As Danish pop sensation MØ imperiously straddles an Excalibur-like sword while done up like a post-apocalyptic Boudica in the video for her new single, New Moon, it’s clear that this is the age where the Scandinavian pop princess reigns supreme. From Norway’s Aurora to Sweden’s Zara Larsson, stylish, infectious pop, often with an offbeat edge of darkness, has poured out of this part of northern Europe over recent years.
Karen Marie Ørsted, aka MØ (meaning “maiden”, with the correct Danish pronunciation hovering somewhere between “moe”, “mew” and “moo”), has been among the most successful of these acts. But her biggest hits have come principally through the stream-chasing collaboration phenomenon, as a featured artist on tracks by other acts (albeit often on songs where she has a writing credit).
Working with the likes of British electronic act Snakehips, and contributing vocals alongside such pop juggernauts as Iggy Azalea and Justin Bieber, MØ has made repeated impressions on the charts since her 2013 debut. She was featured artist on Iggy Azalea’s hit Beg For It in 2014 – the track broke the US Top 30 and was performed by the duo on Saturday Night Live. Her collaboration with US dance act Major Lazer and French producer DJ Snake, Lean On, was declared Spotify’s most-streamed track of all time in 2015 with over a billion and a half plays, and it still sits in the Top 40 most-streamed tracks seven years on.
But MØ’s path to mainstream success has been an unusual one. Claiming to be influenced equally by the Spice Girls and Sonic Youth, she spent her teens hanging out in anarchist squats across Europe and was one half of feminist anarcho-punk act MOR. Their 2009 EP Fisse I Dit Fjæs (Pussy in Your Face) was hardly indicative of the desire to secure a wide audience ironically suggested by the duo’s name.
As fame hit, MØ struggled with reconciling a love for the reckless abandon of punk with the often stifling expectations of the slick and polished pop world, telling the Guardian in 2016: “Sometimes I have to compromise with some stuff.” She sidestepped any overt political messaging in her music, saying “I have found it super hard: ‘Oh, I don’t want to upset anyone’.”
But with engaging, sometimes unnerving visuals and a languid raspy vocal, MØ doesn’t come across as eager to please, either, and with Motordrome, her third album following 2014 debut No Mythologies To Follow and 2018’s Forever Neverland, she’s putting forward a message of her own.
Five years of touring that ended in 2019, a vocal injury and then the disruption of Covid led to both a return to Denmark and to the self. The
realisation dawned that all those collaborations had not been exactly
what she wanted to do, and Motordrome – which MØ describes as “dark disco” and features only Scandinavian producers – is billed as her most personal album yet.
The title Motordrome came from MØ’s experience of anxiety, panic and
intrusive thoughts, which she likens to the dødstrome – the wall of death
sideshow act. The album represented an escape from that constant, dizzying
mental state, and Motordrome has a sense of both catharsis and of optimism that suits the dawning post-Covid era, but which is also deeply personal. MØ has said: “For me this album represents a huge change in my life. Even though I’m still doing what I love doing, it does feel like a new chapter. An era of my life is over and I’m entering a new one. That is scary, but it’s freeing.”
From the retro synths of defiant lead single Live to Survive, to July’s fittingly summery track Kindness, the seductive slow pop of Brad Pitt, and the fragile
ballad Goosebumps, the single releases from Motordrome encompass considerable variety, and some album tracks even feature guitar in a nod to
MØ’s punky roots. But it is New Moon that speaks exactly to the feeling of new beginnings MØ ascribes to the album as a whole. “It is a song made to
manifest a new era, a song about regaining control,” she has said.
As she makes a long-awaited return to UK soil, playing Heaven in London
in May – a date rescheduled from last month due to Covid – MØ will mark
that new era in earnest.
MØ IN FIVE SONGS
Lean On (2015)
MØ provided the vocals and had a writing credit on this Franco-American-Danish EDM collaboration that stormed the global charts in 2015 and became one of the moststreamed tracks of all time.
Final Song (2016)
This dancehall flavoured dance-pop track was MØ’s solo breakthrough, going Top 10 in both her native Denmark and neighbouring Norway, as well as breaking the UK Top 20.
Cold Water (2016)
Like Lean On, a collaboration with US dance act Major Lazer, this monster hit featured MØ on vocals alongside Justin Bieber. It was a No 1 single across the world, including in the UK, and was the fourth Danish act to ever top the British charts, after Whigfield, Aqua and Lukas Graham.
Don’t Leave (2017)
A joint venture with British electronic act Snakehips, this electropop track
was a twisted ballad, finding MØ singing “I’m not just a f**k-up/ I’m the f**k-up you need” and “Perfectly imperfect/ Baby, that’s us”.
New Moon (2022)
The video for the most recent single from new album Motordrome is directed by London-based, Thailand-born creative duo Fon and Fa and finds MØ as a retrofuturist warrior.