Swedish singer-songwriter Sara Hjellström has an impressive list of songwriting credits. Stashing the likes of "First Time" by Kygo Ft. Ellie Goulding, "All We Know" by The Chainsmokers and "(Not) The One" by Bebe Rexha in her catalogue, Hjellström - best known as her moniker SHY Martin - has now become an established artist in her own right.
Since her debut in 2016, SHY Martin has cleverly weaved her way from behind the scenes and into the spotlight. Releasing her debut EP in 2018 and with "Just A Little Longer" paving the way to her pop stardom, she continues to breathe fresh, exciting bops into the world. EARMILK had the chance to catch up with the budding pop star before her final UK tour dates earlier this month.
For Hjellström, music has always play an integral part in her life. Improvising songs for her sister as children and continuously writing from a young age has allowed her to put her stamp on the world. For her, songwriting is almost an inherent ability. "When I was younger, I think I sang more than I talked. When I watch old videos of myself I'm always singing about what I was doing at the time. So writing and singing has always been a natural way for me to express myself. It's only been recently though that I'm starting to feel like I'm actually good at it!"
And she is good at it. Damn good at it. So good, in fact, that artists from across the globe have chosen to record the songs she's written. That must surely boost the self-belief in her writing? "It feels truly amazing that other artists have related to songs I've written and wanted to release them," she says. "During the past three years I've realised what truly makes me happy, and it's the high I get after writing a song I really like. It's hard to explain... but it's like an adrenaline kick. Awards, streaming numbers or chart positions can't top that feeling."
Despite songwriting for others, SHY's decision to put pen to paper for herself has led to her dropping some of the best Swedish dance-pop bangers ever. With over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify and hits like "Forget To Forget", "Lose You Too" and "Just A Little Longer", it's evident that SHY Martin's creativity has captured both the ears and the hearts of her listeners, quickly turning them into returning fans. So, what's her secret to success? "I don’t have any secrets! I’m actually just trying to take in the fact that people are actually listening to my music. It’s still such a weird yet amazing feeling for me!" she laughs.
"I've really started to love writing for myself. I don't think I'm really used to it still though. But I feel like I become more honest with every song I write now. And being on tour, meeting my fans, seeing people sing along to my songs, hearing their stories and how they relate to my music has been the most incredible thing. That connection feels truly magical."
Putting your thoughts and feeling, as well as yourself, on display for others to both adore and critique must be nerve-wracking though? "I'm not going to lie, at some points it can be terrifying! I've always focused on what other people think of me and I've always wanted to impress - it's a blessing and a curse. There's a big difference for me between releasing music myself as an artist compared to releasing songs with other artists. It's been emotional in so many different ways."
American fans have really resonated with Scandi-pop and Hjellström contributes that to a number of reasons. "I think a big factor in why there's so much pop music coming out of Scandinavia, is that music is taught as a subject in school from a very young age. It's really common for kids to play either one or two instruments from when they're as young as 8 years old," she says. "Another big factor is that in Sweden, our taxes pay for our educations, so when we choose to study at a music school, you actually get grants to study!"
"I’m a perfectionist," she admits. "So the process of releasing a song is often very exhausting and scary. Still, getting to connect with people through my own music makes it all worth it. It’s a feeling I can’t explain, but one that’s extremely addictive."
After all, SHY Martin is still a human being. Despite her songwriting superpowers and sugary sweet vocals, she's simply an artist trying to make her mark in an often harsh industry. Yet, given her platform and recent attendance at Bebe Rexha’s 2018 'Women In Harmony' Dinner alongside Charli XCX, Kim Petras and Avril Lavigne, SHY is now a member of the Equalizer Project, an innovative venture into fighting gender inequality in music. The initiative is run by Max Martin, Daniel Ek at Spotify and the Swedish music publishers association Musikförläggarna. SHY explains why projects like this are vital for women in the industry.
"I think the most important thing with the initiative is to gather female creators and make them aware of each other. There are so many female creators out there, but they don't get as much exposure as the guys do. I think it's important to highlight the existing females in the industry in order to offer younger girls more role models. It's quite easy for boys growing up knowing they want to become the next Drake or the next Kygo, but we need more role models like Julia Michaels that are not only artists."
For SHY Martin, 2019 looks like a promising year. With the aim of releasing as much music as possible, collaborating with some great artists and working towards a second EP release later in the year, SHY's schedule looks to be fully booked. "I really want to work with James Bay, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes," she admits. Now there's a few collaborations I'd definitely want to hear.
Her first release of 2019, "Out of My Hands", is a sleek, beat-driven song. Showcasing her emotive vocals with a lush electro-pop melody, it's another familiar piece of SHY Martin perfected pop. "The song is about leaving behind a destructive relationship that you've become addicted," SHY explains. "When you've been in a relationship for a long time it's easier and less painful to stay in it, rather than leave it behind, as it’s so hard at the time to know who you are without the other person. I think that’s the reason why people tend to romanticise destructive relationships, and why it's so easy to fall right back into them."
Exploring her creativity as an independent artist, SHY's family play an important role in finalising her work. "Working in a small team gives me a lot of control over my brand and I'm able to pick what people I want to surround myself with. I've been doing all the visuals with my big brother and that's truly amazing! Picking your own team also means you can work with people you know will always put your health first."
Before we part ways, the topic of karaoke arises. "I used to do it a lot as a kid and really loved it... I remember singing Coldplay 'Yellow' and Simon & Garfunkel", she admits. "But, if I would sing karaoke today it would definitely be something happier, like ABBA!"
So, if you're yet to "Take A Chance" on SHY's music, then I must tell you, she IS the Swedish "Dancing [pop] Queen". Listen and love. As an artist who should be on your radar, and with the possibility of having written one of your favourite songs (check out all her songwriting credits in this brilliant playlist), SHY Martin is a pop-writing gem and an icon in the making.