Marcus & Martinus
Meet the Norwegian pop duo.
"The biggest pop act in the Nordic region.” That’s the first thing you see when you visit the Marcus & Martinus website. It’s a big claim to make about the two young teenage boys. But then again, the career of this Norwegian pop duo has enjoyed an almost unbelievable upward trajectory since winning the Norwegian TV song competition “Melodi Grand Prix Junior” in 2012. First came immediate pop stardom in their home country with chart-topping songs. Then they became as big a name in neighboring Sweden, with sold-out concerts and hysteria. Marcus & Martinus fever has hit Europe. Now the rest of the world awaits.
It is a Saturday morning and the streets outside the Bagpipe recording studio in southern Stockholm are surprisingly empty, given that Marcus and Martinus are inside. “I don’t understand the way our fans behave – they seem to appear everywhere. They wait for us at airports, hotels and recording studios,” Martinus says. “But our fans have been a really big help to us. We wouldn’t be sitting here today without them.”
Marcus and Martinus are twins and it is difficult at first to tell the difference between them. But it doesn’t take long to clearly see which is which, and not just because of their different hairstyles. Martinus is a bit more reserved. The 15-minute older Marcus is the one who usually speaks first. Together, they give the impression of being two typical teenage boys, open, happy and a bit playful. But beneath the surface they seem focused.
“We want to find our way to our own sound.”
Marcus and Martinus are on a lightning visit to Sweden. They’re flying home to Norway tomorrow to concentrate on their final ninth grade exams. Their dad, Kjell-Erik Gunnarsen, is sitting in an armchair by the coffee table. He has been his sons’ full-time manager for the past year. A former teacher, he helps the twins with their studies when they’re on tour. Marcus and Martinus are at the fabled Bagpipe studio, where hits have been recorded by the likes of Lady Gaga, ABBA and One Direction, to polish their next album. The aim is to present a more mature pop duo. This summer, they are going to record a future track at studios in New York and Los Angeles.
“We want to find our way to our own sound,” Martinus says.
“We have to be totally honest about how we feel as it will be our music, we’re the ones going to have to live with these songs,” Marcus adds. “Obviously we want to keep all our fans. Musically, we want to keep it simple and at the same time produce music that you want to dance to. We also want songs for when you’re sitting in your car or at the airport and just chilling. It’s about finding the right mix, as we have fans of all ages.”
“It’s about finding your way to different sounds to fit the mood,” Martinus continues. “A heartbroken sound, a happy Friday sound, a chill sound. Not everything should be happy happy.”
“We want to tell a kind of story,” Marcus says. “We don’t know what it says yet. But it has a happy ending so far at least.”
The duo are being helped by Tayla Parx, an American songwriter who has worked with stars such as Rihanna, Demi Lovato and Nicki Minaj.
“Marcus and Martinus have infectious personalities that completely captivate anybody in the room with them,” Parx says. “Whether it’s in the studio or on stage, their energy makes you fall in love with their talent every time. They’ve been perfecting their craft the past few years and I think that’s going to be very obvious when the US and the rest of the world gets a taste.”
Their ability to back up an infectious enthusiasm with hard work has always set them aside from others. Their media image seems well-honed. They are presented as two cute lads with blond fringes. Do an internet search and you’ll find beach towels, pencil cases and travel sets adorned with the twins’ faces. There are countless interviews where the pair talk about future girlfriends or how much they love their fans, yet they never seem to get asked about what’s behind everything, the actual music. “That’s true,” Martinus says. “We’re doing all this because we love music, but if we start talking about music in interviews, it’s usually more about what other music we listen to and like.”
“We listen a lot to Jason Derulo and before him to Justin Timberlake, music that’s very funky,” Marcus says. “I’ve watched plenty of Justin Timberlake’s concerts to see how he operates, how he has fun all the time. We were at a concert with Bruno Mars. He’s also absolutely fantastic, a wicked singer and dancer who keeps the interaction between musicians and dancers alive.”
Despite their superstardom, which enables them to sell out huge arenas across Scandinavia and beyond, the brothers are still firmly rooted in their family life and their home town of Trofors. In this tiny community of 800 people along the E6 in the north of Norway, Marcus and Martinus are just like any other teenagers. At home, they switch off, play soccer and can be themselves.
“If a car drives past in Trofors, you wave because you know who it is,” Martinus says. “We’re not special in Trofors, we’re just like everyone else.”
They are also already experiencing some of the drawbacks of fame. Marcus says that it was tough not seeing their mom and little sister Emma for nearly two months during their European tour. And they show no signs of wanting to leave home.
When asked where they might live in the future, Marcus says that he’s going to demolish the house next door to their parents’ and build a new one. “In that case, I’m going to demolish the house next to yours and build my own house,” Martinus says with a laugh. “And we can have a tunnel under all the houses.”
“And keep the studio in the basement,” adds dad Kjell-Erik Gunnarsen, who has been involved in everything the boys have done since they were born.
“The boys are extremely focused. They weren’t satisfied to just sit back after winning Norway’s Spellemann Prize when they were just 14. What they have achieved acts as a spur to go further. The goal is more than having a sold-out tour of the Nordic countries or Europe. They’re always stretching themselves. When we’re traveling and they have loads of homework, I don’t have to force them to do it. There’s something special about them having such strong drive.”
And, in a short space of time, that work has borne fruit in spectacular fashion. The next step is building on their huge success. Their record label Sony has a well-defined plan for the boys. “For now, we are focusing on building their fan base territories in Europe, and as their story develops and the fan base keeps growing, we will look towards other regions, such as Asia and the US,” says Lena Midtveit, label boss at Sony Norway.
“We’re very competitive, we do all we can to avoid losing.”
Before music they were into soccer. Marcus explains that their dad drove them to Rosenborg youth academy two days a week for two years, a 4.5 hour journey each way. In the 2017 documentary about the duo, Tillsammans mot drömmen, Martinus says he is a Chelsea fan and Marcus a Manchester United supporter. Marcus opens his cell phone to show a few video clips from a match in which he scored a great goal. In the documentary, they also say that they’re bad losers, which has perhaps helped them succeed in the competitive music industry.
“We’re very competitive which means we do all we can to avoid losing,” Marcus says. “We want to be best. I want to be better at soccer than Martinus, I want to be better than all the others.”
Their biggest dream right now is to go on a world tour. “Imagine going to Asia to perform,” Marcus says. “We get letters from fans in Argentina and South Korea and Brazil. It will be exciting to see what’s going to happen in the future.”
But should the music career stall, they could still become professional footballers. “Maybe. It will probably be tough as we’re getting closer to 18,” Martinus says.
“No Martinus, it IS possible,” Marcus says firmly. “We’ve got a big future. We have the potential to become whatever we want to be. And that is true for everyone,” he says with a smile.
Text by Anders Dahlbom