Tove Ebba Elsa Nilsson, the pop singer known as Tove Lo, emerged out of Sweden last year with “Habits (Stay High),” a song that pulled no punches in its description of coping with a breakup in the messiest possible way. “I eat my dinner in my bathtub/ Then I go to sex clubs/ Watching freaky people gettin’ it on,” were her introductory words, paralleled later by, “I get home, I got the munchies/ Binge on all my Twinkies/ Throw up in the tub.” There were many more catchy quotables where that came from as Nilsson colorfully described the ways she numbed herself to the pain. This was Ke$ha’s brash hello “Tik Tok” emotionally upended, stripped of its detached nonchalance in the face of a crushing heartbreak. It felt bracingly honest yet somehow also fantastical, timeless in its sentiment but unmistakably modern in parlance and production. Was “Habits” a state-of-the-art hallucination, or does Nilsson really deal with her breakups by soliciting sex with fathers at playgrounds?
Either way, it was interesting to see Nilsson follow up “Habits” with a song called “Not On Drugs” that’s all about how she doesn’t need substances because she’s flying high on love. That one is even more of a monster jam than “Habits” — its digitally twitchy verses giving way to a massive ebullient power-chord chorus — and it confirmed that Tove Lo was a cut above 2014’s field of aspiring pop stars. Many more songs have trickled online since then, each of them further stoking excitement for Nilsson’s album Queen Of The Clouds. Now it’s here, and it surpasses my expectations. Although Nilsson faces stiff competition the rest of this year — try Taylor Swift, Jessie Ware, and Charli XCX on for size — for now her debut full-length stands as the best, brightest, most fully realized pop record of 2014.
The first thing you notice is that Queen Of The Clouds is a fantastically sparkling piece of work. Whereas fellow ascendent star Ariana Grande went with a buffet approach for her new My Everything, Tove Lo’s album blends today’s dominant sounds, monogenre style. The music contains traces of EDM, hip-hop, dance-pop, new wave, rock, and R&B, all masterfully combined into a seamless compendium. The melodies soar. The beats bang. And whether she’s poking fun at her friends or lamenting lost love, Nilsson glides among the music with a playful verve. Trained in the ways of Swedish pop mastery at music school Rytmus Musikgymnasium, she’s written hits for other acts including Icona Pop and Cher Lloyd, and Queen Of The Clouds makes it clear she knows how to construct songs and sell the shit out of them.
But flawless execution isn’t all Tove Lo has going for her. As first indicated on “Habits,” the girl is oozing with raunchy personality. Perhaps even more than the production, this album’s lyrics mark it as a product of its times, with Nilsson turning memorable phrases that mostly do away with innuendo. On “Like ‘Em Young,” for instance, she brags about how her youthful boyfriends will outlive her peers’ older men — “We’re all slowly dying,” after all — proclaiming, “Hey girl, why you judging me/ When your guy’s turning 53?” (“I like ‘em young” — can you imagine the outrage if R. Kelly sang that?) She’s less clever but way more explicit on “Talking Body,” which includes the line, “If you love me right, we fuck for life/ On and on and on.” Even when she’s reeling it in, she’s clever; amidst the racing pulse of opener “My Gun,” she sings, “Go ahead and touch me now/ Do it gently,” then flips it later on into, “But if you’re gonna shoot me down/ Do it gently.” (This woman loves parallelism!) On yet another freaky sex jam called “Moments,” Nilsson brags, “On my good days I am charming as fuck,” and she’s absolutely right.
Queen Of The Clouds seems like the result of a lot of good days. It’s one of those albums that could spawn four, five, even six hit singles if Tove Lo’s handlers play it right. Nilsson is bursting with personality, and unlike many pop upstarts trying to get by on image alone, she’s got the musical chops to back it up. The album’s divided thematically into three segments: “The Sex,” “The Love,” and “The Pain,” though it’s wildly enjoyable even if you don’t pick up on the narrative arc. From start to finish it’s just a tremendous showcase for a remarkable talent — perhaps never more than on the insane “Timebomb,” where verses built on seemingly infinite syllables fight for space with the drums and piano until the euphoric chorus goes boom. With a debut this strong and stateside exposure ramping up, Nilsson’s career seems primed to similarly erupt.
Barbra Streisand makes chart history this week, becoming the first artist to record a #1 album in each of the past six decades. Partners, Streisand’s new album featuring duets with men ranging from Stevie Wonder to John Mayer to a posthumous Elvis Presley, sold 196,000 copies to debut at #1. Billboard notes that it’s the largest opening-week total for a female artist in 2014 and marks Streisand’s 10th overall #1, tying her with Presley for the fourth most all-time #1 albums. Above them are the Beatles (19), Jay Z (13), and Bruce Springsteen (11). Partners was sold for $7.99 on iTunes and Amazon MP3, contributing to sales that exceeded expectations.
Babs’ success is Chris Brown’s failure. The R&B singer’s X debuts at #2 with 146,000, which normally would be more than enough to top the chart in 2014. Two country stars debut at #3 and #4, with Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town tallying 71,000 and George Strait’s The Cowboy Rides Away: Live From AT&T Stadium moving 51,000. That’s just barely enough to top Train’s Bulletproof Picasso, which enters at #5 with 50,000. Meanwhile, OneRepublic’s Native leaps back into the top 10 — all the way from #57 up to #6 — thanks to going on sale for 99 cents last week at Google Play. Former #1 albums by Maroon 5 and Lecrae are at #7 and #8 respectively, with 34,000 for V and 31,000 for Anomaly. Rounding out the top 10 are two more debuts: Rock band Motionless In White (who?) is at #9 with 31,000 for new album Reincarnate, while Slash moved 29,000 of World On Fire to enter at #10.
Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” remains 1-2 on the singles chart for a third straight week. There’s a new #3, as Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s “Bang Bang” rises to a new peak, bumping Minaj’s “Anaconda” down to #4 with Usher-like verve. It also knocks Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow” down a spot to #5. That’s three straight weeks with no dudes in the top 5! Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” holds at #6, followed by Grande and Zedd’s “Break Free” at #7. Charli XCX’s awesome “Boom Clap” reaches a new peak at #8, and Sia’s “Chandelier” is back in the top 10 at #9. Finally, making its top-10 debut is Jeremih’s big hit “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” which is absolutely deserving of such an honor. Speaking of “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” let’s transition into the track reviews…
Jeremih – “Don’t Tell ‘Em (Remix)” (Feat. Pitbull)
No, no, no. This song already has enough remixes, and none of them have come close to topping the original. And now our man Jeremih’s gone and recruited Pitbull to reference Bloodhound Gang and work his suave spanglish voodoo all over this poor song’s corpse? I’m going to pretend this doesn’t exist and keep on vibing with YG.
Nick Jonas – “Jealous”
The last Nick Jonas single sounded like the Weeknd; this one sounds like Miguel. Both of them are really good! What’s more, Jonas made a video for “Jealous” that looks kinda like “Bound 2,” and it turned out to be a good look. The guy seems to have very carefully studied what made the last few years’ worth of hip-hop and R&B art-pop so fascinating and repackaged it as something slightly slicker for top-40 consumption. I’d call him a Macklemore figure if his songs weren’t so dope.
Jessie J – “Burnin’ Up” (Feat. 2 Chainz)
Jessie J’s new single feels less forced than “Bang Bang.” In fact, the spare verses of “Burnin’ Up” could almost pass for Kiesza, which is a good look in 2014. There are still a few soulful buildups, of course, because Jessie J seems obsessed with such maneuvers, but she’s not trying so hard to bowl us over this time. And of course 2 Chainz makes everything more fun, so it’s got that going for it. All in all, I call it an improvement. By the way, Rashida Jones allegedly directed the “pseudo video” below, but I’m not clear on what exactly there was to direct. Is this some special form of minimalism I’m not comprehending?
OneRepublic – “I Lived”
The song is pure Extreme Makeover: Home Edition glop, but it’s hard to hate on the mushy human interest story in OneRepublic’s new video. I’m glad the kid with Cystic Fibrosis is conquering his obstacles and making the most out of life, and also that I never have to willingly listen to this song again.
Hilary Duff – “All About You”
We already posted Duff’s second comeback single and called it a vast improvement over “Chasing The Sun,” but the track hasn’t become a smash hit yet. This video, which accentuates how fun a banjo-laden “Boom Clap” can be, might help “All About You” make that leap. And honestly, the way country radio’s going this could just as easily hit there. Judging from Duff’s line-dancing hijinx in the video, maybe she understands that.
Estelle – “Something Good” & MNEK – “In Your Clouds”
’90s nostalgia: This is how we do it.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Amber Rose filed for divorce from Wiz Khalifa. [TMZ]
- Gwen Stefani’s comeback single is called “Baby Don’t Lie,” it was produced by Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco, and Sophie Muller, who directed No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” video among many other Stefani projects, will direct the video. [Idolator]
- Lorde has been named the most influential musician under age 21. [Billboard]
- David Hasselhoff will apparently appear in a Justin Bieber music video. [People]
- Rita Ora will take over for Kylie Minogue as a judge on the British version of The Voice. [BBC]
- will.i.am “invented” a car. [Popjustice]