Aurora Explores the Disconnect with Humankind’s Most Vital Organ on ‘What Happened To The Heart?’

In 4 B.C., Aristotle identified the three-chambered organ as the center of vitality. The heart served a dual purpose: breathing physical life and something more spiritual. By the second century, Greek physician Galen, made a similar point in his treatise On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, linking the heart to warmth and the soul. “The heart is, as it were, the hearthstone and source of the innate heat by which the animal is governed,” he wrote, adding that the organ was made of complex fibers to “perform a variety of functions” including “enlarging when it desires to attract what is useful, clasping its contents when it is time to enjoy what has been attracted, and contracting when it desires to expel residues.”

As science and earlier studies of cardiac anatomy were further documented, the heart, located in the center of one’s being, the torso, became known for its primary functions: to pump blood, transport oxygen, remove metabolic waste, and supply nutrients to cells and tissues within the body. Scientifically speaking, the heart has an irrefutable function in the human body. Spiritually, the vital organ still held an entirely different purpose.

These matters of the heart and the dichotomy of its function, its misunderstanding, and how humanity has been pulled away from one of its core capabilities—to love—were part of Norwegian singer and songwriter AURORA’s studies on her fourth album What Happened to the Heart?

It’s a simple question, one that goes deeper than its scientific and spiritual ends. Where did the heart lose its way? Within a social and political spectrum, the answer lies in a more layered explanation. “As we have unveiled the mysteries and the magical abilities of our bodies and our anatomy, a lot has changed with the way we view ourselves and we view the human,” AURORA tells American Songwriter. “It was interesting how spirituality and magic weren’t allowed to coexist with the wonders of science. Even before we knew the exact function or location of the heart, we knew that the heart and the core contained something very important, the center of interconnectedness or spirituality, of intention, of intuition, of instinct—most importantly—and emotion.”

In time, as the great philosophers continued studying the heart, its whole purpose was reduced to being just a pump, she adds. “They decided that all these abilities, they must surely be made up by the mind, so the emotional and the logical had to compete,” says AURORA. “We do value logic more in this world, in the way we choose our leaders. We like the unemotional approach to solving a problem, which is so sad because we’re out of balance. We mistreat ourselves, the women, our mothers our sisters, and each other.”

AURORA’s exploration of the heart started in April 2022, after she read We Are the Earth, a letter co-written by indigenous activists from Brazil, calling for a collective response to global warming. “We are the Earth,” reads the opening line of the epistle, penned by Sônia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá. “We arise from the Earth and we return to it. The Earth is within us. The Earth is our sister, our daughter, our aunt, our mother, our grandmother. The earth is our womb, our food, our cure.”

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The letter revolved around one specific question for AURORA: What happened to the heart? “It became a question that bothered me, so I decided to write an album for it,” says AURORA. “But it all started with the letter.”

Soon after reading the environmental missive, she began studying the anatomy of the human body, specifically the role of the heart within Western culture and how people have seemingly lost touch with it. Within 16 tracks, AURORA chips away away the answer, and why humanity has steered away from its core.

Following up on AURORA’s 2022 release The Gods We Can Touch, on What Happened to the Heart? is a more cathartic and personal approach for the 28-year-old artist, who is joined by fellow Norwegian artist Ane Brun on the tribal, techno-pulsed “My Name,” following the disconnect with others and oneself—The parade / An innocent way to teach a dying cell / You eventually will be eaten by yourself.

“‘My Name’ is a very existential song,” shares AURORA. “It’s when you have reached a point in your journey, in your pain, where you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. You don’t know who you are and who anyone else is and you wonder if you matter at all, or if you want to be remembered.”

It’s a feeling AURORA was already familiar with since a young age and long before releasing her debut singles, “Puppet” and “Awakening” at the age of 17. “When I was young, I used to always feel like an alien in this world,” says AURORA. “I never really felt like a girl. I felt out of my own body and on the outside of my friends in the school system. But as I’ve grown [with] the help of my fans around the world, and through playing concerts, it pulled me back to Earth and helped me reconnect and fall in love with humankind again.”

She continues, “I see so much realness, and goodness because I get to see people when they experience music together. People are never more beautiful than in that moment. But now, I feel like the world is an alien, and I feel like a girl—it’s changed. Everything feels incredibly alien and it’s changed the whole dynamic.”

On What Happened to the Heart? AURORA steps into the unknown, opening on the more dreamlike deliberation of “Echo of My Shadow”—If I stay here any longer, I will stay here forever / And the echo of my world will fade—upping the tempo while still questioning her place on earth with “To Be Alright,” while Kate Bush-like bursts and serpentine lines cross on “Your Blood.”

‘What Happened to the Heart?’ Album Cover

Along with AURORA’s longtime collaborator Magnus Skylstad, who worked with her since her 2016 debut All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, Tom Rowlands (Chemical Brothers), Chris Greatti (Blink-182), Dave Hamelin (Beyoncé, Zara Larsson), and Matias Tellez (girl in red), among others, rounded out the production on the new album.

Never shying from letting political angles seep into her songs, AURORA, was already speaking about the environment as a teen. What Happened to the Heart? is as much an exploration of AURORA’s personal emissions as it is a sinuous trail through her book studies of the organ at the center of it all as it relates to social and political imbalances.

“This album has a lot of my own pain as well,” shares AURORA. “When I was younger, music to me was very much about helping people cry and feel less alone. But then with time, I wanted to write music to make people feel strong and powerful, to open up our bodies to dance so we can release trauma.”

Her second album Infections of a Different Kind (Step 1) from 2018 and more genre-twisting Step 2 a year later were part of that chapter, an empowering movement of songs revolving around humanity and nature that continued through the more politically-driven The Gods We Can Touch in 2022, and its investigation of the abuses of power and morality.

Never shying from letting political angles seep into songs, AURORA was already speaking about the environment as a teen and has continued being an activist behind what she believes. “I was not political at all on my first album, but now I do both, because, to me, a lot of politics is emotional,” she says. “It bothers me that we don’t live in a world that we deserve. And I think about the world now when I write, which is different.”

Part of the human disconnect that surfaces throughout the album, is something AURORA says has been built on patterns over time. “Even in the high societies, the way we talked to each other became like a pattern,” she says. “Now, you see it watered down in modern society, but it’s still there in the way we don’t say what we mean. Pre-decided patterns ruin the whole purpose of meeting a stranger. I’ve never understood those patterns. They really aggravate me, because I don’t understand why they’re even there.”

On the technical spectrum, social media has only decreased “how we value connection,” says AURORA. “It lowers the value of it because it becomes more like a chore,” she adds. “It’s less important, less impactful, more of a number and something you collect, rather than people you connect with.”

Humans also have a proclivity for not learning from their past, and making the necessary changes, whether it’s in care of the environment or mental and physical health. She also cites the consistency of school shootings. “We don’t take action when our children, the very essence of our future, are dying,” says AURORA. “We have never valued the indigenous people, [and] they have been saying just what I’m saying now for hundreds of years, and nobody listens. We don’t respect or value our past and the knowledge and the gift we could have had of learning from our mistakes.”

She adds, “The future, we are not grasping or valuing either, because we’re wasting it away with unreal things. It worries me when neither the future nor the past or the present has real value to people anymore when it’s the most valuable thing we have.”

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Here lies more of the emotional disconnect, and withdrawal from the heart. The world isn’t used to being told things from the emotional side, or the spiritual, states AURORA. “People see it as unnecessary as floating, as naive, because what we are being told isn’t wrapped up in science or facts or with a hard fist in hitting the table,” she adds. “And that’s also a part of the issue in the world and how we stopped valuing the messages of the heart and the core, and the mother—even in the families it begins. We’ve lost an important deep spiritual connection in the modern society we live in today.”

Even if it seems ungraspable, AURORA believes art and music are the gateway for some restoration. “In art and music, people tend to listen more than see,” she says. “The scientists have been warning us about the climate for many years, and we haven’t really listened. We don’t listen to our experts, and our leaders aren’t leading us in the right direction, so maybe it’s up to the emotional side of the world to do something.”

Frustration and uncertainty plateau on the ballad “The Conflict of the Mind,” a softer simmer surrounded by horns, and “The Essence,” moved by simple acoustics and angelic backing vocals, a contrast to the more primal Viking-like female chants on “The Dark Dresses Lightly.” Then, birds are heard chirping on the dreamier drift of “Earthly Delights.” At its essence, the album also circles around nature, its power, and how humanity has lost touch with its surroundings.

The closing six tracks of What Happened to the Heart? take a turn, sonically, lifting off from “My Name,” a point where AURORA says the songs turn more technical or orchestral, and the eruptive calls to action, and reconnection, on “Do You Feel?” and “Starvation.” AURORA chooses to end on the penultimate realization “My Body is Not Mine” and ending “Invisible Wounds.”

There are more “earthly words” penetrating the close, says AURORA. “‘The Blade’ is a hard word, and ‘Starvation’ is the lack of food—my body is not mine, the lack of anatomy,” she shares. “That part of the album is a taking over by everything that does not have a soul.”

Connections between each track are palpable and something AURORA says she began realizing the more time she spent in between them, returning to the start of the album. “Echo of My Shadow,’ I realized, with time, is about how we feel in these days,” she says. “A lot of people waste a lot of time lying in their beds or on their phones. We find a way to make time go and we can just rot away and then we feel bad about it after because we know it’s wrong, but we do it anyway.”

For AURORA the essence of the album is in its first line: If I stay here any longer, I will stay here forever. “If I stay comfortably in this situation, and if I don’t act now, it will be my death,” says AURORA, “and I will stay here forever.”

Somehow, society is being “nurtured into babies again” she adds. “To be addicted to everything being so easy, it’s going to be the very thing that kills us. When we need something real, what we are given is a new set of emojis. It’s so weird what the world gives us. It’s everything that doesn’t matter and doesn’t feed us.”

While there’s no clear answer to the question AURORA posed in the album title, reconnection can begin within, she says, and by creating new patterns. “Put down your phones more to stretch once a day,” says AURORA. “Reconnect to your body and what it’s doing and why it’s aching, and try to fix it. Go outside and meet people. Look at the people you walk past as human beings, not just obstacles in your path, and smile.”

She adds, “Small things like this really helped me to reconnect with myself and other people. So many people are in pain, and I feel their pain and I want to help. It is exhausting to care. But it’s so much more fun than not caring.”

Photos: Wanda Martin / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

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