Ask Harvard students to describe their high school experiences, and you’ll hear a lot of the same: valedictorian, class president, newspaper editor-in-chief. Less common: national popstar. Fifteen Minutes sat down with musician Ida M. Paul ’20 to chat about her status as a Scandinavian celebrity and her transition to life at Harvard.
Paul’s introduction to music began at an early age. “We had these Finnish lessons in kindergarten,” she says with a laugh, “and you got to skip your Finnish lesson if you were a violinist.” At seven or eight years old, pragmatism turned to passion. After watching the movie-musical “Grease,” Paul fell in love with the idea of performing. A month later, she staged the number “Greased Lightning” with her cousins at her aunt’s wedding. “After that, I was like, ‘This is my thing,’” Paul says. “And ever since, I’ve been doing music.”
Twelve years later, she is a veteran violinist and a trending Finnish singer. She has also picked up the guitar through YouTube tutorials and has even learned a little bit of piano. Paul’s natural musical talent, combined with her affinity for writing, has propelled her into Scandinavian pop stardom.
When we throw around the label “pop star,” however, Paul hesitates. “I consider myself a singer-songwriter and, most of all, an artist. That’s what I would identify as: an artist.”
Either way, the numbers speak for themselves. Paul regularly accrues upwards of 30,000 views on her YouTube videos. At home in Finland, Paul is often stopped on the street by fans who recognize her.
Before coming to Harvard, Paul took a gap year to pursue her passion. While she originally intended to work and make music, time did not allow for both. Paul decided to quit her job to focus on the performances and studio sessions that took up so much time. She did not mind her rigorous schedule, though. “I felt committed to the music in the best way possible, but I didn’t feel the burden of commitment. I was just really intensely focused on it,” she says.
She is now getting ready to release her first full album, co-written with Kalle Lindroth, another songwriter.
Though Paul did consider attending a conservatory program, she chose Harvard out of a belief that a broad range of experiences would prepare her for her future, both musically and personally. “I want to be working with people from all fields, and not even all fields in art—I mean all fields.” Indeed, the people around Paul influence her creative process. She notes, “To get inspiration, to find that spark for a song or something, you need to be meeting people who challenge your views and your lifestyle, too.”
Paul says that making music has taught her that something will always go wrong. She has been able to translate the unpredictability of performance into a larger lesson. “When I learned not to care about things that are out of my control, my life became a lot easier,” she says. “And that’s definitely something that will help me here at college.”