappled tune finds her prankishly teasing her boyfriend while admitting the fears and self-doubt underlying her affection. It's a post-modern update of classic teen pop songs and feels completely real and gloriously unaffected. Every girl has felt exactly this way about a guy and every guy wants a girl to feel exactly this way about him.
"After I wrote 'You're The Only One,'" Maria says, "I realized I wanted it to be the first single." Toward that end, she traveled to Iceland to lens a video for the song, which promises to be her breakout track.
"Blame It On Me," on the other hand, puts a new melodic spin on the age-old theme of teenage defiance. "As a kid," Maria confesses, "I was very rebellious. This song is about my dad, written from his perspective."
Maria's father, a professional drummer, was instrumental in helping Maria get her start in the music business. When she was 11, Maria and her dad were riding a city bus and she started humming a tune. Her father asked her if it was a track she'd learned from MTV and was both surprised and delighted when she told him it was a song she'd made up on her own.
On a lark, they decided to cut a demo of that song, "My Lullaby," which Maria had written at age 11 to express her feelings of pain and loss surrounding her parent's divorce. "My Lullaby," with its haunted melody, plaintive lyrics, and unadorned vocals, touched a nerve and became a national hit in Norway. (Maria, since her mom and dad split up, lives with her father, a New Yorker. She also has family in Florida.) "'My Lullaby' became a big thing," she says. "They had never heard a teenager sing so openly about divorce before."
In 2002, she recorded her first Norwegian album, Another Phase. "Everything was about when I went to junior high school," she says. "The whole album is about not fitting in. I don't fit in anywhere and I've come to embrace that. I like it because I'm odd, I'm weird, I'm hard-to-get. I think all artists are misfits. It takes something extra to be able to explore yourself like that, to give so much of yourself." Another Phase became a platinum album in Norway, leading to live shows in front of thousands of fans, national television appearances, and nominations for three Spellemannpriser Awards (the Norwegian equivalent of the Grammys).
"People really got to know me and really liked me for me and that was really fun," Maria says of her first blush of success. "I had a lot of fans, young girls who basically needed someone to relate to. I gave a lot of myself and I had a lot of fun."
But, as she was maturing as a artist, Maria was also growing up as an individual. "Suddenly," she says, "my real life was catching up with me. I had so many things I had to address, like friends. Basically, I had a normal life, I went to school, but people didn't know how to act around me because they'd seen me on TV and it's weird when your friend becomes a TV and music star. I do not blame them at all because I'd probably react the same way. When you're that young, you're still developing, you're still becoming a person. I took a lot of time to just get to know myself. I had always been insecure, about everything teenage girls are insecure about, but I had to go through that in the public eye."
For Maria Mena, it always comes back to the music. "Have you ever hummed a melody that you just made up?," she asks. "That's how I do it, though it's more intense, on a more conscious level. I collect words and I collect sentences until I get a song, then I put them down together. I've learned to use that gift." She works with producer Arvid Solvang to create her arrangements. "I sing for him, hum the melody, and he puts chords to it,"
she says. "I have this sound in my head. Within pop, you have little boundaries, but I can do whatever I want: I can do jazz, soul, and R&B, but all within pop. Music keeps on breaking boundaries, it keeps on pushing those limits and that is what makes everything so universal and so amazing and I don't think we should explain it. Just leave it at that and basically see where it takes us next."
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