IN CONVERSATION WITH TOVE LO

Words by Anano Shalamberidze

Often referred to as “Sweden’s Darkest Pop Export” and always mentioned amongst the pop icons of the mid-2010s, Mrs. Tove Lo has been on top of the charts for almost a decade now. Constantly reinventing her sound while staying true to herself simultaneously, the Swedish artist boasts a fanbase of loyal listeners. Now she’s on tour for her fifth studio album Dirt Femme and fortunately, she found time to have a chat with us while on her pitstop in Amsterdam.

I arrive at the intimate venue right after Tove’s soundcheck, a couple of hours before her show, and there they are, her devoted fans already lining up at the entrance, blasting Disco Tits in portable speakers and hoping to get a barricade view of the artist’s Amsterdam performance. I am accompanied to her dressing room by her tour manager and Tove welcomes me with a smile and a hug. After complementing my bleached brows (I immediately get the urge to text my bleach-brow-hating Mom that I got a compliment on them from an international pop star), my interviewee warmly invites me to take a sit. Keeping the time limit in my mind and wanting to get into as many topics as possible, I immediately start chatting.

A  

Congratulations on the album! I love it! This is the fifth album, right? 

TL  

Thank you! Yeah…Oh my god. 

A  

Tell me about it. To me, as a longtime listener, it feels like a different version of you. Is that how you feel about it as well?

TL  

I feel like it’s a combination of many parts of me, in a way. I had so much longer to write this one compared to the others. Your first album, you know, you have your whole life to write about. And then with every album after that, there’s a time crunch. You need to have everything done in five months while you’re touring. With Dirt Femme, because of COVID, obviously, I had more time to experiment. I also had a break from just being an artist for that first year. I didn’t have a label, I wasn’t touring, I wasn’t putting out music, I wasn’t doing interviews. At first, I wasn’t writing because it felt like I was stripped of my artistry. So that influenced it all in a way where I had time to sort of get really deep within myself.

A  

I think all of us during COVID had a little too much time to think [Laughs]

I always thought, and correct me if I’m wrong, most of your body of work is autobiographical. When your music is very much connected to your personal life and feelings, if you get criticism and receive feedback, how do you distance yourself from that? How do you not take it personally?

TL  

I know what you mean, I feel like I just don’t look at reviews right when the album comes out. I’ll tell my team, I’m like, ‘just send me the good ones!’ I just react to the fan’s reactions. Because if a fan is like, ‘I love you, but I don’t like that song, but I love that one!’, that’s just honest support. When there’s someone criticizing you in a review, that can get a bit too harsh in the beginning. So I’m able to look at that after the album’s been released for a while. However, I also don’t really see the point because I can only do my best. My team and the people I write with and the people who I trust with being the first people to play my music for, they’re quite critical. They push me, they’re very honest. They’re gonna give me the feedback that I need without it being unnecessarily critical, in a healthy way. 

A

Social media gets so toxic. It’s unhealthy to get feedback on your life 24/7.

TL

I mean, it’s just a constant distraction. In general, I hate being on my phone all the time. I like to choose moments. So I dedicate time to it, I say ‘well, now I’m gonna go in and interact with my fans; I’m gonna make a funny video; I’m going to do something but constantly having something in my face just puts me off.

A  

I just discovered the album visual a few days ago. What led you to the decision of using another medium to express the story you’re trying to tell? 

TL  

Well, I think a visual story for me is just as important sometimes. I spend a lot of time and creativity to enhance the music that way. I’m quite a visual person. I’ve always spent a lot of money and time and effort on the visual side of my albums. And with this album being so cinematic, sonically, it’s so grand, you know, that I felt like all the songs displayed different sides of me. Every song has its own movie character in a way. So I just thought it would be a beautiful idea to put it into one visual story, so you can listen and watch the whole way through.

A  

How involved are you in video production? 

TL  

I’m definitely very interested in it. I’m very opinionated. But I’m also very much in the belief that if I trust someone and trust their work, I want to let them do their work. These clips in the visual are all one-takes that was, I would say, a combination of me, my creative director, the guy who directed and shot it, Kenny, who’s the guy who’s filming everything too, and my stylist. So, yeah, I very much collaborate with people. But I’m also very clear in the sense that if I don’t like it, we just don’t do it.

A  

I wanted to talk about one song in particular…Grapefruit. I understand that it’s a very touchy, sensitive subject.

TL  

Well, not anymore. Really. Because it happened to me so long ago… now I feel like I’m at a place where I can talk about it without getting triggered every time.

A  

I must say it was very relatable on a personal level, and I’m sure to a lot of young women too. It’s a subject matter a lot are familiar with, unfortunately.

TL  

It’s just a constant thing, isn’t it? We just keep getting hammered with the ideal body, whatever it is. And whatever the ideal body is, you’re not living up to it. I had pretty severe eating disorders as a teenager. And I think even if you maybe didn’t go that far, just the anxiety around not being enough was there, and when you get that deep into an eating disorder, usually it’s not even related to food or your body, it’s about control or self-worth. The world has found a way to get into young, I mean mainly young women’s, but I think a lot of young people’s souls. It’s this strange thing that we just accept. It’s really strange.

A

I saw an article come out the other day with an atrocious title and yet another body trend that we need to follow apparently.

TL

But I wonder…I don’t know why I wrote it now, you know, I think I’ve tried to write the song for a long time, but maybe didn’t have enough distance from it.  I’m so happy that I was feeling well, by the time I  became an artist and put out music, and was in the public eye because if I had been still sick, I could not have handled all that criticism. And secondly, I think just seeing that Y2K fashion is back…it’s just funny, you know. I never thought I would put on fucking low-rise jeans again but here I am. And I am enjoying that. But also, it throws me back to a time when I would be so anxious and hated what I was looking at in the mirror. Now I look at myself, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I love my body, I love how this looks, it looks hot’. I think back to past me who never would have accepted how I look today. And it makes me feel so proud that I was actually able to recover. It was so much therapy, so much self-love work, that I had to do, you know, and it took years, but I got there. It’s a really hard place to be, it’s the only thing you think about all day right? It’s really tiring.

I went to therapy for a long time just to break the habits. And then after that, I went to therapy to unpack why I ended up there in the first place. It’s so funny because so many women that have interviewed me have said ‘I struggled with it myself!’, and a lot of them were saying that they were told it’s a disease you can never get well from. That’s so uninspiring!

A  

It’s discouraging. It’s nice to hear someone’s story who got better. Then you start thinking, ‘if she did it, I can do it also…’

TL  

A lot of people that I’ve talked to, were like ‘Oh, I just thought you were body positive all the time and that you always loved your body’. And I was like, ‘Well, I do now’. And like I said, I’m lucky that when I got my first big song at 26, I was already at a recovering stage. I was like, ‘Fuck, I love this! Check me out! Don’t you dare re-touch me! This is how I look!’.  I’m happy that that’s the part that I’ve gotten to show, but I also now wanted to share the entire journey.

A  

You have a very distinct sound. I’ve always wondered who were your musical influences, lyrically or sonically. 

TL  

I think there are the unconscious ones that you just kind of grew up with. And then there’s… I went to this music high school where I had to go through every sort of musical style just to learn. That’s when I was like ‘Oh my god I love soul music, I can try and sing soul’ and then I was like ‘No, I’m going back to my grunge days’. But one artist that has always been with me the whole way is Robyn. She’s always been present in my life. And also this record, you know, has very heavy dance music influences. I love to DJ, I love going to raves. I still love to be in that world. And I think also during this time, I was just like longing for the dance floor. Lyrically, I think, it almost goes back all the way to Nirvana and Hole. There’s darkness, but there’s a wink to it. There’s like a little sprinkle of humor because I think you need that at times.

A  

Even with Grapefruit…the beat is so catchy and then the meaning is gut-wrenching. But I like the contrast. In a way it distances you from the issue, I would imagine.

TL  

I think it makes it hopeful. Without it being a preachy song. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, I think that was the hard balance to get in a way.

A  

What is the name of the album in reference to? 

TL  

Just kind of how I identify, you know. In the past, I used to think of my femininity as a weakness. Because in my mind, it was like, ‘What is a strong woman?’. And society tells you, ‘It’s a woman who acts like a man, right? Who is masculine, or, has a very masculine energy, that’s what a strong woman is’, but that’s not how I feel anymore. At the start of my career, I was always the only girl in every room. Always had to get on the level of these men to get respect. If they made sexual advances, I had to double down so they would get scared or had to figure out how to get the opportunity without having to go places that I didn’t want to go… Masculinity or femininity isn’t tied to a gender. I feel like the straight community has so much to learn from the queer community in that respect because everyone is naturally one way or the other, or both. We all have those traits, right? I feel like I’ve always been very independent, very strong, living my life like ‘I don’t need anybody’, you know. From that to getting married, that was a transformation… Now I feel more in touch and happy with my feminine traits and that’s where I really shine. I now perceive my vulnerability and emotional intelligence to be powerful parts of me. Now I’m letting those sides of me come out more, not only in my music but in my life too…Dirt Femme, that’s just me.

A  

I think we have to wrap it up now sadly, you have to get ready for the show… I want to squeeze in a little fashion-related question to lighten up the mood [Laughs]

TL  

I’m definitely not in my most fashionable attire [Laughs]

A  

I disagree…How does your sound maybe influence your style? Or is it the other way around? Both personal style and your stage persona.

TL

Well, I feel like I, for a long time, I had this idea. When I started out, I was so uncomfortable with anything… hair, makeup, photoshoots…I fucking hated it. I loved being on stage but I just wanted to be barefoot; I just wanted it to be as simple as possible. Because instead of looking at makeup and fashion as a means of enhancing beauty, I saw it as something that was trying to cover up who I was. It was when I started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race that I got so into it. I realized it’s a fucking art form. It’s part of expression and artistry. Just fucking play with it! It doesn’t mean that you’re losing yourself. So once I started kind of getting inspired by that, I think, I really went all out with this album. And this tour wardrobe is the most advanced I’ve ever had. But I feel like I go on stage to have looks that are characters in a way. It just gives me confidence on stage. I can still be personal but I’m just playing it up. I’m wearing a bunch of cool designers on tour. Whitaker Malem has done that gold corset that they custom-made me for the tour. Mega Mikaela, this Swedish designer, who’s amazing, has also made me looks. It’s like metal pieces tied together with yarn materials and it just looks really beautiful. I think, on this tour, the style is very feminine and glamorous, but there is an edge or roughness to it. There’s a spin on it always. Something classy with something unexpected!

A  

Hence the name, Dirt Femme… Thank you!

TL  

Thank you!

After I leave the venue, Tove’s fans are still outside, waiting for the doors to open, and I feel compelled to go up to everyone and say, ‘Guys! She’s even cooler in real life!’, but I keep it to myself, deciding it’s quite obvious. 

Seeing Tove’s performance after having had a brief but vulnerable talk with her just an hour before felt like a candid continuation of the said conversation. On stage, it was still Tove Lo I had met backstage in her tracksuit for a little less than twenty minutes, still getting the same point across, only now through her music instead of words. 

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