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In the Studio

Noonie Bao, Songwriter to the Stars, Is Ready to Sing for Herself

Noonie Bao is one of those artists that you’ve definitely heard — you just might not know it. The fiery haired Swedish singer-songwriter has spent the past few years building up an impressive portfolio of writing credits for major artists — she’s responsible for Charli XCX’s “Doing It” and Avicii’s No. 1 single “I Could Be the One,” which also features her uncredited vocals. But now the 28-year-old is ready to sharpen pop hooks for herself. It just took her a little bit of time to gather the courage needed to put herself in the limelight once again.

“I started to write for other people because I was a bit afraid of releasing my own stuff,” Bao — whose new EP, Noonia, drops November 13, ahead of a full album to come at a late date — explains to SPIN over Skype. “But now I feel like it’s my time.”

It’s not, strictly speaking, Bao’s first release as herself — her plainly titled, piano-heavy debut album, I am Noonie Bao, came out in 2012 — but she’s found herself looking out over bigger and bigger audiences in the years since. Growing up in Stockholm, Bao, whose real name is Jonnali Mikaela Parmenius, was always caught between her drive to write songs and her uncooperative nerves.

“I feel so vulnerable,” Bao says, discussing the creative process. “It feels like I give away myself a bit, to show my emotions and feelings and that’s scary. But I’d rather write music about them than talk about it.”

Writing for herself is a rewarding but delicate process, but she has no problems helping others crank out massive hits, and her time spent largely behind-the-scenes has been a boon for everyone she’s worked with. “I love to write with other people because I want to, like, hang out,” she says. “Otherwise I’m just sitting alone all the time and I go crazy.” Charli XCX, a longtime collaborator who is enlisting the Swede’s help again for her next album, showered Bao with praise in a recent Instagram post. “Her music is so intelligent and beautiful,” the Sucker artist wrote, “and also she has the best hair in the world (sometimes I just wanna shave her head and take her hair and glue it on my head. Lol).”

Bao’s music, rife with odd pitches and grabbing, unexpected riffs, all sounds slightly (and intentionally) askew — strange in that weirdly identifiable and alluring way. “I think that I’m a melody freak, and I’ve been a melody freak since I was a child,” Bao says. “I love to write songs on the black keys on the piano.”

Her track “I’m In Love,” which dropped this spring and will be included on the five-track EP, dances along on a staccato, rhythmically off-kilter guitar strum and chipmunked chorus — it’s a brainy, manic echo chamber from someone deep in the throws of a crush. “I wanted to bring out that feeling you have when you are waiting for that text message that never seems to come,” she explained in a statement accompanying the track’s freaky video.

“Pyramids,” her single from this past summer, is thunderously triumphant, and an upcoming track, “Criminal Love,” is an eerie pop song from a stalker’s perspective. There’s a level of unease — danger, even — running through Bao’s lyrics and music that charges it with excitement. “I just try to create the world that I want to live in and what I see in my head,” she says.

The play between Bao’s anxiety to write for and about herself and the thrilling restlessness of her pop is perhaps the key part of her songwriting prowess. “I still feel like it’s a bit scary,” she says. “Right now, before the EP is gonna be released, I’m like, ‘Oh s**t. I don’t know. Should I do this?’ I think I’ll always be scared of releasing my own stuff, you know?”

Luckily, the rewards are enough that Bao has pushed through the fear. “It’s so much fun to just be able to write every day,” she says, laughing. “I don’t think that much about anything else really.”