Glowie loves tattoos. Glance down at the Icelandic singer’s fingers and you’ll see the word Sara (her first name) on one hand, and 1997 (the year she was born) on the other. On her wrists is mum and dad in her native language. The name of her dog even makes an appearance further up. But the next one she’s planning is a big one. It’ll be on her ribcage, and it’s going to say “#fknbodyproud”.
That’s what the 22-year-old (full name: Sara Pétursdóttir) writes on her Instagram posts – ones where she’s wearing a T-shirt reading “a woman’s body is her own f**king business”, displaying her unshaved armpits, or lying in bed soaked in period blood. The singer hasn’t been around for long, but she arrived on the scene with a ready-made mission statement: to “inspire body positivity for the masses”. If that sounds a little glib, one listen to her gold-plated bangers, or a scroll through those provocative Instagram posts, or maybe just five minutes in her company will rectify that. On her debut single “Body”, a glitchy, elastic, electro-pop anthem, she declares, “That’s a f**kin’ body / And I really wanna get to know it”.
There’s a reason Glowie is so adamant in staking claim over her own body: for a long time, she despised it. “I was bullied at school because I was so skinny,” she says, sitting bolt upright in the cafe of the Victoria and Albert museum. She only moved from her hometown of Reykjavik to London a few months ago, so she managed to get lost on the way here and arrived full of nervous apologies. “[I was thin] mostly because of anxiety,” she continues. “I lost my appetite for a few months, and then I started to lose weight really fast, and they started to bully me even more because I was just, like, a skeleton.”
But when she was a little older, her body was violated in a way that damaged her relationship with it even further. “I was raped as a teenager,” she says, with the kind of practised poise that suggests she’s used to people reacting with horror, and would rather I didn’t. “Sometimes I forget that it might be uncomfortable for people to hear that. But someone treating me like some sort of sexual toy affected how I looked at my body. I hated it. It was just about feeling so used. It’s just disgust – you just feel like you’re disgusting. It’s a terrible, terrible feeling. But I felt like the song really helped me embrace that moment in therapy when I was able to let everything go, and really just start to build up more confidence, and start learning how to love myself and my body again.”
It took her some time to talk openly about the experience, she says, “but I don’t want hide this anymore. I don’t wanna be like, ‘ssh, you shouldn’t talk about these sensitive things’. I just want to be me, and I want to be able to talk about difficult things in order to help me heal and get stronger, and for other people also to open up. I feel like that’s such an important part of any kind of trauma, to get to that point where you just let everything out. People are sometimes so afraid of that, but it’s like this weight is lifted out of you, and you feel so much lighter and stronger and ready to move on afterwards.”
By the time “Body” came out in 2018 – four years after Glowie won a singing contest in Iceland and turned down 11 contract offers, and a year after she signed a major-label record deal (Columbia) – “I was on top, I’d gained more confidence, and I was feeling really good about myself. And I wanted other people to.”
Does she think there’s been a shift, in recent years, in the way women are allowed to express their bodily autonomy? “I think it’s moving in the right direction, but I feel like it’s happening slowly,” she says. “It’s gonna be a long process but I think it’s finally starting to kick in. I think music is such a strong tool to get these things out there, so people can start having a conversation. Especially for women, just being allowed to wear whatever they want, it doesn’t matter how revealing it is, it doesn’t mean that you’re asking for people to touch you, or that you’re asking for people to look at you in a sexual way. It’s just you being you, and wearing what you want, and saying what you want. I feel like it’s gonna take a while to really get to a place where it’s OK, and everything is at its best.”
Glowie insists that she doesn’t look at being an artist “as being a public service”, but she’s clearly unafraid to make waves if it changes things for the better. “When you’re beginning, as a musician, you have to fit in this little box,” she says, “but being from Iceland, I love taking risks and doing unexpected things. I’m trying to fit in this box but I’m still, like, poking it a little bit, just to test it.”
Her label is supportive of that – though the first few months of meetings after she signed with them were hugely stressful. “Everything was in English, and I had to concentrate a lot more than usual, and I never remember anything that we talked about,” she says. “Everything just erased like an hour after or something. It was getting really hard, so I decided to go to a psychologist to figure out exactly what I had problems with, and it was pretty clear in the end, I have ADHD.”
The diagnosis was a godsend. She was prescribed medication to manage the symptoms of her disorder, “and it was just a whole new life. I was so emotional, because when I felt the medication kicking in, I was having conversations for like three hours straight, with a focus the whole time. And it didn’t only help me focus, it helped me gain more confidence, I was more open… I asked my family and my boyfriend and people I was working with, ‘What have you seen change?’ Everyone said it like there was a wall before, and now it’s down, and they can really see me, they can really hear me, and it feels like they’re actually talking to Sara. So it’s almost like I wasn’t really there. When I’m not on the medication, it’s like everything’s moving, and I’m just floating and everything’s spinning almost. But then when I take the medication, everything’s just still, and quiet, and I can see everything and hear everything.”
Not that she necessarily wants all of the symptoms of her ADHD to be supressed. “Because of the ADHD, I can sometimes get a little bit extreme,” she says. “All my emotions are quite extreme.” She drew on that when it came to the spooky, R&B-inflected pop song “Who’s Gonna Stop Me”, one of five tracks from her new EP, Where I Belong. “It comes like a fever / Yeah I am an animal, no remedy will do,” she sings. “When you’re not near me / I do what I want / and who’s gonna stop me?”
Though the medication subdued Glowie’s over-active mind, she’s not subduing her feelings anymore. One of her favourite Instagram posts is a triptych. In the first, she has tape over her mouth. In the second, she is peeling the tape off. And in the third, she is screaming. “I was feeling like I could really speak,” she says. “That’s what it represented. I’m not gonna be quiet anymore. I’m gonna speak. I’m gonna be loud.”
The ‘Where I Belong’ EP is out now