'Bubblegoth' rebel Kerli thanks Estonia for her music

Stuart Garlick
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Estonian singer Kerli poses for photos, ahead of release of her latest album, 'Raindrops', in Los Angeles, Califonia, on January 16, 2015

Estonian singer Kerli poses for photos, ahead of release of her latest album, 'Raindrops', in Los Angeles, Califonia, on January 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mark Ralston)

Tallinn (AFP) - If her catchy "bubblegoth" music is winning fans worldwide, pop star Kerli chalks it up to her revolt against the hard grind of life as her native Estonia shook off its Soviet legacy.

"I knew in my heart there was this crazy big world out there, but I hadn't seen it," said the diminutive 27-year-old with waist-length platinum hair.

"We had the blocks from Soviet times, next to the woods. You had the beauty of nature, and then you had these blocks where everyone's apartment was the same," she told AFP in an interview via Skype.

"It was creepy in a way," she said. "I didn't know any artists, or anyone who would challenge the way of existence."

But Kerli Koiv -- who goes by her first name -- has come a long way from Elva, population 5,600, where she was born four years before Estonia regained independence in 1991.

Now living in Los Angeles, she has won wider recognition than any other Estonian pop star.

Her buoyant electronica and quirky costumes -- reminiscent of Iceland's Bjork -- grabbed attention in dance music circles with her 2008 debut album, "Love Is Dead".

"Bubblegoth" was born -- a melange of bubble gum girliness and gothic edge, partly inspired by "anime", the Japanese style of animation with sexy heroines in fantastic settings.

- 'Cute and creepy' -

The goth's black was dropped for pink or bright colors but Kerli's upbeat sound, with a strong dose of synthesiser, was tempered by a darker undertone.

The result is a "controversy of cute and creepy", she said.

In six quick years she can boast some high-profile work including vocals and lyrics on "Raindrops", a new collaboration with US dance artist SNBRN.

She co-wrote US singer Demi Lovato's Billboard hit ballad "Skyscraper", and has contributed to albums inspired by two films by the slightly macabre US film director Tim Burton.

Her song "Tea Party" is on the compilation that followed Burton's 2010 "Alice in Wonderland" and "Immortal" is on the album two years later inspired by "Frankenweenie".

Kerli readily admits her style was forged by the difficulties of growing up in post-communist Estonia, a song-loving culture whose break with Soviet rule -- when banned national songs were belted forth in daily demonstrations -- was dubbed the "Singing Revolution".

With the 1990s came the digital revolution that transformed Estonia into "e-stonia", one of Europe's most wired countries, and opened up the view.

"I started rebelling, wearing crazy clothes I got from second-hand stores or church donation rooms or whatever, experimenting with whom I was.

She saw big but says no one took her seriously. "I was frustrated I couldn't find Alexander McQueen in Elva!"

- 'Bipolar world' -

The singer's piano-driven ballads often explore melancholy and love-gone-wrong but she feels her second album in 2012, "Utopia", was compromised by internal politics at her former label Island Def Jam.

"It doesn't go to the dark corners," she said. "Everybody started freaking out and telling me I needed to make the company way more money, so I needed to start making happy music."

Her third album, to be released by Ultra Music later this year, brings back the pensive edge inspired by her homeland.

"It's very quirky and very colourful, but then at times it's very extreme melancholy, like a bipolar world," she said.

She also has a fashion collection planned for 2015 and has bought land in Estonia for a new home.

"I've already started looking at this dome you can order from Norway. I'm going to build an alien-spaceship creative house!" she said.

"When I left Estonia I was 16. I just wanted to leave, I wanted to see the world so much. But now, as an adult, I'm really excited to find that newfound strength from my land," she said.

"So now, in the music I'm writing, I'm trying to channel that magic."