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When it comes to women in pop, historically the biggest names are singular: Cher, Madonna. Even ladies who start careers with perfectly serviceable surnames—Kylie Minogue, Dusty Springfield—get truncated by the media. Skeptics might argue this is an attempt to strip female artists of authority, but it can also be viewed as a badge of distinction. These women are simply too talented and hard-working to waste precious time signing multiple names when one will suffice.
Thus, while her passport may read Annie Lilia Berge-Strand, to the rest of the world this season's pop music princess is simply Annie. And like all of the aforementioned stars, the photogenic Norwegian blonde already has to her credit some infectious singles, the sort that stay lodged in the noggin for days: The bouncy jump-rope chant "Chewing Gum," and "Heartbeat," with its gossamer verses and walloping choruses. But what assurance do fans have that Annie will remain in the pantheon, rather than follow the trajectory of, say, Tiffany?
For one thing, Annie, 27, is too mature to dismiss as a teen sensation. Plus evidence indicates that her work stems not from a fleeting fascination with fame, but a genuine devotion to the medium. Take "Always Too Late," from her debut album, Anniemal (released in Europe in 2004, and the U.S. earlier this year). The original is a breathy, edgy R&B jam, reminiscent of Missy Elliott, while the "¥£$ Mix" of the same ditty (available as a free download on www.anniemusic.co.uk), bumps up the bass and comes crashing down around the ears like a pile of china, making it a perfect iPod complement to the internet-friendly fare proffered by the year's other big dance-floor darling, M.I.A.
Annie has her finger on the pulse, rather than on the speed dial of hired guns who allegedly do. Unlike Britney, nobody needs to schedule a million-dollar play date for this artist with the Neptunes or LCD Soundsystem to scrape up a possible hit. The bulk of Anniemal was cowritten and produced with Timo Kaukolampi of Finnish electro ensemble OP:L Bastards, whom she met manning the turntables of a club where she also played. Current tour mates Röyksopp, who collaborated with her on "Heartbeat," hail from her hometown of Bergen, and originally recorded for the same label. And "Chewing Gum" comes courtesy of Richard X, one of the first and biggest names in the world of mashups, the sort of mad genius who can make chart-friendly UK crap like Sugababes sound cool.
Lots of icons—poor Madonna, in particular—pay lip service to nightclubs. But Annie actually ran one, Pop Til You Drop, in her hometown of Bergen. Her aesthetic behind the decks, as represented on her forthcoming DJ Kicks mix CD (in stores October 25), reflects the sort of deep knowledge and eclectic taste one might expect from a Pitchfork contributor or a rabid blogger (i.e. the same folks who ranked among her earliest champions), not a pin-up-pretty pop singer—which is why folks who normally consider pop a "guilty pleasure" have appointed her the chart-friendly canary that it's okay to like.
Annie's DJ Kicks set includes propulsive post-punk by Death from Above 1979, a Junior Senior remix of Le Tigre, Bow Wow Wow's percussive new-wave staple "I Want Candy," the kaleidoscopic craziness of Zongamin, and even Bumblebee Unlimited's "Lady Bug (I Just Wanna Be Your)," a giddy disco rarity sung from the POV of horny insects. Kylie may talk about taping her favorite disco or synth-pop ditty off the radio as a youngster, and how that influenced her latest hit, but Annie can tell you what the b-side of said single was, and who engineered it, too.
And, like Kylie, Annie came to America's attention late. Her debut, the European club favorite "Greatest Hit" (built around a sample of Madonna's "Everybody"), originally came out in 1999. Yet after her boyfriend and creative partner Tore Andreas Kroknes died in 2001, she stepped back, and waited to resume making music. And although she only began performing live as a solo act earlier this year, the boys from Saint Etienne—with whom she recently toured the UK—have confessed to being fans of her indie rock band, Suitcase, nearly 10 years ago. Annie has been around the block. Ultimately, that will have greater bearing on long-term success than abbreviating her email@example.com