Tove Lo is absolutely sick of boring conventions and modern-day fakery.
“People always want to show their best side and we have the craziest rules about how we’re supposed to live which dictate the only right or moral way to behave,” she says during our phone call. “We live so close to each other and we’re on top of one another, so we make ourselves smaller all the time so as not to annoy or bother those around us. Yet we’re still drowning in noise. It’s like everyone is bottling everything up and at the same time you can’t hear yourself think.”
She laughs, “This sounds really depressing now.”
If, for some reason, you’ve not been drawn into Tove Lo’s world of debauchery and debilitating honesty, you won’t know that across three albums, 2014’s Queen of the Clouds, last year’s Lady Wood, and now Blue Lips, she’s become a voice box for marginalized millennials yearning to expunge conservative and societal constraints. Yes, her music, performances (the singer often flashes crowds), and videos are sexually explicit in her latest video for the single “Disco Tits” she gets licked out by a puppet but, as she tells INTO, there’s more at play. She’s also excavating and analyzing life itself. Her latest album, Blue Lips [lady wood phase II], is a continuation of her exhumation of the grey areas of human activity, be it sex, love, drugs, heartbreak, or shame.
“I’m not alone in feeling and thinking the way I do,” she says. “There’s a reason that my fans relate to me and my music they feel a lot of the things I feel. It might be the top layer of being a person who likes to express themselves sexually, who likes to have fun, or who might not always do what’s best for themselves but has a good time anyway. Then you have the deeper layers where it’s about more than that. You can choose how deep you want to go.”
Lo is often seen as is pop music’s connoisseur of candidness.
“My music is where I work everything out,” she admits. “Things that have happened things that I’ve done that I’m not proud of, things that people have done to me, my hopes. Sometimes it’s more a feeling than a behavior. That comes down to everything that I do it’s a lot about love, but also how I need to feel alive at all times and wanting to challenge myself. There’s something about the calmness of a routine that freaks me out. I just keep looking for something I can dive into.”
It’s for this reason that Blue Lips, a title that subverts the old adage “blue balls,” took on a new shape. Initially, the album was meant to be a companion piece to Lady Wood, with both records set to charter “the chase, the rush, the peak, and the downfall [of the] emotional rollercoaster”of the singer’s life since 2014’s Queen of the Clouds. Part of that involved a breakup, which Lo says was the catalyst for “Pitch Black,” the second half of her new album. Yet, life and love always find a way, and a new relationship saw the first half of the record, “Light Beams,” mutate.
“I saw that the album still followed the dramatic curve but I felt like it was its own thing, too, which is why I wanted to give it its own name,” she says. “I still feel there’s a connection between the two [albums] because a lot of it is reflective of things and emotions that I was going through when I wrote the first part, but I wanted something that was representative of me now as well.”
Nevertheless, this sunny circumstantial change doesn’t quite delineate from the melancholy buried deep in each track. Songs like “Disco Tits” and “Strangers” verge on hedonistic, while the production brims with a fuzzy darkness. Elsewhere, “Shedontknowbutsheknows” is a blipping exploration into the complexities of denial and infidelity.
“I was sleeping with someone who had a girlfriend and I had no idea,” Lo recalls. The girlfriend later found out about the accidental triangle, but stuck with her cheating boyfriend.
“It was an observation that I would never be able to do that,” she says. “I want the truth. The truth means so much more to me than to deny myself through something because I feel like it’s a better option.”
The song, then, questions how someone can stay after cheating.
“In that situation, I forget that love makes you do stupid things,” she says. “She was probably really in love with him and whatever they had outside of his infidelity. But is it also a fear of being alone? Or is it just because of what they have? I don’t know.”
In this way, Lo has always been in touch with feelings, and it’s probably why, rather than turn a situation like this into binary right and wrong, she traverses it like an old set of weighing scales, attempting to find a realistic and human balance where clear morality doesn’t quite cut it. Similarly, when she talks about her breakup in songs like the despairing “Bad Days” and then her subsequent new relationship on songs like “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” she’s not wallowing sadness nor luxuriating in saccharine platitudes.
“I wonder sometimes if going through something that’s so intense for your heart and then meeting someone that’s just right for you whether you do become more open or if it’s harder,” she says. “If you still haven’t fully healed does that make you receptive to someone who is actually good for you?”
Questions of the heart glide alongside questions about sex and sexual expression on Blue Lips as it examines how they shape our experiences as humans. For prudes, Tove Lo’s music and videos are provocative, morally corrupt, and baseless. For the more enlightened, they journey through repression and desire, flagrantly disowning any prescribed notions of chasteness. As a gay man, it’s thrilling to see someone whose sexuality and freedom is so often politicized be so brazen.
“I feel there’s probably a really big connection for people who struggle with their sexuality and wish that they didn’t feel ashamed even if they do,” she says. “When someone says, ‘Hey, it’s okay. Just fucking be free and you can have sex with anyone you want and you can enjoy it and that’s supposed to be something good in your life’ it’s a freedom.”
It’s not all clear-cut, though, and at the time of our interview, Lo had, alongside singers like Robyn and Zara Larsson, just signed an open letter against sexual abuse to the music industry in Sweden demanding that changes are made.
“Sex right now has a very bad tone because of everything that’s going on,” she says. “I’m very excited and I think it’s great what’s coming out right now with all these women speaking out.”
Still, she argues, this shouldn’t place the onus back on women.
“I’ve been asked before to dial back the sex because, right now, people don’t want to keep the focus there. That’s the reason why I started to do the opposite because it’s not something we’re supposed to feel ashamed about. When you start to make sex something shameful again, then that restarts the whole process. We’re not talking about me here. I’m not grabbing anyone’s dick saying he asked for it because he wore tight jeans.”
Questioning assumptions about sexuality is key to Lo’s work. And like Lady Wood’s “Cool Girl” a song that took its title from the monologue in Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl and subsequently delivered on film by Rosamund Pike, lambasting the misogyny and expectations of men when it comes to women and sexuality Blue Lips has “Bitches,” a thrillingly grungy and explicit tour de force.
“It came from a place where I’d had a few people listen to another song of mine where they were like, ‘Oh, she wrote these lyrics? Oh, so she does write herself. Really?’” Lo says with mocking incredulity. “People don’t even question how male artists are singing about sex and drugs. Whereas for me, I’m this self-destructive party girl and they can’t see any depth to it, especially when you mention those two things. So I thought, what happens if a girl writes a song like this.”
There are, of course, more layers to the song.
“I like girls and I have a lot of fun with girls, so it was just being proud of that,” she says. “But it’s also a nod to how in Sweden people are very bad at using condoms and how there’s this culture where you can fuck a girl without a condom but you won’t go down on her the first time you have sex. So it’s kind of a salute to that. Just fucking eat me out!”
Preach it, sis.
With the proliferation of conservatism and in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Tove Lo’s music is now more essential than ever, even if she doesn’t always see the political significance.
“It’s just me,” she says humbly, as if in today’s climate that’s not the most political thing a person can state. “I say what I think and feel and no one has ever really told me to shy away from that. I don’t feel the point of wanting as many people as possible to relate to you if you don’t believe in what you say.”