Tove Lo Wants You To Get Your Heart Broken
"As we get older, we're supposed to think realistically as to not get hurt, but like, you're going to get fucking hurt either way."
Tove Lo remains a self-professed naive romantic. She holds the title high, as if wading into water and worried that currents will wash it away — she’s seen it happen before.
“We forget romance is awesome,” she says. “It’s so boring to be realistic about it. As we get older, we’re supposed to think realistically as to not get hurt, but like, you’re going to get fucking hurt either way.”
That same pragmatic-romanticism — both realistic and flight-to-fancy — is a thread through Tove’s music. Releasing four albums in five years, the Swedish pop-star has established her knack for idiosyncratic, high-stakes pop — beginning with break-through hit ‘Habits (Stay High)’, which essentially launched the ‘feel-bad-good hedonism’ trend within EDM.
But what ties together Tove’s discography isn’t a specific sound but the approach to pop-stardom. Her biggest hits — ‘disco tits’, ‘Cool Girl’, ‘bitches’ — all carry that no-fucks attitude often attempted but rarely pulled off: songs oscillate between vulnerable and brazen, proving the adage they’re of the same coin.
That’s meant that sometimes she’s called provocative for the point of provocation — lines about eating pussy out and flashing her ‘disco tits’ live sure gain a lot attention — but talking to Tove over the phone (and seeing her headline Spotify’s Front Left Live in Melbourne a few days later), it’s clear she’s just an all-in person.
“You always regret not giving something a full chance no matter what happens,” she says. “It’s more fun. The love you feel when you’re actually naive about love and [willing to] just jump into something is so much more amazing than when you make yourself be realistic and do what you don’t want to do, just because it’s more sensible.”
Specifically, Tove is referencing her move from Sweden to LA before making Sunshine Kitty, which wasn’t to embed herself in the US industry but to be with her long-standing boyfriend. Moving for someone isn’t necessarily a sacrifice of the self, she says; sometimes, it’s worth realising you just want to hold onto what you have.
So far, it’s paid off. Tove tells me Sunshine Kitty came from a “less chaotic place” than her previous albums: writing was more a case of sifting through and reckoning with the past than staying afloat in the present.
“This album became a scrapbook,” she says. “[Looking back], you realise that you learn from having people hurt you and from hurting people.”
Across the album, Tove draws upon and writes about shitty teenage lovers (‘Mateo’), one-night flirtations (‘Jacques’), and being a bit of a fuccboi herself (‘One Of The Boys’), but there’s never any languishing.
Sunshine Kitty is markedly light than the dark-tinged pop Tove’s made in the past — not necessarily in content, but tone. Jumping from club-beats, sci-fi electro, synth pop and disco and flecked with features from ALMA, Kylie Minogue, Doja Kat and Jax Jones (among others), Sunshine Kitty moves too fast to dwell on one pain for too long: there’s just too much to do.
On Sunshine Kitty’s cover, Tove is pictured next to a cartoon lynx, who she describes as the album’s avatar: “super cute, but she does stupid shit like getting in fights and getting fucked up.”
It’s an album for those who are content with being a little messy, which many of the songs see Tove take on. That might mean admitting you ‘really don’t like’ an ex’s new girlfriend, as on Tove’s song with Kylie Minogue, or being willing to tell your friends their ex absolutely sucked, as Tove does on ‘Glad He’s Gone’.
That twinkling track began as a standard break-up bop, but Tove tells me she didn’t want to write something untruthful, given she’s currently in a long-term, stable relationship.
“I’d spent some time with the girlfriends that I grew up with in Sweden,” she says. “We were talking about like all the different boys and girls that we’d been dating, and those times when we had to like drag each other out of relationships.”
“I was thinking that it’s so nice when you can be in something and they don’t improve, but then as soon as you’re out, they’re there with open arms to like, you know, pep-talk you through your mistakes.”
‘Glad Your Gone’ is an ode to those pep-talks and gas-ups, a twist on the usual pop convention of how to write about a break-up. Tove may be a naive romantic, but she also knows by now that we’ll always rebuild ourselves eventually. That point comes up again and again on Sunshine Kitty, which is less obsessed with pop-star confidence than accepting we’re all a little frayed around the edges.
She makes these confessions fun, too: songs like ‘Bad As The Boys’ and ‘Really don’t like u’ admit fuccboi behaviour and jealousy, but they do it with the same irresistible charge of ‘Habits’. It’s just less self-destructive: letting herself feel and be without the self-sabotage.
“It’s way easier to just become cynical, and think you’re protecting yourself, but I don’t think that works,” she says. Even if it it was, it wouldn’t be the same.
“Sometimes I wish I could just [say to my past self], ‘don’t get into this, this is going to go real bad’. But then I wouldn’t be who I am now. And I think I’m happy that I still am a naive romantic, even with shit going down, you know?”
Tove Lo’s Sunshine Kitty is out now, via Warner Music Australia.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.