For det første er han ikke norsk. Translation: First, he is not Norwegian.
UW–Madison alum Alex Eichstaedt is not Norwegian, but this Norwegian phrase became central to his identity. A personal project that began during lockdown transformed Eichstaedt into an internet sensation that not only resonated with listeners but also challenged societal norms.
Eichsteadt never planned on settling down anywhere but Wisconsin. After returning home from his fall 2018 study abroad and graduating from UW with computer science and computer engineering degrees, he hoped to begin his career in the Badger state. But after multiple failed job searches across Wisconsin, he was losing hope. However, his time studying abroad would become a key component to his future plans. A recruiter on LinkedIn noticed Eichstaedt’s time at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), one of Norway’s top technical schools. That experience opened the door to a position as a software engineer in Oslo.
Sooner than he ever expected, Eichstaedt was back in Norway and ready to start on a new adventure. But the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans. He quickly found himself isolated and questioning his decision to move. With most international travel on lockdown, he couldn’t easily return home, so he became determined to see his journey through.
“Deep down in my gut I had this belief that I had to stay. I didn’t come here just to run back with my tail between my legs,” said Eichstaedt.
He decided to lean into his childhood passion for music and spent the pandemic artfully crafting an album titled “Overseas.” The reception of the album, however, wasn’t exactly what he expected. In what Eichstaedt described as “characteristic directness” the Norwegian music scene criticized his album.
“People would recognize me and call me Ikke Musikk which translates to ‘not music,’” said Eichstaedt.
Instead of letting that deter him, he decided to turn the tables and playfully adopted the name. He embraced the negativity and used it as creative fuel. From that came his defiant anthem called “Tusen Takk 4 All My Haters” (A Thousand Thanks for All My Haters.) This song was more than just a cheeky musical response to the criticism and cold shoulder that his album has received. For Eichstaedt, it was the transformation from which he began embracing the “outsider” or “Not Music” status and instead turned it into what he called an antihero persona.
“I realized it’s not so bad of a name to be ‘Not Music,’ to be an antihero,” said Eichstaedt.
An unanticipated explosion on TikTok propelled him into the limelight. Overnight, the catchy and rebellious anthem went viral, sparking a movement with its central message: ” Først, jeg er ikke norsk,” meaning “first, I’m not Norwegian.” This opening line resonated deeply with many, from immigrants feeling like outsiders to Norwegians who, despite being native, felt a sense of exclusion.
The song quickly gained traction, not only with his newfound fans but also with those who had previous dismissed his creative pursuits. Kevin Lauren, a popular artist among Norway’s music scene, publicly praised Eichstaedt’s newest release. This endorsement further skyrocketed the song’s popularity.
Lauren invited Eichstaedt to collaborate and together they released a remix titled “Ikke Norsk,” which quickly climbed the charts, landing in the top 30 on Spotify in Norway. Eichstaedt found himself charting alongside worldwide sensations like Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd.
Before he knew it, he was being recognized in stores, stopped for photos, and invited to perform at events and concerts. He would try to explain who he was by introducing himself as the ‘Not Music’ guy. “I’m from outside of Norway. And they’re like, oh, I know you. You’re Ikke Norsk!” said Eichstaedt.
He was invited on multiple podcasts, other popular artists soon voiced their support as well, and not long after, major labels like Sony and Universal were knocking. Eichstaedt eventually accepted a meeting with Universal, choosing the global powerhouse for its extensive reach and influence.
“A lot of the labels described it as the first viral internet moment for Norway,” said Eichstaedt. “And because I was an outsider, no one saw coming.”
Navigating the intricacies of the music industry, and in a foreign country no less, was quite challenging. Despite suggestions from labels for a more mainstream sound as opposed to what the labels characterized as risky and foreign, Eichstaedt insisted on keeping his sound and style unique. Losing what made him wasn’t worth the contract, so he chose to remain independent and instead now collaborates with Universal Studios while maintaining his autonomy over his music.
While he has certainly enjoyed the fruits of his labor and success, he has no plans to leave his coding position, partially since his stay in Norway is tied to his work visa, but because he enjoys the dichotomy of being both Alex and Ikke.
“I have my normal colleagues that I’ve known for years who really know me on that personal ‘Alex’ level could just be my total self with. It’s that balancing act, it provides me that stability.” Eichstaedt noted. “And I do feel that there’s advantages in music, from understanding engineering topics and concepts, so I’m always trying to blend the two.”
Eichstaedt continues to ride the wave of international success, navigating his newfound fame with a mix of humility and artistic passion, proving that sometimes the most unexpected journeys lead to the most extraordinary destinations.
Story by Jaya Larsen