Tove Lo headbangs to her own songs with her eyes closed, head down, hands in her lap. "What is it 'bout you that makes me come undone?" We're sitting in a soundproofed Los Angeles conference room. The bass is so loud I can feel it in my toes, which is exactly how her music is meant to be listened to.
"No, I'm no drama queen/It's just how love feels/Might not be healthy/But I feel alive."
Tove Lo's fourth studio album, Sunshine Kitty, dropped last week and like her other LPs, the title is a sly allusion to female empowerment. "That's sun in her pussy," she laughed.
The Swedish grunge-pop star has perfected the art of dance/crying. In "Come Undone," Lo's terrified of her lover not loving her back. "Bad as the Boys" is an instant anthem for queer women who've dated girls who still turned out to be fuccbois. And one album stand out, "Are U gonna tell her?", Lo toys with a hookup who's cheating on his girlfriend with her over an infectious Latin-infused beat.
The album even features a duet with a certain pop icon, Kylie Minogue. "She tweeted me once out of nowhere, I didn't even know she liked my music or anything," Tove Lo told Out.
During the Lady Wood tour, Lo posted a photo of her lyric book on Instagram. Minogue commented on the post, "Oh, she's a pen and paper girl." Lo couldn't believe it. "I was like, 'Oh my God, is someone messing with me right now?'" she said, laughing. "I screenshot that, saved it in my 'moments in life' folder."
The two met face-to-face at a charity event in Hong Kong. "She was just the sweetest, coolest, just tiny little beautiful human," Lo continued. "And she just said like, 'Oh I'd love to work with you sometime.' And I made a mental note of that. That was in 2017 or early 2018 I think. And then while I was making this record, it was in the back of my mind, 'I want an icon on this album, it will be so cool to just have a name that I looked up to and been dancing to through my life.'"
The resulting track, "Really don't like u," is about that moment you spot your ex walking into the club with someone new, and the irrational hate for that new person that fills you up like a balloon waiting to pop. Major Brandy vs. Monica, "The Boy is Mine" vibes.
As an artist, Tove Lo has never shied away from the risqué. She broke into the pop world as a solo artist in 2014 with "Habits (Stay High)," a desperate dance track about using sex, drugs, and partying to get over a heartbreak. The 31-year-old has always been very sex-positive, performed topless on her tours, and sung candidly about her desires with both men and women in her music, so much so that Twitter even lovingly dubbed her the "horny Ellie Goulding."
But some headlines tell a different story, reeking of thinly veiled sexism, like "Tove Lo exposes naked breasts with bizarre topless performance."
The artist remains unbothered, however. "Sex and music to me are connected," she says thoughtfully. "The shock to me when I started putting out songs was how apparently provocative they are. It's what you've been hearing men singing about for ages, especially in pop."
Singing about sex can feel like tip-toeing down a tightrope for some female pop stars. "I think Zara Larson said this really well: we're supposed to be sexy but not want sex. We're supposed to hint at everything: sexy, but not because we want to be. You're supposed to be unaware of yourself and not, you know, wanting it. It's seen as, 'you're bad, you're a bad girl, a bad influence.'"
Lo tosses that pressure aside. "This is what I want to say," she continued. "I'm not going to edit that out because you want me to."
"Even though I write sexual or dirty lyrics and have fun with that and like to party doesn't mean that I don't have depth or that I'm not smart, or I don't have opinions that you should care about. I'm still a full human. So I like to mix all that in."
There's no doubt that streaming has changed the music industry. Hip-hop dominates the charts over once-ubiquitous polished pop acts like Katy Perry, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift. Labels aren't investing in artists as much, but instead turning to viral currency and signing artists like Lil Nas X, who created a record-smashing #1 hit song with a $30 beat in his bedroom.
So how does pop fit into this? For Tove, Lo it's about evolution. Rappers hop on each other's tracks all the time, so why not female pop stars?
"I feel like pop is such a wide genre right now, but you can kind of just experiment with [it] however you want, which I love," she says. "I love being a pop star in this climate. There is a really supportive vibe between us all. We share each other's music, we collaborate in the same way that rappers jump on each other's songs. It's a lot more collaboration and doing shit together. And I feel that's kind of like transferred into pop now too. Charli [XCX] will ask me to jump on a song with her and ALMA and yeah, I'm down. And then ALMA's jumping on mine and Charli's jumping on shit with me too."
This is shifting how musicians create, and everything about the process is becoming more experimental.
"I think it's kind of good," says Lo. "We have to just push the boundaries a little bit. You can't just stay in the 'too polished' world anymore. You have to push yourself and be able to try things. There's no clear path to what you're supposed to do. And I like that."
That freedom shines through her Sunshine Kitty.
Photography by Moni Hayworth.