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‘I think people in Sweden are very scared to dream’: rising pop star Nova Miller

Nova Miller may be only 16, but she has big dreams to take over the world – and a big voice to go with it. The Local's contributor Eugenia Tanaka sat down with the singer, who told us about her new single, 'Anything for U', managing school and career, and her plans for the future.

'I think people in Sweden are very scared to dream': rising pop star Nova Miller
Nova Miller. Photo: Vendela Hyde

Where are you from in Sweden? Did you have a typical Swedish upbringing?

I was born in Stockholm and had an amazing upbringing. I grew up in a music family and it was never quiet – there was always someone singing, playing instruments… They have always been super supportive and I was a happy, fun kid! I always loved singing and dancing and I’ve always been really energetic.

So you said you come from a musical family, and you play several instruments…

I do, I play the piano, the guitar, and I also used to play the classic violin when I was young. The guitar is my main instrument, I love my guitar – it’s my friend, always there for me.

Have you always wanted to be a performer?

Yes, always! I’ve always loved being on stage. I know it sounds pretty weird but I love the attention. I love people watching you, and I feel very comfortable on stage. It feels like home.

And how did you get started professionally?

I met my manager, Lolene Belcroft, when I was 12 years old at my dance school. She saw me dancing and we got talking. She said she thought I was really talented, and I came to her studio with my little guitar and I sang 'Buses and Trains' by Bachelor Girl, my favourite song back then. And the rest is history, I guess.

And you also love to act! You’ve been a screen and voice actor on major productions, like the film Your Name, and you frequently appear on the Disney Channel in Sweden. How did you first start acting?

Well, I’ve always been theatrical. I’m very dramatic (laughs). And as I started making music professionally, I realized that acting was also something I really love as well. So it kind of came as I started with my music career. I just finished recording a new show for Swedish TV, called Svansen i kläm. I played a high school girl, and that was my first real acting role. It was so great, and so much fun! I’m definitely going to be doing a lot more acting in the future.

That’s great, we’re excited to see more of you! You’ve also been auditioning for High School Musical 4. Did you watch High School Musical growing up? Are you a big fan?

I love Disney so much and I love High School Musical, it’s one of my favourite movies. I am a huge fan, you don’t even know! I know every single song, and it’s such an honour for me to be auditioning. It’s crazy, I have to pinch myself constantly to realize that it’s actually true and it’s happening. I just love Disney so much, and they’ve always been super supportive.

And how was the auditioning process? Did you have to travel a lot to the US?

I first sent them a videotape of me singing and saying some lines, and then when I was in the US around eight months ago I came to their office for an audition. Then I did another audition a few weeks ago, when I was in LA. So I was there a couple of times. It was really amazing.

Speaking of the US, you’ve just performed your first ever gig there a couple of weeks ago. How did that feel?

Doing my first US show was like a dream come true. I have huge dreams, and I’m definitely planning on being there more, and doing more shows there. It was such a big step for me to do my first show in the US, because I’ve been wanting to do it for such a long time. I’ve been practising for so long, and I was so happy when I did it! I had so much fun, it feels like a great start. One of my biggest dreams is to sell out arenas and have my own world tour.

READ ALSO: How Swedish band Bob Hund helped me learn the language


Photo: Nina Udin

I was just about to ask about your ambitions. Do you see this first show in the US as a way to reach English-speaking audiences? Is that your goal, to go global?

Yes, absolutely. That’s definitely my goal, to go global and to be an inspiration, and for people to love my music all over the world. That’s obviously very ambitious, but I think it’s okay to be ambitious and it’s okay to dream. It’s very hard work, but I know it’s worth it. Nothing can stop me now, really.

Forgive me, but that doesn’t sound very Swedish, it doesn’t sound lagom.

(Laughs) I think people in Sweden are very scared to dream, very scared to be ambitious. And it’s not really okay to be different here, and that’s something that I’ve struggled with my entire life. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sweden, it’s an amazing country and I get so much support from Sweden, but I feel like my goals and dreams are bigger than here. And I want to encourage people, I want them to know that it’s okay to dream, and it’s okay to be ambitious. I want to talk to young girls, I want them to love themselves and to feel like they’re not alone. I want them to feel that being a girl is amazing – I love being a girl!

You said you felt it wasn’t okay to be different, growing up in Sweden. Were you ever bullied?

Yes, actually. I got bullied a lot online, on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I love social media, but it can be horrible as well – you can be anonymous and say awful things to people. But it was especially bad in school – people thought I was weird, and there was a lot of whispering behind lockers and laughing. And I guess it doesn’t sound like brutal bullying, but it was extremely hard for me. I was very insecure. I don’t think that, in order to be a bully, you need to be violent or even scream at someone’s face – as long as you’re making someone else feel bad about themselves, you are a bully. It was very hard for me to handle when it happened to me, but I always had music, I always had my guitar. I wrote a lot about it, and that was actually when I started connecting with music on a deeper level. I also had amazing friends – I have amazing friends that support me a lot. But I guess it never really ends. As I release more music and my career starts going, I’m going to get hated on social media – not everyone will love you. I just need to get better at not letting it get to me.

It’s so great to see someone as young as you being so open about sensitive issues like this. Do you see your music as an inspiration for young people out there?

I think it’s important to talk about it, people need to know they are not alone. I hope I can inspire people! Inspiring other people inspires me. It’s definitely my purpose. One of my goals as an artist is to make a difference, and I have this amazing opportunity to talk about things, this platform. I have a lot of followers on social media, and you can choose what you want to show or say to them. I choose to speak up and talk about issues that are close to my heart, and I hope that people feel better hearing me talk about these things.

You said you wanted to help little girls feel good about being themselves, and you’ve been very vocal about breaking stereotypes and prejudice around gender and age. As a young woman, have you encountered any obstacles in your career that you would say were because of your age and/or gender?

Yes, absolutely. Age discrimination was very salient to me when I started out. I was very young when I started, and I was a pretty confident kid. I knew what I wanted from day one, and people used to look at me with a very dismissive attitude, like “you’re just a little girl who wants to be an artist like everybody else, and you don’t know anything about life.” As a 12-year-old kid, of course you don’t have much experience, but just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m less ambitious, or that I won’t work as hard. And now I’m 16 and I still meet this kind of attitude, but I do get the sense that it’s less and less as I get older. People take me more seriously now, even if I could have been just as good when I was younger.

Do you think the entertainment industry is different in this respect?

Yes, definitely. There are so many kids who want to be football players, who want to be the next Zlatan, and people are very supportive. Everyone always says “yeah, go for it!”, but when it comes to music, if you say you want to be a star, and that you want to sell out arenas and win a Grammy, people say you’re crazy, and just tell you to go to bed. I don’t know why it is like that, but music is so special, and it’s such a big part of people’s lives, that I guess they’re just scared.


Photo: Daniel Stigefeldt

I know you’re very busy proving people wrong there, but do you have any hobbies?

It’s such a fine line between working with music and having it as a hobby. Music is truly my biggest hobby. It’s my passion, and it’s what I love the most. So whenever I have some free time, I practise, and sing, and write songs. But other than that, I love dancing, hanging out with my friends, and just being a normal kid. Going to the movies, going to restaurants… I love to eat tacos (laughs).

And do you find it difficult being a normal kid and manage your career, school, and personal life?

I do, actually. I just went back to school a week ago after my summer break and it’s quite hard to manage everything – but who said it would be easy? I go to a music school and they help me stay focused, and to work hard on what I want. It’s really easy to get distracted when you’re at school, with friends, boyfriends, and everything else going on. So staying focused is what I find the hardest, but I do my best and I know it’s worth it in the end.

Well, it’s paying off – you’ve just released a new single, ‘Anything For U’, and it’s great! Is there an album coming out?

Oh yes. This past year I’ve been working hard in the studio, and there is definitely an album coming out, probably next year. I’ve just been feeling very inspired. I am so excited to release this album, I love the songs. ‘Anything For U’ was the first single we released, and I love it with my whole heart – I think it’s catchy, I think it’s good, and I can’t help but move my body when I listen to it. I feel so proud of it, and of the video as well – it’s like a 70’s party throughout, and the 70’s are the main inspiration for my music and style in this album.

And are you touring soon? When can we see you?

You can follow me on social media, my Instagram is @novamillerofficial, my Twitter is @novamillermusic. I post about all my shows and all my releases there, so stay tuned!

But no dates at the moment?

Not right now.

And what have you been listening to? Can you recommend any Swedish artists to our readers?

I personally love Tove Lo, I think she’s amazing and I love her music. Zara Larsson is doing great, she’s also cool. People like to compare us sometimes, but I wouldn’t say we’re that similar.

Does it bother you that people compare you?

I guess people just like making connections. When Zara came out, people said she sounded like Rihanna, and now that I’m coming out they compare me to her, or to Ariana Grande. But I just want to do my own thing.

Last question: where do you see yourself in five years?

Oh, I like that question. I’m ambitious. I hope to be living in the US, and I hope my music is appreciated and inspiring to people. I hope I’ll have released at least one or two albums that people enjoy, and I hope that I’m out on tour, doing what I love!

Selling out arenas…?

Yes! Exactly. (Laughs)

For members

MY SWEDISH CAREER

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Two years after she arrived in Sweden, Shreya Sai, from India, decided to use Sweden's 'labour market training' system to learn to code from scratch. A year later she was working as a developer at Capgemini.

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Sai moved to Älmhult, the small town that hosts Ikea’s headquarters, back at the start of 2019, after her husband got a job working for the flatpack furniture giant.

She is a qualified physiotherapist and had spent two years practicing back home in India. But it didn’t take long for her to realise that it would be difficult to work in Sweden in her chosen profession, given the difficulty of getting a license to practice. 

“After coming over here, I saw that there were so many hurdles in medical fields, and it was a very long procedure of almost four years [to convert],” she says. 

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She worked as a substitute teacher, but after almost two years in Sweden, her handler at the Swedish Public Employment Services suggested she retrain. 

“I had a chat with my case officer. And I told her about my problems, the language barrier, and how, in the past, I had studied something related to IT, so that’s why she suggested I go for these certifications.” 

The case officer enrolled Sai on a six-month full stack developer course at Lexicon, an education supplier in nearby Växjö. It was a tough few months, but Sai didn’t lose hope. She completed the course in February 2021, and then started as an intern at a Stockholm startup the next month. 

“It was really tough for me initially, but anyhow, I grabbed some momentum and started understanding coding,” she remembers. “It’s so tough to be a coder, and it is the purest pressure in my whole training time, because I didn’t know anything about coding. All types of coding were alien to me.”  She had last studied computers when she was at upper secondary school.

The Covid-19 pandemic was still ongoing, so both the course and the internship were done through remote learning, but that did not stop her from getting a four-month contact as a web developer with a heating technologies company upon graduation.

Then in February this year, she started a permanent contract at Capgemini, after being hired through their Ignite graduate program. 

Sai believes that the Public Employment Service’s labour market training courses are a good option for newcomers to Sweden, with some 400 courses on offer, mostly provided by private sector suppliers such as Lexicon, Lernia, or AU utbildning. 

 You can see a full list of available courses here. And here is some information on going on a study visit.

“You choose which field you want to belong to, and when you choose, they give you some type of study visits,” she says. “And then you go and explore and receive information, and then your case officer enrolls you if there is a vacancy after a short interview.”

In May, the employment service reported that 20,210 people had undertaken labour market training in 2021, and that there were currently 40,000 people either awaiting a decision or engaged in labour market training. 

The program is expensive, costing Sweden’s government 1.5 billion kronor in 2021, but according to the report, 43.7 percent of those who took courses were working 180 days after their course was completed, and 36.2 percent were working 90 days after the training finished. 

While studying, you still qualify for unemployment benefit from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency.

Sai says that there were people on her coding course from Ireland, Israel, Iran, Sweden and Poland, among other countries, and that only about 20 percent had a direct background in IT, with the rest having had careers in other fields.

She was the only one in the class with absolutely zero experience with computers or coding, however. 

“It was very, very, very hard for me. I was like, ‘I will quit it. I won’t be able to do it.’ But my family supported me a lot. And they said, ‘you have to do it, you can’t back out because you can you don’t have any other option'”.

She lacked the qualifications, she says, to do a less intensive computer programming course at a university, and lacked the qualifications needed for other jobs in Sweden. 

“I used to like studying day and night, and somehow, I managed it. Right now, I will not say that I’m the best or a perfect coder in today’s world, but I’m working towards becoming a good coder.” 

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