In a few short years, Lukas Graham has gone from an aspiring musician growing up in a Copenhagen hippie commune to one of the hottest new breakout stars at the MTV VMAs.
“It was very weird being in there. You’re a couple rows away from people like Naomi Campbell and Kanye West, and Beyoncé dances by you. But it’s pretty fascinating,” Graham, 27, tells PEOPLE of attending his first Video Music Awards Sunday, where he and his band were up for the Best New Artist title (which was won by the Joe Jonas-fronted DNCE). “Last year, we were on our way to the Danish Music Awards. And [now] we were at the VMAs in New York at Madison Square Garden. How far we’ve gone! It was such a strange night.”
Strange – but also exhilarating. In addition to enjoying the show – Ariana Grande, Queen Bey and Rihanna were his favorite performers – Graham also had his turn to take the stage earlier in the evening.
Along with Alessia Cara and Jidenna, Graham is the first break-through artist to be featured by The Sound Drop, a new music platform launched by Pepsi with iHeartMedia, Shazam and MTV to introduce up-and-coming talent.
Ahead of the VMAs on Sunday night, Graham performed the band’s new single, “Mama Said,” for fans and New Yorkers across the street from Madison Square Garden on the Pepsi stage in front of the James A. Farley Post Office Building.
“Here in America, the big-brand collaborations kind of signify how far you’ve gotten. So in that sense, it’s a giant kudos to us that we, within the first year, get to be the first ones to be the launchers of this Pepsi Sound Drop,” Graham says. “You can see some content behind the scenes – see us jammin’, what we bring to the table, the love for the music – then people have a stronger chance to connect with music when they hear it.”
Now, Graham hopes the partnership will help fans connect with “Mama Said” as much as they did with breakout single “7 Years.”
“That’s also the struggle we’re in right now. ‘7 Years’ is, you could say, a song that eats its own children. That we need to get past the song and get to the person and get to the record and get to the music so we can keep releasing,” says Graham, who sees the Pepsi partnership as a way to get to that next level.
As for what’s next in his life, Graham is about to go on paternity leave, as he and his girlfriend, Marie-Louise “Rillo” Schwartz Petersen, are expecting their first child together, a daughter, in September.
“It’s gonna be amazing,” Graham told PEOPLE at the VMAs of the looming responsibilities of fatherhood. “I’ll take the family on tour, and it’ll be easy.”
Indeed, the father-to-be will take two months off of work before he hits the road for an American tour with his band in November.