Icona Pop invade America
How Swedish duo ICONA POP turned their underground 2012 anthem ''I Love It'' into a mainstream 2013 smash — and where they'll be taking it this summer (hint: everywhere)
Welcome to the American dream, Swedish-style: Two weeks from now, a pair of chic young pop starlets from Stockholm will perform their scrappy Europop anthems for a raving, fist-pumping crowd of thousands in…Ozark, Ark.
That’s a long way from home for Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt of the electronic duo Icona Pop. But thanks to the top 10 success of their giddily destructive breakup anthem ”I Love It” — ”I crashed my car into the bridge/I watched, I let it burn…. I don’t care, I love it! I don’t care!” — the girls’ summer plans include high-profile festival slots at Lollapalooza in Chicago, the Governors Ball in New York City, Bumbershoot in Seattle, and Wakarusa (a.k.a. The One in Arkansas).
”We love playing dark, dirty, sweaty clubs, because that’s where Icona Pop was born, but [all this] is very exciting in a very different way,” says Hjelt, 25, via phone from a remote corner of their home country. (”It’s awesome. No one here, a lot of mountains — and wine,” says Jawo, 26. ”So we’re good right now!”) Playing to huge crowds may sound like an intimidating prospect for an act with only a six-song EP out in the States, but don’t tell them that. ”We’re still doing everything we’ve always done,” Jawo says. ”We live in our little Icona Pop world.”
Appropriately enough, Hjelt and Jawo first met at a house party back in Stockholm in 2009. ”I’d just gotten dumped,” Jawo recalls. ”I was very sad, and I had this friend who kept trying to cheer me up by inviting me out to things.” One of them just happened to be a blowout at Hjelt’s apartment: ”We instantly connected in a special way,” Hjelt says. ”We danced the whole night and agreed we’d have to do something together soon.” Like, very soon; Jawo returned the next day with a bottle of wine and a laptop, and the pair wrote their first song right there. ”It was called ‘Sheriff Came to Town on a Big Black Horse,’ ” says Jawo. ”It was kind of spaghetti Western, but with a lot of sexual frustration.”
The duo’s style has changed since then, and so has their address: They passed through London, Paris, and Los Angeles before finally settling on New York, their current home. ”I love our gypsy lifestyle!” says Hjelt. ”Moving around, living in a bag — it’s very pure and romantic in a way.” In the meantime, catchy synth-pop singles like ”Manners” and ”Good for You” gained traction on music blogs, and an underground cult following blossomed.
But it was ”I Love It” that would become their signature — and their golden ticket to the Hot 100. Funny enough, the song came to them by chance. ”We were actually in the studio writing a totally different song with Patrik [Berger, who co-wrote ‘I Love It’],” explains Hjelt. ”He showed us the first version, and we were just like, ‘Wait, hold on a second, rewind — what’s that? We’re going through the exact same thing right now: drama, love life.’ So we asked if we could use it and make it ours.”
The breakout single’s ascent began in May 2012 (it landed in EW’s pages multiple times, including on our 2012 Best Singles of the Year list) and continued as it popped up in a slew of commercials, movie trailers, and radio playlists.
But perhaps its most unforgettable placement came in the now-infamous ”Hannah does cocaine” episode of HBO’s Girls this past January. Even as the song became forever linked with Lena Dunham braless in a yellow mesh tank top, it also seemed to signal that Icona Pop had finally, seriously arrived.
”It’s funny, we would watch Girls when we were living in London, back in season 1,” Hjelt says. ”We made it special, like ‘Cook food and have a Girls night.’ We even tweeted at them: ‘We love your show. Listen to our music!’ ” It took a year, but it worked. ”When the publishers first sent us the demo, we loved it,” says Girls‘ music supervisor, Manish Raval. ”And as soon as we saw the final scene, we knew it was this season’s Robyn moment,” he adds, referring to another Swede, whose ”Dancing on My Own” also had a game-changing moment on the show.
The song has since boomed in digital downloads (over 1.2 million and counting) and topped the Billboard dance charts, and it’s a glow stick’s length from entering the Hot 100 top five. It’s also the centerpiece of Icona’s live shows, where the crowds react with mosh-pit intensity. ”It’s an emotional song, and there’s a lot of anger,” says Hjelt. ”When we perform it live, people have their fists in the air and they’re really singing it to someone.”
Icona Pop don’t plan to live and die by one song, though. ”We bring the microphone with us on tour so we can always record,” says Hjelt. They’ve got a dream collaborator list (at the top: Prince and David Bowie), but for now, they’re focused on putting out a Stateside full-length, which they expect to be ready by early fall.
”We always say we’ve been in labor with this pop baby for four years,” Hjelt says. ”And now it’s finally going to get out.” Or as Jawo puts it: ”We are ready to let the rest of the world into our Icona Pop world right now.”