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Music & clubs

A star is torn: Novaa on fighting her way to the top in a male-dominated industry

We sat down with musician Novaa to talk growing up and glowing up, ahead of the release of her new album 'Super Novaa'.

Photo: Makar Artemev

When a giant star starts to burn out, it loses energy and its pressure begins to drop, causing it to slowly collapse under its own weight. When finally its core collapses, the star explodes, creating a supernova – a cataclysmic fireball that alters the universe around it. Although destructive, supernovas are one of the most important events in our universe, and indeed the fundamental starting point for all creation.

Berlin-based musician Novaa is far from burning out and collapsing under her own weight. You could say, however, she is blowing up. As ARD’s 2018 Newcomer of the Year and winner of the 2022 Preis für Popkultur’s Producer of the Year award, Novaa’s star has been burning very brightly. Originally from Karlsruhe, the 27-year-old is not just an acclaimed singer-songwriter but also a firmly established producer, having helped make records for the likes of German indie artist Mogli and the Norwegian pop singer Amanda Tenfjord.

Stars explode and then die, and that was the idea behind the album.

Novaa’s new album, Super Novaa, is her fifth in five years. The record is a burning mix of synth bedroom pop, melancholic R‘n’B and indie-folk, and features a galaxy of superstar collaborators. Throughout her discography, the multitalented artist never shies away from what’s on her mind, dealing with difficult issues like abuse, gender roles and the climate crisis. It’s this intimate honesty that has won her an abundance of accolades, fans and success, while allowing her to stay true to herself.

Super Novaa will be the singer’s first album released with a record label after putting out her previous work independently. Despite this, Super Novaa deals with her experiences and struggles working in the music industry, the intense pressures it creates, and the patriarchal structures that female artists have to tolerate and work through. Aside from being a fun play on words, the album title alludes to how the industry puts its stars under intense pressure. “The music industry is something super toxic and shit, that’s all about the hype,” Novaa says. “Everything has to be huge, with a lot of energy that just burns out. Stars explode and then die, and that was the idea behind the album.”

I’ll Quit Music

Photo: Makar Artemev

The first song Novaa wrote while making the new record was the single, ‘I’ll Quit Music’. “I’m not going to quit music, that’s not going to happen,” she admits when asked about the song’s title. “The single is more about being fed up with [the industry]. I was also curious about saying to myself, ‘who would I be if I stopped making music?’ I’ve been writing music since I was 11, not with the intention of becoming a musician, but because it was the only language I fully knew how to speak and express myself to other people, which is something I grew out of, because it was a very unhealthy way of living.” At the age of just 15, she self-released her very first record. Since then, working independently, she’s been fighting her way to the top, releasing her own records, producing and collaborating with a myriad of artists and turning her creative journey into a professional one.

On one hand, I don’t trust this industry, but on the other, I can’t do everything myself.

Her climb to the top hasn’t been easy. Along the way, she has faced an extreme amount of prejudice and sexism, examples of which are detailed on another of the album’s songs, ‘www.you.dumb’. At the beginning of the track, Novaa sings about a time when a male artist didn’t credit her on a track she co-produced: “Don’t say that you like what I do, just because you want me to work with you, so that you can say you worked with a female producer.” It was a relatively famous artist that didn’t credit her. “All those things in this song happened,” she says earnestly. “At the beginning of this year, I walked into the offices of a label of this artist that I had been producing, and I sat with them, and they were talking to their manager, who was a man, who then turned, talked to the artist, then looked at me and said, ‘And what are you doing here?’ And I was like, ‘I’m the producer!’”

Another line in the song references an instance when she worked with an industry professional as a teenager, who directly commented on her appearance: “17 years old, Novaa, been listening to your bullshit of how I’m not that pretty, but your face is interesting and we can work with that.” “That was my first experience working with a label,” Novaa explains. “They were just sitting there talking about my music first and then looking at my face and actually saying, ‘You also have an interesting face, I think we can work with that.’ Hearing that as a 17-year-old was pretty harsh.” The album has many more references to the pains and struggles of working in music. Tracks like ‘I Lost My Best Friend to a Hit Song’ and the collaboration with Berlin R‘n’B superstar Lie Ning, ‘Novaacation’, speak volumes. “I definitely need a vacation for sure,” she says.

Big Business

Photo: Makar Artemev

After so many bad experiences with labels, Super Novaa sees the artist working directly with a record label for the first time. The album will be released on Humming Records, home to other Berlin-based luminaries such as Donata, Illayda, and Lie Ning. The irony of releasing a critical record about the music business on a record label is not lost on her. “It might look like I’m selling out,” she says. “On one hand, I don’t trust this industry, but on the other, I can’t do everything myself and that tension is huge, so the question is, how do I bridge this? With this record, I learned that it’s good to be open to that.”

I’ve been writing music since I was 11, not with the intention of becoming a musician, but because it was the only language I fully knew how to speak.

Novaa cites her trust in her manager and booking agent as something that has helped her navigate her industry relations. This is especially important as Novaa, unlike many other artists, doesn’t gravitate easily towards live performances. “I have a lot of trouble playing live,” she says when asked about her experiences with touring. “I know a lot of people that love the whole live thing. But in the beginning, when you’re not big, playing live is very tiring, even for those who love it, because it’s too much sometimes,” she says. “Plus, the way we think about it, especially in regards to the climate crisis, doesn’t make sense. It would be better to find a solution, like having residencies or online events. I have had a lot of tough times playing live, and then I got burned out.”

Becoming Super Novaa

Photo: Makar Artemev

The album is bookended by two very distinct tracks. Opener ‘Supernovaa’ is delivered with a beautiful piano melody and lyrics, in which Novaa starts referring to herself in the third person – she is the supernova. The same melody plays again on the album closer, ‘Type IA’, a reference to the one of the rarest and largest types of supernovas in the known universe. “The first song on the album has this negative touch on it, and the last one is a manifestation, which is very positive, giving an outlook that is sustainable,” she says.

As the album comes to a close, Novaa tries to provide a sense of hope for the future. And although there is still work to be done, it shows that she might help change things for the better. “The music industry is just a reflection of society,” she says. “And the things I would like to change in general are things I would like to see changed in society – starting with the way we support people, how we talk to each other in a fair and respectful way. We are all people with different ideas trying to find a common ground where people feel respected.” Even though Novaa says that she would like people in the music industry to take offence at the album, it’s addressed to everyone out there. “And I would like for them to feel loved and held.”