Tove Lo "will no longer be silent." The pop star has joined more than 2,000 women, including Robyn, First Aid Kit and Zara Larsson in signing an open letter to raise awareness about sexual assault in the Swedish music industry. "We demand zero tolerance for sexual exploitation or violence," the letter continues, underlining Lo's career-long dedication to championing shame-free, self-indulgent sex positivity.
Lo's third studio album Blue Lips is in many ways the musical embodiment of ideas outlined on this letter, giving the world her most authentic, raw self without granting the world any ownership of her body or brain. Split between two chapters, "Light Beams" and "Pitch Black," she's beautifully candid and unabashedly sensual, singing about everything from queer sex to drug use and failed relationships.
The 14-track effort's lead single "Disco Tits" is a backbone for Lo's brand of provocative pop: "I'm fully charged, nipples are hard, ready to go," she sings matter-of-fact on the chorus. While lo's lyrics could seem overtly sensational to some, they're designed to be relatable declarations in a world that shames women for owning their sexuality. "Let me be your guide when you eat my pussy out" the artist says on "Bitches"--blatantly erotic, but completely in control.
We sat down with Lo to talk about writing Blue Lips, celebrating her body and liberating her queer fans.
OUT: How do you think "Disco Tits" represents you?
Tove Lo: It represents the part of me that's like, "I don't give a fuck. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and enjoy that without letting anyone try to push me down." I still stand for it, but I'm not only tits and glitter. If you choose to listen to what I say in my songs, you'll see there is more to me than that. But I'm happy if that's the first thing people see because "Disco Tits" feels very free. The one thing I know I'll always stand for is being able to use my body to express myself and be sexual in the way that I feel comfortable without anyone telling me that's the wrong way or I'm setting a bad example.
Being a sex positive artist has always been important, but it feels especially vital, right now.
I'm someone who is embracing my sexuality, and I'm comfortable in my body and like to be naked and like to talk about sex. It's not the only way to express myself in music, and it's not the only way to get attention or have people react to you and be inspired by you. But it's the way I like. That doesn't make me any less serious, any less intelligent or any less in charge of my own body than someone who decides to stay dressed from head-to-toe.
I've been getting questions from reporters asking, "Don't you feel like now we should try and step away from sex since it's always so present? Don't you feel like you should maybe not make it so much about sex now that there's such a negative tone around it?" I'm like, "No! Now you're turning it back on women again." What the fuck is going on? That should never be the case that we should have to change just so dudes won't feel us up. It makes no sense to me. I've always felt it shouldn't be up to them--it's up to me and that comes down to everything I do.
The conversation seems to be shifting now more than ever, but there is still a lot of blame placed on women for how men treat them.
That's what frustrates me. There's that cliche: "The girl with the big tits who was asking for it." Unless she took your hand, put it on her boob and said, "Touch my boob and please have sex with me right now," she's not asking for it. Because of what she wears or how she's standing does not give anyone the right to walk up and have their way with this girl. But I feel like you know this, I know this and all the people close to us know this, but there's such a big part of the world that doesn't. It shocks me every time.
Being a pop artist can be such an impactful, educational role because you're reaching so many people.
That's what I like. I'm the same person as when I released "Habits (Stay High") three years ago--I dress the same, I talk the same. But when I started, the expectation was that we'd have to polish me up and edit things to make sure they don't offend people so that I could get on as many commercial things as possible--things that won't aggravate people or upset them, but will speak to as many people as possible. I've never agreed to that. I've stayed true to what I was saying in the beginning. I don't want to edit things, I want to be as raw, open and real as I want, and that makes me feel a lot better about what I do. Why would you want to reach as many people as possible if that's not really what you want to say?
Have you always been this confident?
No, definitely not. I've always had a lot of opinions and feelings, but I didn't have an outlet for them until I started writing and singing music. I think I got the confidence when I noticed that a lot of people feel the same way as I do. I realized I can write about what I'm going through and it's not something I'm alone in. Growing up, I had friends, but I was kind of the weirdo. I remember never feeling at home until I started making music and being around like-minded people that needed to express everything and not pretend like things are fine. I feel like I'm confident in that I know I have a lot of flaws and embrace them. I can walk off stage and be really pissed off because I felt like my singing sucked that day or I didn't feel a connection with the crowd, but it very rarely has anything to do with anyone else but me.
You tackle a lot of heavy topics on Blue Lips, but is there a subject that was the most difficult to write about?
Most of those songs on "Pitch Black." I think "9th of October" and "Hey You Got Drugs?" are probably the most vulnerable for me. "9th of October" is about being in a very intense relationship and knowing that you're bad for each other--you're ruining each other when you're in love. When you break up, you're so angry at the person and don't want to admit to your own faults. I wrote that song on my birthday two years ago because that's when everything was falling apart. I originally wrote it as a poem. "Hey You Got Drugs?" is the realization that I'm being around people that aren't really my friends. I'm pushing away the people that actually care about me because they're worried. I'm not living this life recreationally, I'm living this life to numb myself. And if I do this for much longer, I'm not going to be around for much longer.
You're openly bisexual. How much does that influence your life?
It's been such a casual presence in my life, and never something I've felt weird or ashamed about. I never questioned it, I was just like, "Oh I'm attracted to girls, too." I've never had a relationship with a woman, but I've had a lot of sexual experiences with women and had a lot of fun with that. I've never felt the need to identify my sexuality so strongly. I understand that other people do and I understand that it's a struggle for some people to figure that out, but for me it's always been a positive addition to my life. Maybe that means I lean more towards men? I don't know, I don't think about it that much. I'm happy to be a part of that community and have a voice there, because it's a big part of being free, being who you want to be and not being judged for that.
Once celebrities identify as LGBTQ, it seems the media loves to categorize them.
In America, people want to be label you and have you stay in one pocket. I'm not only talking about sexuality, I'm talking music-style, dress, how you act. It's very important to have all those things figured out about yourself, whereas in Sweden I just float to wherever feels good. It's the same thing when I write. It's pop because that's what I naturally write, but I'm happy to experiment with different styles and subjects I've never talked about if it's something on my mind or something I just went through. Keeping an open mind in all ways is what's best for me.
Why do you think queers, especially queer men, gravitate towards your music?
I wonder if it's because most people are raised thinking, if you're a boy, you're supposed to like girls and be into these things. And when you're a teenage boy, sex is very present. When you feel like you're not on board with everything you're supposed to be into, you grow up confused and ashamed. So freedom around sexual expression and being honest about it is something that probably took you a while to figure out. I embrace sex and feel comfortable. I'm also open and blunt about it without hiding it or polishing it. When I go on stage, I'm like, "Everyone is free to be whoever you are in here and we're going to have a fucking blast. If you want to take your shirt off, do it." I'm very sexual on stage, and maybe that freedom attracts people that aren't allowed to always be free.