The fearless electronic pop singer explains why all art — even a love song — is political.
Nadia Tehran was brought up in two different cultures. As a child, she lived in a small Christian town named Jönköping in southern Sweden, and was raised by Muslim Iranian parents. She watched American TV and visited her cousins in Iran. Punk and rap music turned her ear, but she also listened closely to her father’s stories from the front line of the Iran-Iraq War. And for the past two years, she’s drawn from the richness of these cultures to forge a musical identity that’s purely her own, most decisively shown on last year’s blistering synth-punk EP Life Is Cheap, Death Is Free.
Even so, her artistic confidence has come at a price — and thanks to her 2016 video “Refugee,” Tehran doesn’t think she’ll be welcome back in Iran. The video shows the 26-year-old artist wearing a headscarf and standing atop a multi-storey building in Iran, roaring lyrics like I’m a beauty and a beast/ A disease from Middle East over distorted Arabic aerophones and off-kilter beats. She playfully flexes for the camera with a posse of friends, while police patrol the streets. In a phone call this spring, Tehran remembered that her actions while filming the video last year were “way past illegal.” She was frequently stopped, at one point arrested, and was left unsettled by the realities of a country she thought she knew.
When we spoke, her plans to move from Sweden to America had been derailed in the light of Trump’s Muslim Ban, but she was determined to not let racist regimes get the better of her. “I don’t want to waste my breath talking about a psychotic person who’s ruining the world,” she says, “and trying to tell me that I’m less worthy just because of my ethnicity. I almost want my album to be about everything else [other] than that.”