Few up-and-coming pop artists can boast an origin story quite as unusual—or oddly unlikely—as Finnish-born pop sensation SAARA. Born Sara Maria Forsberg in a small town on the West Coast of Finland, SAARA (a nickname given to her by her family pronounced “s-AH-R-uh”) spent her early childhood living abroad—in both Texas and in the UK—before moving back to Finland at the age of six. Though the young SAARA always had what she refers to as “performance tendencies” the now 20 year-old singer was something of a late-bloomer when it came to embracing her fascination with pop music.
“I grew up in a very conservative household,” recalls SAARA. “My family were Baptists, so I was only allowed to listen to Christian music and occasionally one of those music compilation CDs. I was about 12 years old when I secretly started to listen to Kelly Clarkson in my basement. My dad didn’t know about it, but I’d be down there listening to Breakaway and totally having a moment. That’s when I started to become curious about pop culture and pop music. I guess that was really my own kind of ‘breakaway.’”
Though her childhood was fairly sheltered, SAARA credits her father for instilling a love of music between her and her siblings, all of whom learned to play instruments at an early age. Even though she spent years playing the cello (along with piano and drums), it was singing that eventually captured her full attention and led to her performing at local music conservatories. And while it was her voice and love of performing that started to turn heads back home, it was SAARA’s sense of humor—specifically her uncanny knack for languages—that ultimately drew her sudden and surprising international attention. Posting on her own YouTube channel under the cheeky moniker of Smokahontas, SAARA’s first video, 2014’s “What Languages Sound Like to Foreigners”—in which she mimics over a dozen different languages while speaking what is essentially gibberish. The video racked up over 100,000 views overnight before going on to be viewed nearly 14 million times. Subsequent videos—in which SAARA sings in a variety of genres, and plays a variety of different instruments—made her a bonafide internet sensation, eventually landing her a guest spot on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and—in an even more fortuitous turn of events—a record deal.
“I ended up moving to LA all by myself and started working with Rodney Jerkins which led to signing a record deal with his Evolve label through Capitol Records,” says SAARA. “ And it all might never have happened if I hadn’t been bored and started recording myself. I had a blog but I didn’t think I was a very good writer, so I started making videos instead. I had finished high school and vocational school, at which I studied to be a chef. But getting a job in Finland is very hard and I was working as a cashier. Then this suddenly happened and it felt like this was my cue to make a change…and it’s been so much better than I could have ever dreamed. I moved to LA having never been here before, but I honestly couldn’t be happier. I mean, a year ago I was in Finland working as a cashier. It’s unbelievable.”
For SAARA, 2015 is looking to be a big year of firsts. In addition to the new single "UR COOL", she recently shot a video for the song as well as recording a batch of songs that will likely end up on her full-length debut. For someone who is no stranger to putting herself out there for the world to see, having the ability to show herself as an artist is proving to be both scary and unbelievably exciting. “It all happened so quick and so fast,” she says. “I’ve just been forced to kind of go with the flow. I just went into the studio and waited to see what felt the best, to see what kind of artist I wanted to become. So far, it’s all feeling really, really good.”