Icona Pop have written many songs about friendship—“We Got the World,” “All Night,” “Girlfriend”—but the Swedish duo of Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt have never written a BFF anthem like their new single, “Brightside.” Instead of a roaring dancefloor battle cry, it’s a chilly, pulsing mid-tempo track about standing together when it feels like everything is falling apart.
“It’s not just one of those great party nights we sing about,” Hjelt says. “I’m happy when we write songs about them so we can keep remembering them and living them over and over again, but it was important for us to go, ‘Woah, we’ve been through so much stuff together.’” Adds Jawo, “We felt like it was time to write a song about our friendship because that’s the thing that’s kept us healthy in our heads.” She turns to Hjelt, sitting next to her on the couch: “Everything we’re doing, I’m so thankful you’re by my side. It can sound very cheesy, but it’s really pure love.”
The duo has hardly been inactive since breaking out with “I Love It” in 2012 and releasing their international debut, This Is…Icona Pop the following year. In 2016 alone, they’ve put out the thumping single “Someone Who Can Dance,” teamed up with EDM duo Louis the Child for “Weekend,” and even appeared in the movie Trolls. But releasing one-off tracks and collaborations when you’re on the road is one thing; finding time to make a complete, cohesive album was an entirely different challenge. So the duo slowed their roll a few months ago, started turning down opportunities, and took time off to recalibrate as a band. “I think we’ve gone back to what Icona Pop was from the beginning: raw, dirty sounds, slower,” Jawo says of the new material, expected early next year. Says Hjelt, “We needed to decide for ourselves where we were and what we wanted to write about before we let anybody else in.”
The collaborators they have let in so far include both familiar faces, like childhood friend Tove Lo and “I Love It” co-writer Charli XCX, as well as new ones, like hitmaker Justin Tranter (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez), fellow Swedish songwriter Noonie Bao, and producers such as Marshmello and MSTR ROGERS. And while they’re not sure exactly how they plan to release the new material, Hjelt and Jawo still say they think of their upcoming work as an album. “Not all of the songs are made for radio, for example, but they might very important to fans because they’re important to us,” Hjelt says.
Besides, they know from the success of “I Love It” that predicting what works on radio is anyone’s guess. “No one believed in that song,” Hjelt remembers. “Everyone said it’s too indie, it can’t go on the radio.” A record label they used to work with didn’t even want to put the song out, so Hjelt and Jawo released it at home in Sweden before watching it become a worldwide hit. “Sometimes,” Hjelt says, “the songs that are not typical are the ones that are the most interesting.”
To work on the new album, the duo is spending most of their time in Los Angeles now after a stint in Brooklyn, during which they almost moved in with Tove Lo. Years ago, the three of them—along with Swedish actress Alicia Vikander—shared a cramped apartment in London, but this time, they decided against another close-quarters arrangement. “There wasn’t enough room, and we need our own rooms!” Hjelt says with a laugh. “We’re so used to sharing, and I think it’s nice sometimes, but I feel like it’s important when you can choose to have a bed that’s your own.”
The bandmates don’t plan on ever being far from each other, however. The dream, they say, is to live in separate apartments in the same building. “Then it can be like, ‘Hey, do you have any sugar?’ Hjelt says. Adds Jawo, “And then we can have an elevator go through Tove and Alicia and you and me.” Sounds like a party after all.