Leave It Beautiful: a review and in-depth analysis of the debut album by Astrid S
Astrid S’s debut album Leave It Beautiful has been long overdue. Norwegian pop star Astrid S first burst onto the scene in 2013 and has been steadily putting out material since then, mostly finding success in her home country. She’s done background vocals for superstar Katy Perry and recorded a duet with Shawn Mendes, and even found time for a collaboration with American country singer Brett Young. However, it’s no secret Astrid’s debut album has had a bevy of false starts, mostly due to her label pushing for international success that has proven elusive. Between 2016 and 2019, Astrid released four EPs full of new material and though the singles found success in Norway and Astrid worked with acclaimed songwriters like Charli XCX, she struggled to find an audience outside of her native Scandinavia. As a result, Astrid has worked with various producers and songwriters over the past seven years as she trotted the globe supporting various acts on tour, and though a variety of songwriters such as Amy Wadge, Caroline Ailin, and Emily Warren appear on this album, the material here is mostly the result of collaboration with Swedish producer duo Jack & Coke. Despite the troublesome journey Astrid went through to get to this point, it does feel like she and her label are working in sync this time, with Astrid exerting more control over her output than ever before, directing the music videos for the album’s singles and racking up production credits on the project.
“Marilyn Monroe” finds Astrid addressing the way people view her as a woman, pointing out how unfair people’s standards for her in contrast to their standards for men. Astrid compares the scrutiny she faces to that of Marilyn Monroe, deciding to affirm herself as an independent woman with a unique identity. The slick production features heavy synths and carefree vocalizations from Astrid meant to give the impression she doesn’t care about the criticisms. “Can’t Forget” captures a hungover Astrid who is still mesmerized with a man she met the night before, although she struggles to remember his name or much of the details of their encounter. However, Astrid insists she can’t forget him though all she remembers is his face, and she is hoping to see him again. Producers Jack & Coke blend a tropical house beat with some trap drums, and Astrid’s delivery is desperate and wistful. On “Hits Different”, Astrid relishes the confidence of being comfortable with herself despite being alone, boasting to listeners of how good it feels to be at peace with herself. However, the track’s tone blends the self-empowerment themes with Astrid’s sexuality and works as a double entendre for Astrid giving herself sexual pleasure, expressing delight at exploring her body. Jack and Coke’s production is modern and rhythmic, and Astrid utilizes her falsetto to come across as seductive. She slows things down on “It’s Ok If You Forget Me”, where she finds that her reaction to a recent breakup isn’t what she expected it would be. She reassures her ex that she’s okay with him moving on, but also struggles with not being as heartbroken over the relationship as she feels she should be, wondering if the relationship meant anything after all. The production is minimalistic yet still electronic, and Astrid sings earnestly, sounding genuinely baffled and frustrated over her confusing reactions.
“Dance Dance Dance” is a shimmering and somewhat reserved dance-floor anthem that sees Astrid attempting to get over her past relationship by going out, partying, and possibly hooking up with a stranger. The repetitive chorus sounds like Astrid attempting to convince herself she can distract herself from the sadness she doesn’t want to feel. The buoyant production masks the bittersweet sentiment behind the song, culminating in the album’s “tears-on-the-dancefloor” moment. Astrid is still reeling from a breakup on “Airpods”, where she takes on the role of observer recounting the story of a girl who uses music to numb the feelings after a breakup, attempting to get into clubs despite being underage. The onomatopoeic chorus details the song the girl is listening to in the hopes of distracting herself, making it apparent that the girl in question is Astrid. The beat takes cues from the rhythmic stylings of 2000s pop, complete with an acoustic guitar riff and a sample of a violin that sounds ripped off a vinyl record. Astrid slows things down again on “Good Choices”, where she is mostly accompanied by piano. She describes herself as an impulsive person here, fighting against the urges to follow through on doing things she knows aren’t good for her in the long run. She eventually concludes that while she understands it would be healthier for her if she made good choices, she can’t always fight her nature.
“Obsessed” finds Astrid relapsing into a secretive affair with an ex, inviting him over every day and questioning her sanity in the process. Astrid acknowledges that she’s aware her thinking is irrational but she is too vulnerable to her feelings for him, wondering if her lack of remorse makes her a psychopath. Astrid’s language makes it clear she understands how bad the continued relationship with her ex is for her, but chalks it up to an obsession. The frantic electropop production underscores the frustration Astrid feels with her situation, as she feels guilty for not moving on and lying to the people around her. “If I Can’t Have You” is a full-fledged lament over her past relationship, detailing how her ex’s parents didn’t think they would make it and voicing her wish that her ex doesn’t meet someone else. She finds nostalgia for the relationship coloring her view of all their past disagreements and incompatibilities. The production is built around acoustic guitar and Astrid’s beautiful vocal delivery but closes out with a trumpet solo that adds a mournful and dynamic element to the song. Album closer and the title track “Leave It Beautiful” allows Astrid to abandon the relationship finally, agreeing that she and her ex should leave the relationship in the past so they may both look back upon it fondly. She hopes she and her ex go on to find people who are right for them, not wanting to keep pushing things further and saying things they might regret. The upbeat techno-inflected production calls to mind the melancholic euphoria that permeated mid-2000s Scandipop, and Astrid’s vocal performance is undeniably gorgeous with a bright falsetto.
On Leave It Beautiful, Astrid proves she has a good ear for pop music, putting together an album that manages to sound fresh yet catchy. On the previous two EPs preceding this project, Astrid pivoted to a more stripped-down sound but she returns to the bright electropop of her earlier releases, steering it towards a clubbier and more ambient bent that helps to set the album apart from the usual pop music release. The production on the album is top-notch and pristine, and Jack & Coke’s consistent involvement allows for the project to feel like a connected and complete body of work. This isn’t necessarily a perfect record but it’s a pleasant success that shows a lot of promise from Astrid S, possibly even to follow in the footsteps of Scandinavian pop vanguards like Robyn and Agnes — but most importantly, it is good to see Astrid finally releasing a full-length project that allows some of her cheerful and optimistic personality to shine through. Overall, this is a solid debut effort that offers a slight twist on the usual pop music fare and includes some beautiful vocal performances worth anyone’s time.