Who’s topping the charts, going viral, and ruling our earbuds? With Breaking Big, EW introduces the freshest music talent you have to hear now. Below, get to know Tove Styrke, the Swedish singer making some of the year’s most daring and dynamic pop songs.
Listen If You Like: Lorde, Lykke Li, Astrid S, Sigrid
The Backstory: The 24-year-old became a star in her native Sweden after competing (and ultimately finishing third) on the sixth season of the country’s Idol franchise. She quickly followed up her TV stint with a banger-filled album in 2010, but later retreated from the spotlight, choosing to figure out her early 20s — and her musical identity — in the comfort of obscurity. When she returned in 2014 with the Borderline EP and then 2015’s Kiddo, she won critics over with her playful pop sound — looser and more experimental than the club anthems her home country is known for exporting — and feminist lyrics, which gave a middle-finger to the patriarchy on tracks like the reggae-flavored “Borderline” and the frenetic “Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking to You.”
Styrke’s new music, however, takes a different approach. “This album is the opposite of the last album,” she explains. “Kiddo was very outward because I went through a phase where I was growing up and realizing, ‘I’m a tiny little person in this big world, and a lot of things are messed up about my place in society.” This time, she’s narrowing her scope: “These songs are all about the inside. It’s almost like the monologues that you have in your head that you don’t tell anyone else.”
Why She Rules: Styrke is making some of the year’s most daring and dynamic pop songs — just listen to this year’s “Say My Name,” which bubbles around a rubbery ukulele loop, or her new single “Mistakes,” which rushes along an addicting electro-pop current. Styrke spent months perfecting the songs with writer-producer Elof Loelv, taking an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the production. The ukulele addition was something Loelv came up with by accident in the studio one day before Styrke convinced him to make it a central part of the song. The chorus on “Mistakes” also went through several iterations before the two “cracked the code” by introducing the stomping vocoder breakdown. “I really think it pays off to spend a lot of time on production and also songwriting,” Styrke says. “It makes it richer in a sense.”
You can hear her attention to detail on “Mistakes,” which — if you listen closely — features sound effects such as a flickering street-light lamp, a buzzing cell phone, and zipper noises that correspond to certain lyrics and help evoke the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of a new relationship. “I want a song to be like one of those pictures that you can look at and find new things in every time,” she says.
She’s also figuring out new ways to use her voice. Styrke has powerful pipes — you can hear them clearly on her post-Idol material — but she takes a more restrained approach in her new music, which often features hushed verses that quietly build up to more grabbing hooks. “I’ve often tried to make my voice as loud as possible to be heard — like, listen to me!” she says. “But I’ve learned that it’s almost easier to get people’s attention if you [sing] really low and quiet. I like using my voice as a way to make people wake up every now and then. You want to snap people out of it.”
What’s Next: Styrke canceled a fall tour with Bleachers to finish work on her upcoming album, which she hopes to put out sometime next year. She has about five finished songs now — mostly recorded with Elof Loelv — and recently headed to L.A. for studio time with Joe Janiak (Britney Spears, Tove Lo), Joel Little (Lorde), and Sean Douglas (Jason Derulo, Thomas Rhett). “I need to get more people into the project because I need to be quicker with finishing the album,” she says, joking. Stateside fans will get a chance to see her on stage soon, however: Lorde just announced that Styrke will open select dates on the U.S. leg of her Melodrama World Tour.