There are some individuals who, from an outsider perspective at least, seem destined for greatness. Lukas Forchhammer is one of those individuals. Thrust into the world of entertainment at a young age, one can argue that performing has always been in his blood. The lead singer of the Grammy-nominated Danish band Lukas Graham, Forchhammer has always been determined to turn his big dreams into reality. In 7 Years of Lukas Graham, René Sascha Johannsen’s intimate and moving portrait of the band’s rise to international stardom, the road to success is a long and continuously evolving journey.
Finding early success on YouTube, Lukas Graham cultivated a loyal fanbase in Denmark and quickly saw their stock rise. Of course, like many artists, Forchhammer had always dreamed of making it big in America. The ultimate beast to tame, he knew that if he could conquer the U.S. then he could make it anywhere. However, as Johannsen‘s film captures, the reality of dreams come true can be quite different than one would expect. Starting in 2013 when they signed a recording deal with Warner Records, the film follows the band over the span of 7 years, highlighting the highs and lows of their creative process.
Provided unfiltered access to the band, Johannsen’s camera observes the frustrations that arise during the recording of their album. While Forchhammer and his bandmates had complete control back home, America functions quite differently and they must now fight for their vision while working within the limiting confines of a major labels’ collaborative process. Worst of all, even when firing on all cylinders, Lukas Graham still has the corporate hurdles to jump. Like when Warner Records didn’t think the band’s song “7 Years” was a top forty hit even though one of the album’s producers called it one of the best songs he had ever heard.
Warner Records eventually changed their tune after watching the song skyrocket up the international charts, despite having released the song in only a few select markets. A trend that continued when the song was finally released on American streaming platforms and became a chart-topping, Grammy-nominated hit. While newcomers to the band may see them as an overnight success, Johannsen frequently reminds audiences that this success was years in the making.
Instead of a traditional rags-to-riches rock documentary, 7 Years of Lukas Graham defuses the rock star myth by presenting something more personal. One of the most surprising aspects of the film is its exploration of the nature of grief and how Forchhammer copes with the loss of his father. Comparing the memory of his father’s death to a heart that keeps breaking, Forchhammer channels his grief into music and into his compassionate approach to fans also dealing with their own emotional pain.
These reflective moments of healing help to provide Forchhammer with much needed perspective on his life and career. While the rush of performing in packed stadiums can be addictive, even if it means dealing with increasingly demanding fans, he must also figure out how to balance stardom with the responsibilities of being a father and partner. 7 Years of Lukas Graham is a fascinating and emotionally rich portrait of an artist. As Forchhammer notes at one point, though the road to success is filled with many milestones, the key is knowing which are the right ones for you. Sometimes it takes longer than 7 years to figure that out.
7 Years of Lukas Graham screens virtually at Hot Docs from April 29 to May 9. Head here for more coverage of this year’s festival.