No one can accuse Tove Lo of holding back. Whether she’s flashing audiences on stage or providing, uh, underrepresented depictions of female pleasure in her (somewhat NSFW) music videos, the Swedish pop star gets a rush from pushing buttons. “I like challenging people,” she tells EW, “[and] forcing them to think about or feel things they usually try to stay away from.”
That certainly hasn’t changed with her just-released third album, Blue Lips, which completes the story that began with last year’s Lady Wood LP. If the title of that record was a euphemism for female arousal, Blue Lips refers to the female equivalent to blue… well, you get the idea. And as you can imagine, no topic is off limits: Blue Lips continues Lady Wood‘s saga about chasing highs — through drugs, sex, or performing — with two new multi-song chapters: the banger-filled “Light Beams,” about the second wind of adrenaline, and the confessional “Pitch Black,” about the comedown. “I write to get things out of my head,” she explains.
Below, EW catches up with Tove Lo about her vulnerable new material, pushing the limits of censorship on national television, and her plans for more short films.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve been teasing a sequel to Lady Wood since last year. What song from this project has been the hardest to keep to yourself for a year?
TOVE LO: Definitely “Bitches” — that’s why I put it in the short film [“Fairy Dust,” which featured songs from the first half of Lady Wood]. I didn’t plan to take this long to finish the second half, but I added songs and wrote new ones and rewrote old ones. So probably “Bitches” or the last one, “Hey You Got Drugs,” because it feels like it could have been [on my first album] Queen of the Clouds. It’s very honest and personal to me. I feel like I’m turning over a new leaf with it.
“Bitches” is one of my favorites from the album — it’s almost a grunge song in disguise.
Grunge-pop! [Producer] Ali Payami and I experiment a lot when we’re working together. I just came into a session with him singing that line — Bitches, I don’t trust them, but they give me what I want for the night — and he just came up with that dirty bass line. It became the sound that inspired the rest of the melodies for me. At first, it was less distorted, but then he turned it up for fun and we were like, “F— it, let’s keep that!” We also had it mixed by a guy who does more of that kind of music so it would get that rawer sound. Lady Wood was so cohesive — every song went into the next one — so for this one, I just felt excited to experiment more, to keep it in my pop world but still have fun trying new styles.
How much has this album changed from the version you had ready to go last year?
I changed the whole “Light Beams” chapter — besides “Bitches,” it’s pretty much new. It’s almost [worth] listening to backwards because of the order that things happened in my life. “Pitch Black” is about this heartbreak that I went through, which Lady Wood is also about. A lot of the songs on “Light Beams” are new songs about this great new love and being these two crazy reckless people having a good time together and being great and bad for each other all at once. I wanted that sentiment — I feel a lot lighter and am in a good place [compared to when I was making Lady Wood].
What’s it like, then, releasing a song like “9th of October” now? That one seems to draw from a particularly hard time in your past.
It’s weird getting thrown back into that. That is about the final goodbye in a relationship — being so heartbroken but trying to remember the good things. I can still remember feeling that way, how hurt I was and how much I was hurting the other person as well. It’s going to be hard to perform live. But it also shows how, no matter what, your heart will always heal. Which I’m very happy about! I’m also thinking about my boyfriend now, like, “I’m sorry you have to hear this — these are not about you! This is not where I see us going!” But when you date a songwriter, that’s just what happens: You get the past, the present, and the future all in one. I write to get things out of my head.
Your music has always been unfiltered and honest, but that song seems like a new level of vulnerability for you.
I like to be outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself in every way. I also like challenging people when they listen to [my music] and when they watch my videos — forcing them to think about or feel things they usually try to stay away from. What happens when you’re open is that other people open up too. It becomes a sharing moment instead of people being like, “Whoa, okay, stop telling us this much.” Maybe some people feel that way, but I think if it’s genuine, it usually creates a connection. People are going to know all this stuff about me, but it’s never really bothered me. Writing and recording and making the song is my process of working through [what I’m experiencing]. When I release it, I’ve worked through it and gotten over it so it’s a part of my life but not the state of my mind at the moment. It becomes easier to share with people.
Watching your “Disco Tits” performance on The Tonight Show the other night, I wasn’t sure you’d be allowed to sing some of those lyrics on TV. Your new album cover seems like it’s this close to not being able to be shown on TV. And your “Fairy Dust” video was briefly censored on YouTube for its sexual content — even though, as you pointed out on Twitter, you technically weren’t naked. Are you surprised about what you get away with?
It’s less “I can’t believe they let me do that” and more like more like “When are they going to stop me?” I’m just going to keep doing what I like. I’m very into sexual expression — I think music and sex are very connected, and it’s something that’s awesome and fun. I’ve always been very into that expression, when it’s genuine and not coming from someone being told to do it. And in Sweden, we don’t really censor that way. You hear every swear word, in Swedish and English, on the radio, and kids will be singing along.
When I did TRL, they were so excited they got to say “Disco Tits” on the air. They said it a million times, they had so much fun with that. They were like, “It’s great getting to push the envelope a little bit.” It makes people question why we can’t say tits. It’s just tits! Why can’t we say that? People get excited about not having to stay within the rules so much, and I enjoy that.
They let me wear a top where you can see sideboob, and maybe my nipples — it was pretty cold in there! But they didn’t say anything about that. For some talk shows, just a couple years ago, I had to wear a bandeau bra under my top because they were not allowed to show any sideboob or underboob. That’s progress. It sounds ridiculous when you say it, but it shows that the shame and drama around nudity can go away a little bit.
Are you going to make more short films for the remaining chapters, like you did with “Fairy Dust” and “Fire Fade”?
I will, but in a different way than anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a new challenge, even for me, and it’s something I have to make sure that I get right. It’s going to be…. how do I describe it without revealing too much? It’s going to be my visual aesthetic but with a different agenda.
What inspired the format change? A matter of resources?
I mean, honestly, I’ve paid for every single video myself: both “Fairy Dust” and “Fire Fade” and “Disco Tits.” I’m working with new people now and am in a different mindset, so I want to do it a bit differently.
The “Disco Tits” video did feel like a break in tone from the visuals of the last project.
That was still [director] Tim Erem though!
You worked with him on “Fairy Dust” and “Fire Fade.” Is he still your creative director?
Not now — that was the final thing we did together. We were like, “This is our last journey!” We’ve been working so much, it’s just time to split ways — work-wise at least. We’re still really good friends. And it was such a great idea and a fun, weird shoot. Acting with a yellow furry puppet compared to an actual person was very different, but I’m really happy with it.
For something you paid for yourself, it looks expensive.
It was expensive!
You’re on Island Records, which has a great roster of Scandinavian pop singers — you, Astrid S, Sigrid. When are you all going to do a song together? You can invite your friends in Icona Pop too.
Icona Pop, Zara Larsson, MØ, Elliphant — there’s a bunch of us. We talk about that at least a couple times a year: “We should just make a Scandi-pop album.”
Wouldn’t that Swedish government pay for that? Aren’t they all about funding for the arts?
Oh for sure, the Swedish government would pay for that. They’re all girls that write [music] themselves and have a lot to say and are cool and outspoken. I’m very proud of my girls.
I’m going to bring it up in every interview until it happens.
Well, there is a remix plan. There will be a version of “Bitches” that you will enjoy.