Newman doesn't realize that he's dining alfresco with Annie (née Anne Lilia Berge Strand), currently the hottest pop star in all of Norway. We'll forgive him his poor celebrity radar because, well, Newman is a goat. Specimens of the opposable-thumbs variety, however, may soon not have the privilege of such ignorance; the pixieish, diminutive blonde, who recently whiled away a temperate Manhattan afternoon feeding fragrant green snack pellets to Newman and his four-legged friends at the Central Park Zoo, is hoping to break big internationally including the notoriously hard-to-crack U.S. market.
She just may pull it off; aside from the Best Newcomer award she recently received at her native country's equivalent of the Grammys, Annie also snagged the Top Single of 2004 title (for the addictive ''Heartbeat'') from famously tetchy American coolhunters Pitchforkmedia.com beating out the likes of Jay-Z, Franz Ferdinand, and LCD Soundsystem. And rightfully so: Her debut album, Anniemal (due June 7 on Big Beat/Atlantic), is the kind of fizzy, dizzy luxe pop that never seems to go out of style. Famed U.K. producer-remixer Richard X (Depeche Mode, Kelis) lends a hand, but it's Annie's own sly songwriting and knack for neon melodies that deserve the bulk of the credit.
''I never thought that anyone would be interested in me here,'' she says, ''because to me, the record sounds really European. But on my website I'm getting questions from people all over the U.S. and Canada.'' In the meantime, she's learning to take her homeland success in stride even as she's become a target for the local tabloids. ''People are interested in what you're wearing, where you're living, what you're eating everything!'' she marvels. ''I guess [the Best Newcomer award] sort of took it to another level somehow.'' Then again, the English-speaking singer is hardly ready to call herself the country's biggest hit. ''Our most-selling artist,'' she laughs, ''is, like, a 55-year-old priest, singing in Norwegian.''