AURORA talks ‘What Happened To The Heart?’: “Apathy is the biggest enemy to progress”

‘What Happened To The Heart?’ It’s a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately,” AURORA tells NME about the title of her upcoming fourth album as we meet in a central London hotel. Over the course of writing the follow-up to 2022’s banger-heavy ‘The Gods We Can Touch‘, the Norwegian alt-pop pioneer has been on a journey to answer that question.

In April 2022, she found upon a letter co-written by indigenous activists, titled We Are the Earth, calling for mankind to “heal the land” and celebrate our connection to the mother nature “through our hearts” and the earth as “the heart that pulsates within us.”

From there, she went deep on exploring the real purpose of the heart. Lord knows is a lesson we need now with a planet dying and a world at war. A testament to that comes on her recent single ‘Some Type Of Skin’, as she simply concludes: “We’re good people  and we both deserve peace, as difficult as that seems”.


“It’s such a simple thing to say, I’ve found, but so necessary – even though it shouldn’t be,” AURORA said of the lyric. “We aren’t being given peace in this world. When I first began writing this chapter [of my work], I was looking at the history of the heart and what the heart has been a symbol for. Even before we knew about the anatomy of a human as scientifically as we do now, we talked about the heart and the core.

Pointing to her chest, she continues: “People knew that love is here, family is here, pain in here; we’ve known this for so many years. In ancient indigenous cultures, the heart was a symbol of spirituality: the gateway between us all.”

We find ourselves in an era of “just acting with our mind, not acting with our hearts at all”, she puts it, and a more loving and organic way needs to be put back into the order of all things. “People don’t do that, especially the people on top of it all,” she argues. “It’s almost like they know the world is gonna end so everything we care about doesn’t matter any more, but it’s not true.

“But what happened to the heart? It’s the most important, beautiful and sad question I’ve ever wondered in my life.”

Check out our full interview with AURORA in the video above, or read below as she tells us about looking for the light, stretching her sound, the problem with TikTok, and hopefully not poisoning The Chemical Brothers‘ Tom Rowlands with a rogue cookie.

AURORA, 2024. Credit: Wanda Martin
AURORA, 2024. Credit: Wanda Martin

NME: Hello AURORA. Why did you start on this journey of trying to understand the symbolism of the heart?

AURORA: “The world has grown so accustomed to being apathetic. The truth has never been easier to share, but it’s also never been easier to manipulate either. AI was created without our consent; nobody asked us the people if we were ready to have something that big being thrown upon us. Now, so many things are going to change, which I don’t think we can yet grasp.

“Another true form of power is to manipulate people, to embarrass people, to lie; there’s so much that you can do with it that’s dangerous. People are so used to becoming overflooded by misinformation and information, and sadly we’re looking to our influencers and celebrities to tell us what we’re supposed to know about political things instead of reading about it or listening to true experts on the matter.

“Of course, I’m very vocal about things so I do think it’s important as a ‘person with a voice’ or whatever to show people what you stand for, but to be the only arrow for people to show them what they mean – that’s dangerous, as hell!”

Ah, that’s grim…

“I have a lot of hope, but I’m really concerned that everyone’s necks are fucked, everyone is hurting, everyone is tired and depressed. It’s fashionable to joke about nihilism and suicide. We have really lost touch with something that we used to have, and it was really beautiful.”

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The last time we spoke was just before the release of ‘The Gods We Can Touch’, fresh after COVID when there was an air of optimism and change afoot after the activism brought on by George Floyd’s murder and a lot of talk about how we relate to each other and the planet. You said: “It’s always a good thing when the oppressed aren’t the only ones fighting and the privileged are starting to fight as well. That’s a sign of true progress”. How you feel about that progress now?

“We aren’t meant to look at a genocide [in Gaza] happening for four months on our phones before we go to work. Because of the overflow of information, our attention span is our biggest weakness. We know how to care about something for a little bit, then we kind of lose touch with it again. Our ability to be persistent with the progress that we feel like we deserve is also weak, which is understandable. I’m not blaming us for that. It’s a very natural reaction to where we are at a species now, but we’re still being forced to become apathetic.

“Apathy is the biggest enemy to progress. But I feel that in shadows and what is not on the news, there are so many good things happening. The world is literally on fire – whether global warming, injustice, slavery in Congo, or a war that nobody can stop. The people that can, won’t, because war is also business. But amongst all of that, a lot of good things are happening too. People are proving that we’re tired of peace in that we want more than that: we want real change and liberation and real progress.

“What was peace for me and you here in London was not peace for other people out there. I’m kind of tired of peace and speeches of peace, because we deserve more than that.”

In asking ‘What Happened To The Heart?’, did you find any answers?

“I kind of did. At one point the album gets very ugly, it gets very harsh, it gets very uncomfortable – before it breaks apart. Then at the end of the album there is insight and truth that you need to go and mend all of the rules that you didn’t acknowledge for all these years.

“That’s what needs to happen. Something needs to break apart a bit. Who knows where the world is heading? The least we can do is just keep being in touch with each other and ourselves.”

AURORA, 2024. Credit: Press
AURORA, 2024. CREDIT: Wanda Martin

But it’s not as easy as that, right?

“We’re stuck in pain and many of us don’t have the energy or the courage to begin doing the small things that can make us feel so much better on a daily basis.

“Imagine what it is to be a human today: you’re on your phone, disconnected, being lied to, being manipulated, then you see what’s wrong with the world – or you think you see it but you don’t know how to do anything about it, so you escape into something else. Imagine living in that world where everyone is supposed to feed you, help you, talk the truth to you, is just constantly bringing you into a system so that they can make money.

The world’s on fire so let’s make some money?

“Yes, it is a bit like that! People are getting so tired of celebrities and politicians. People are getting tired of rich people celebrating themselves while the world is burning. You see people getting tired of it, compared to 50 years ago when it was all the rage and all a hoot!”

There’s been some discussion about whether people want reality or escapism in their music. You’re proving that you can do both.

“You can do both and you should do both, because art is both. It’s all about balance.”

You said that you made it a mission to only write for this record in “unsafe” spaces that made you feel quite alien. Where did take that you? Did it make you feel more or less certain about your ideas? 

“Previously, I have gone to a place, locked the doors, turned the lights down low and made an album. This time I wanted to try different rooms and temperatures to write the songs because I needed to access a lot of different AURORAs on this album. It gave me access to a lot of parts of me that I haven’t really faced before; even parts that scared me a little – very personal parts. I’ve been exploring my own darkness more, so it is maybe my most personal album, even though it’s about something so big.”

Did that lead to some new sounds? 

“It’s a very human album and there are a lot of things being played. It has a lot of different moods and every song belongs to a different part of the process for me. The album is very different from the three singles, but I like to release songs that confuse people. The fans really like the complexity. I treat the fans like kings and I would never underestimate them with my music. I know they’re going to feel very satisfied with songs that are so multi-dimensional.”

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Do you feel like an outlier for that?

“There’s a lack of that. People expect music now to be very instant and free. That’s why there’s all this shit music going around on TikTok. There are also a lot of cool new acts on TikTok. I like that they can promote themselves.

“Anyway, I’ve been exploring a lot of different things. There are new sounds I’ve never heard before. I’ve been experimenting a lot and had so much fun. I nearly shat myself every day! Not that I have an issue with that.”

It’s a good sign of a good time

“I had such a good time. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s extremely playful, and I’ve been working with people I admire.”

Including Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowlands…

“Always, my mate Tom from Chemical Brothers. We have a lot of fun. We feel like two little aliens walking around, and we have the same hunger for something exceptional. I’m really grateful. I texted him one evening just saying, ‘Tom – puke vomit all over my song please’. And he did, for like four hours.”

Did you get lost in his garden again? 

“I’m trying to not do that again. The one time I got lost in his garden it was his daughter’s birthday, and this time it was his birthday. I just love bothering him and his poor family on their birthdays – I never leave them alone. I gave him a cookie wrapped in a napkin that I found on the ground.”

I’m sure he’s OK. 

“Is he though? Has anyone heard from him?”

AURORA. Credit: Wanda Martin.

The album also sees you work with Ane Brun, Matias Tellez (Girl In RedMaisie Peters), Chris Greatti (YungbludBlink-182Pussy Riot), Dave Hamelin (Beyonce, King Princess and Zara Larsson) and Magnus Skylstad. Greatti is somewhat of a maximalist – what did he bring to the table?

“That! I tend to go into very dark landscapes. I like when my songs sound like a landscape, but I needed a few songs on this album to sound like a different part of the process I’m trying to deal with.

“Most of the people I work with come with a little strategy, and it’s based on me meeting them in a bar then saying, ‘Let’s go to the studio now!’ With Chris, it was because I liked his hair. He had a mullet and a glam-rock thing going on. I didn’t know who he had worked with before, but he seemed really interesting. We laughed a lot and we just played. Sometimes it’s about the art, sometimes it’s just about playing, and sometimes it’s about both. We’re really good friends now.”

So if Tom Rowlands brought out the raver in you, Chris Greatti brought out the glam rocker, what did Dave Hamelin bring out in you? 

“I remember I lost my voice when I went into the studio with him. It’s not often I work with new people, but sometimes it’s nice to be surprised by the unknown. Not The Unknown from that horrible Willy Wonka Experience…”

Oh you saw that? Are you not gutted to have missed it while you were in the UK? 

“I was gutted. I would have loved to have seen The Unknown up-close like that. Why the fuck was he there? It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

Well, there’s your next music video

“Don’t out my ideas! But to be thrown into the unknown, I wanted to cancel as I’d lost my voice my manager told me to go [into the studio with Hamelin]. I was there for four hours, I said, ‘Can you make it sound like hell?’ He made it sound terrible like I wanted, I just screamed because I couldn’t sing and it was really satisfying. After four hours I said goodbye. It was a really fast, beautiful, ugly thing – but it was just what I needed.”

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Speaking of that primal urge, you play some drums and percussion on this record too right? 

“I love being in touch with rhythms. I love a very big diversity in the beats in my music. A long time ago I realised that a lot of deaf people or people with hearing disabilities liked my music, so I make sure to always have a lot of vast variation in the bass regions so that it can be felt.”

How is the new album going to change the live show? 

“One of my favourite shows from my childhood – and adulthood – was Avatar: The Last Airbender (not the movie, we don’t talk about that). I always felt like I was either air or water, and I feel like people are scared to change. They’re scared of me changing, they’re scared of the world changing, and themselves. That’s the most beautiful ability we have; it’s so freeing. Jesus Christ! It will change. I want more air, I want to create more space. I want every song to have huge balls.”

You’re playing Royal Albert Hall on your 2024 tour. That has plenty of space for balls.

“Yes, Royal Albert’s balls! I’m excited for every show, and just excited in general.”

And Glastonbury

“Heck yes! In the name of mathematics, I will conquer Glastonbury. I feel like I have to redeem myself there. Everytime I go there, I’ve always had a holiday for like a month. Boy, do I know how to take time off! I always arrive all shrivelled like a raisin. This time I’m going to come back fresh and sweet like a plum. I love Glastonbury because it’s so iconic. Make sure that if you’re going to use drugs that you know what’s in them. Test your drugs, but most importantly: don’t do drugs. It’s a fucking stupid thing to do.”

Any amazing advice to end on?

“Don’t do drugs, but don’t be a don’t-er. Do be a doer.”

AURORA releases ‘What Happened To The Heart’ on June 7 via Decca Records/Glassnote/Petroleum. Pre-order it here