There is nothing new under the sun and Tove Lo’s latest single seems to prove it. The Swedish pop star’s 2 Die 4 repurposes Popcorn, the infectious early electronic composition written by German Jewish refugee Gershon
Kingsley in the late 1960s and made a huge European chart hit in 1972 by
electronic ensemble Hot Butter, for its melody. But in fact, after nearly 10
years of prominence in the industry, not just as an artist but as a songwriter
for others, Tove Lo is still breaking new ground.
Lo is an artist who underlines the very fundamental differences between the Scandis and the British, for better or worse. With unprintable lyrics, visuals that got banned by YouTube (her short film Fairy Dust got pulled from the platform in 2016 due to its sexual content), and a reputation for stripping off on stage, she surely claims the crown as the most uninhibited woman in pop, and she puts this down simply to being Swedish.
While there is an apparent arms race in popular music to be as NSFW as possible, with all the pressure on female artists and the monetisation of objectification that can entail, Lo explained the influence of her cultural
inheritance to the Guardian back in 2016, saying “I feel like I grew up in a place where nudity and sex is something natural and not shameful… it’s about just not feeling like it’s something bad”. Her comment: “I feel like emotion is seen as a bad thing. That’s why we’re all bottled up to here with shit” can certainly be viewed sympathetically from the land of the stiff upper lip.
But it remains the fact that to the non-Scandi world Lo’s lyrics and visuals remain strong stuff, which can obscure her searing originality, apparent in spades on the singles from her fifth album, Dirt Femme, out this week.
How Long, from the beginning of this year, has the kind of deep Nordic melancholy that her compatriot Robyn has made such a speciality. A break-up song layering gnawing pain over hypnotic electronica, it flexes some of
the same muscles as the song that brought her to prominence, 2013’s Habits (Stay High), which was saturated with desperation: “I got to stay high all the time/ To keep you off my mind”.
The haunting No One Dies From Love – another break-up song – demonstrates Lo’s mastery of effectively simple lyrics and visuals with a real sense of artistry. Not many artists could get away with a line as bald as “I miss all the cool things we’d do/ But what I miss the most is watching movies with you”, yet it works, while the video by Brazilian directing duo Alaska Filmes finds the singer in a passionate relationship with a robot in a stylishly Kubrick-esque 1970s vision of the future.
True Romance is the least catchy but most intriguing of the singles, an undulating, brooding vocal tour de force which is packed with cinematic
Given the very personal and uncompromising nature of her work, it’s a surprise to find that Tove Lo is the talent behind some stonking pop hits. 2016’s Close with the inexplicably high-profile Nick Jonas was his last big hit, getting to No 14 in the US. She was one of the co-writers, with Swedish music mogul Max Martin, of Ellie Goulding’s monster hit Love Me Like You Do, which topped charts all over the world in 2015, including here in the UK for a full month, and which climbed to No 3 in the US. Since then she has written songs for everyone from Liam Gallagher to Lorde.
But in her collaborative work, Lo finds space for more radical experiments too. She was the executive producer of Pussy Riot’s mixtape Matriarchy Now, released this summer, 10 years after the imprisonment of its original members for hooliganism after their guerrilla performance in a Moscow cathedral.
And while arguments may rage on about the place of Lo’s kind of sex positivity in achieving feminist goals, she is living female empowerment, working with other women, and launching her own record label, Pretty
Swede Records, after departing from Island. And while Lo may have harked
back 50 years to the European roots of electronic music by nabbing Popcorn
for 2 Die 4, in her lyrical exploration of female experience – she promises
of Dirt Femme: “It is about me and my relationship with my femininity” –
Lo is bringing something fresh to the party.
TOVE LO in five songs
Habits (Stay High) (2013)
Tove Lo outlined her persona as a terminally messed-up millennial on this, her breakthrough song, with one of the more surprising opening lines in pop: “I eat my dinner in my bathtub/ Then I go to sex clubs”.
Cool Girl (2016)
A slinky, downtempo electropop track, Lo’s sarcastic lyrics explore men’s expectations of women in casual relationships: “I’m a cool girl/ Ice cold, I roll my eyes at you”.
Really Don’t Like U (2019)
A duet with Kylie Minogue, this track was typical of Lo’s talent for effective
collaboration and writing the perfect song for other stars.
No One Dies From Love (2022)
An accomplished “sad banger”, this track is soaked with Nordic melancholy, the chorus proclaiming: “No one dies from love/ I guess I’ll be the first”.
2 Die 4 (2022)
Quoting German songwriter Gershon Kingsley’s Popcorn, as made famous
by Hot Butter, Lo’s latest single is all about EDM euphoria.