Swedish artist Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, known more simply as Tove Lo, is no average pop star. From the moment her breakout Queen of the Clouds single “Habits (Stay High)” debuted in 2013, it was clear Tove Lo was unafraid to speak her truth, singing about picking up daddies at the playground and eating dinner in her bathtub.
Three years later, Tove Lo continues to trailblaze on her sophomore album, Lady Wood. The LP and its subsequent promotion have inspired not only women, but all marginalized groups to fully embrace who they are. She even made a short film, titled Fairy Dust, that was temporarily taken down by YouTube for featuring female masturbation.
Speaking to OUT on her global Lady Wood Tour, Tove Lo opened up about how her art has been especially relevant in the midst of today’s political climate.
OUT: You have so much energy performing live, where does that come from?
Tove Lo: It’s a combination of all the very intense emotions that go through me everyday. I kind of learn to manage [them] in front of people, [but] I can let them run free [on stage], which is awesome. Also I get so much energy from being in front of my fans. When I think I have nothing left to give, I look at someone who’s so excited and it gives me that extra push.
Even though you’ve been writing songs for years, such as co-writing Ellie Goulding's “Love Me Like You Do,” your solo career took off pretty quickly. What was that like?
It was very unreal. I kept pinching my arm, like is this how it happens? I was really just being me, which is I think was the main [reason] why I never really dared to go for the artist thing before. But I’m getting so much love, people seem to connect to my music and my fans are amazing so I’m very happy I dared to go for it.
You said once, “There’s this idea of what a good female role model is. It’s usually not what I’m doing. But if I have an impact, if it makes people speak their minds, that’s a good thing.” How does that relate to Lady Wood?
Sex and music are very connected things. But I’m realizing girls in pop have done it a little differently. It’s usually polished a little bit—it’s more hinting than telling it straight up. [It’s] making sure that you don’t come across as too sexual at any point, or too destructive, or as a "bad girl." I was like, "Wow, people are really reacting to this as something new and provocative when I thought we had passed this 20 years ago." I feel like Madonna did a lot of the groundwork and we should be good with this now. I’ve always been told that I’m like a chick with balls and just that says so much. Okay, so I need balls to be brave or be forward? So I feel like Lady Wood is a better word for that.
In January you posted photos protesting against Trump’s immigration ban. You said that day, “I know I'm not American but it doesn't matter. I will still #RESIST and speak out against Trump.” What is it about today's American politics that makes you so engaged even though you're not American?
I spend a lot of time here [in the U.S.], and I was so shocked to see that such big of a percentage thinks the way that [Trump] thinks. I thought it was a joke when he was up there and that he wasn’t actually going to win. So many people look to America in every aspect, especially in music and entertainment. Our whole culture in Sweden is affected by that. I feel like it has an impact on the world so the world should react.
Why do you think a lot of your fans, especially your female ones, have really looked to you and your music in today’s political climate?
It’s been really amazing because on this tour I’ve met so many fans who tell me they see me as a role model because I dare to speak to my mind and I don’t apologize for it. A lot of them have tattooed my Lady Wood symbol, [which is] the vagina symbol [attached to the female symbol], as a reminder to feel strong and independent. That means so much to me and I want to be an inspiration that way. I wanted to get rid of the feelings of shame for being a bad girl.
Let's talk about another core group in your fanbase, the LGBTQ community. Why do you think we gravitate to you and your music?
I hope it’s the feeling of accepting yourself fully the way that you are without excuses, no matter what you’ve been brought up to think. Our society is so driven by gender roles that [many] feel [they] have to fit in somewhere, so I hope that no matter what your heart is telling you, that’s what you should listen to. Be you, don’t be ashamed and don’t apologize. I hope that’s the reason a lot of people feel connected to me.
In 2014, you tweeted, “Gay/Bi/Straight don’t matter” and your “Timebomb” music video featured couples of all different races, ages and sexual orientations. Why is it important to you to show this kind of advocacy in your art so often?
There are so many reasons, but the main one is that you should never feel that because of who you love, you should be pushed out of the world. There’s a society that’s built for us to adapt to and [there can be] things that everyday remind you, "Oh, I don’t really fit in." It could be as much as a look or some little comment. I think if you’re a public person, [you should] make it so everyone in [your] zone [feels] fucking welcome. If I can create any kind of vibe like that, that’s fucking awesome. Also, it’s about love. How can that be a threat to anyone else? That’s what I really don’t understand and I want to work against that as much as I can.
@bIindfoldme fuck no!! Gay/Bi/Straight don't matter!
— Tove Lo (@ToveLo) July 15, 2014
You’ve referred to yourself before as a “hobby lesbian.” What did you mean by that?
(Laughs) Honestly, I remember I did that interview when I was really hung over and I just blurted that out. I guess for me, I see myself as bisexual, but I’ve never actually had a relationship with a girl. It was one of those, do we need to define, why are we defining? [The interviewer] was like, "Have you ever had a relationship with a girl, because if not, it’s kind of more of a sexual thing, isn’t it?" She was kind of drilling me on it, so I was like, “Well I guess then I’m kind of a hobby lesbian, I don’t know.”
What can you tell us about a sequel to Lady Wood?
I’m working on it right now, but it will definitely be out this year. I can’t tell you when this year yet because I want it to be perfect [and] I will tour around that too for sure. It’ll be a busy few years.
If you had to pick one song from your two albums that best summarizes who you are and what you stand for, what would it be?
I’d say “Moments” is probably the one that sums up me as a person the best.