Tove Lo has never been one to shy away from provocation. And she isn’t stopping now.
“I don’t want to do things where I always look or seem like my best,” the Swedish pop star said on a recent morning, calling from Los Angeles. “I want to do things that make me feel challenged and uncomfortable. I want to attack that little thing that makes you uncomfortable. I want to be confrontational and explore all the emotions.”
From her 2014 breakout single, “Habits (Stay High),” which detailed a love so toxic only substances could save her (“I gotta stay high all the time/ To keep you off my mind”), to titling her 2016 follow-up album, “Lady Wood,” the singer born Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson has never been afraid to challenge the status quo. Still, she’s the first to admit how her tendency to be revel in her sexuality has sadly found her on the receiving end of misogynistic attacks.
“I think in society, in general, there’s a reason why there’s the saying, ‘If you want to be taken seriously, put your clothes on,’” Tove said, laughing at the notion. “It feels pretty old nowadays, but it’s still there, and it’s people’s natural reaction to things. Maybe not in the creative world, but it seems like in society, people assume you don’t have anything real to say if you take your clothes off. It’s seen as some sort of distraction. So I love to show that’s not how it is.”
As outdated a notion as it might seem in 2020, Tove Lo said, with this way of thinking still in play, it remains essential to forever showcase how a woman like her can be equal parts sexual and intelligent. “Because you can be so many ways,” she said.
For Tove Lo, the easiest way to showcase her versatility is via the diverse array of music she releases. To that end, her two latest singles are a prime example. Last month, the singer released them concurrently, exhibiting her diverse talent: the throbbing and stimulating, club-ready “Bikini Porn” as well as the emotional and cathartic “Passion and Pain Taste the Same When I’m Weak.”
Viewed from both a sonic and lyrical perspective, the two songs couldn’t be more different. But when listened to in succession, the two tracks – both produced by breakout producer-musician and Billie Eilish’s brother, Finneas – showcase a pop star as equally inclined to be fun and raunchy as introspective and enlightened.
“What I love about these two songs is that it shows I can be this sexual playgirl,” one who walks in entirely confident, Tove said, “but it doesn’t take away that I’m deep and smart and good at my craft and can be poetic as well. I think it shows the two sides. The different emotions that I always feel flowing through my body. I guess I don’t think so much about what people are going to think about it, or that I should stick to my box. I kind of do whatever I want and see what happens.”
Working with Finneas, Tove said, was a dream collaboration. The 32-year-old described her new collaborator as “fearless and fun,” and described how Finneas brought out her “poetic side.”
“I felt like the chosen one,” she said of getting to work with such an in-demand talent. Having previously worked almost exclusively with her longtime Swedish songwriting collective that includes Ludvig Sodberg, collaborating with someone new was an exciting, but also nervous proposition for Tove Lo.
“But I felt very guard down with Finneas,” she said. “I felt very relaxed writing with him. He said he loved my weirdness. It’s important to work with new people, because it challenges you and brings out new sides of you, writing-wise.”
In many ways, it makes sense Tove would work with Finneas; there is a direct line from Tove’s longtime fearlessness to a bold young artist like Eilish. Tove isn’t one to be self-congratulatory, but she is quick to lavish praise on the young Grammy winner.
“I could never have predicted that an artist like Billie is what would break all the new ground,” Tove said. “It’s so cool. Just so dope. Because there’s no formula there. It’s just something (her and Finneas) did that was awesome and is connecting with people – especially in their own generation.
“Now and then that just happens. There’s no point in analyzing it or studying it.”