The Week In Pop

On Lady Wood, Tove Lo’s Warm-Blooded Pop Runs Ice Cold

Tove Lo and subtlety are not natural bedfellows. Two years ago, the Swedish pop singer and songwriter extraordinaire gave us Queen Of The Clouds, one of the finest albums of the decade and one of the most fully realized musical introductions in recent memory. Its synthpop anthems were rife with blunt proclamations and bright splashes of color, so that there could be no mistaking what Tove was about or how expertly she went about her business.

Breakout single “Habits (Stay High)” detailed a laundry list of louche post-breakup behaviors beginning with dinner in the bathtub and a trip to the sex club. On “Talking Body” she proclaimed, “If you love me right/ We fuck for life/ On and on and on,” while “Moments” offered up the self-fulfilling bon mot “On good days I am charming as fuck.” Perhaps no 21st century pop song has been more under-appreciated than “Timebomb,” a giddily frantic endorphin rush that somehow never charted despite viscerally conjuring the sensation of falling in love way too fast. Each chronicle of hedonistic romance was packaged in sparkling production and the sort of flawless pop craftsmanship Sweden is known for. It was an impeccably polished album about audaciously messy living — and it ruled.

Tove’s second full-length, Lady Wood, maintains its predecessor’s distinct point of view, but sonically it’s a departure. The title’s crude allusion to female arousal tells you all you need to know about her continued irreverence, and the music remains as sleek and precise as you’d expect from a member of Max Martin’s Wolf Cousins collective. Even the last album’s structural conceit of tracking a relationship’s stages remains the same. The difference is that where Queen Of The Clouds charged headfirst into warm-blooded, bombastic pop, Lady Wood leans toward chilly, restrained club music. In her recent Stereogum cover story, Tove talked about curbing some of her vices in the interim since her debut, and that new self control manifests in the music, often by reining in her explosive choruses and ratcheting them down with low-end reverberations.

Consider the project’s Gone Girl-referencing lead single “Cool Girl,” on which it’s not entirely clear whether Tove is poking fun at the salacious character she’s created for herself or completely owning it (“Show we can chill, try and keep it platonic/ Now you can’t tell if I’m really ironic”). The song begins like something off Queen Of The Clouds, Tove’s vocal moving from distant to impassioned against a bed of lush keyboard sounds. But just when the eruption would normally kick in, “Cool Girl” bottoms out into the “dark techno” sound she described to Fuse last summer, locking into a liquid groove that never lets up again. The approach does not result in the kind of thrill ride we’ve come to expect from Tove, but it’s appealing in its own way.

Subsequent singles “Influence” and “True Disaster” hew to a similar pattern with similarly satisfying results: The former rides a playful, shoulder-shaking featherweight beat, while the latter indulges the Drive soundtrack tendencies that rippled through Taylor Swift’s “Style.” Elsewhere, the Joe Janiak duet “Vibes” toggles between acoustic balladry and a frigid, ghostly digital arrangement befitting the Weeknd, while “Lady Wood” and closer “WTF Love Is” approach Tove’s old synthpop style without forsaking the dance rhythms that dominate the new album. It all works, even if the songs rarely approach the euphoria that made Queen Of The Clouds so instantly winsome.

On first pass, that chilly reserve might render the album a frustrating listen for those expecting more fireworks — and perhaps that’s why radio programmers haven’t latched onto one of these tracks yet — but creatively speaking, Lady Wood is no sophomore slump. Better for one of pop’s most exciting auteurs to experiment with new sounds than to wall herself into one aesthetic so early on, even if that aesthetic resulted in a masterpiece the first time around. In hindsight, anything that too closely resembled Queen Of The Clouds ran the risk of redundancy, whereas now she’s established a precedent for exploration that could lead to some fascinating new records down the line. Heck, it already has: Who would have thunk an album called Lady Wood would be Tove Lo’s grand exercise in self-restraint?

KOLAJ – “Hitchhike” (The Week In Pop Premiere)

Teesa Houston and Mike McGarity are KOLAJ, a new Interscope duo who describe their sound as “euphorock.” That’s presumably a combination of “euphoric” and “rock,” which makes sense in light of new single. With its thumping tropical beat, bright guitar chords, and ebullient spirit, “Hitchhike” strikes me as a successful execution of the pan-genre celebration music Coldplay attempted and failed on A Head Full Of Dreams — so, yeah, euphorock is about right. It makes sense that KOLAJ would be able to merge so many different styles given Houston’s varied ancestry (“I’m Filipino and Polynesian and Japanese and Indian, so that’s a collage right there,” she quips in a press release) and her childhood spent traveling the US as a military kid. She and McGarity definitely realize their ambitions on this one, so check it out.

CHART WATCH

Just when you thought the Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” might be nearing the end of its run atop the Hot 100, they went and dropped the official video, which mostly just features Halsey and Chainsmoker Andrew Taggart making out and pretty much guarantees they’ll stay at #1 a few more weeks. As it stands, the song has ruled the chart for 10 weeks now, which matches Drake’s “One Dance” for the longest streak this year. Are you ready to live in a world where the Chainsmokers have the biggest song of the year? You’re basically already living in it.

You’re also already living in a world where the Chainsmokers have one of the 33 biggest hits in the history of the Hot 100. Billboard points out that since the chart’s 1958 inception, only 33 songs have lasted at least 10 weeks on top. “Closer” also surpasses OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” to become the second-longest-tenured #1 hit by a duo, and if it can tie “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” if it lasts another four weeks.

The Chainsmokers
CREDIT: Gary Miller/Getty Images

The Weeknd and Daft Punk’s “Starboy,” Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens,” and DJ Snake and Justin Bieber’s “Let Me Love You” hold steady at #2, #3, and #4, respectively. Excitingly, D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli” climbs to a new peak of #5, bumping Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” down to #6. After the Major Lazer/Justin Bieber/MØ hit “Cold Water” at #7 comes Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s “Side To Side” at #8, a new high for the song and now the biggest hit off of Grande’s Dangerous Woman. Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar’s “Don’t Wanna Know” rockets from #56 to #9, becoming Maroon 5’s 12th top-10 hit and Kendrick’s third (following guest spots on A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problem” and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”). And closing out the top 10 is Shawn Mendes’ “Treat You Better.”

Over on the Billboard 200, Kings Of Leon have their first #1 album with Walls. It earned 77,000 equivalent units including 68,000 in traditional album sales — way worse than #2 Mechanical Bull’s 110,000 in sales in 2013. The Game’s 1992 enters at #4 with 32,000 units and 25,000 sales, which is just a pathetic figure for the #4 album in America. And JoJo’s Mad Love debuts at #6 with 25,000 units and 19,000 sales.

POP FIVE

Little Mix – “Shout To My Ex”
Sounds like a hit to me!

Icona Pop – “Brightside”
The chorus is slightly shout-y, but otherwise it’s hard to believe this is the same group that made “I Love It.” And although it’s not going to make anybody forget Icona Pop’s signature hit, “Brightside” is not bad where MOR pop songs are concerned.

Clean Bandit – “Rockabye” (Feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie)
Clean Bandit’s attempts to replicate the success of “Rather Be” have not panned out, so they may as well try to repeat the success of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills.”

Olivia O’Brien – “What You’re Looking For”
O’Brien was the originator of gnash’s breakout hit “i hate u, i love u,” and this is her latest solo single. At first it sounds like standard indie-leaning synthpop, but the lyric “You’re nothing but a sad boy” makes it something greater.

Robbie Williams – “I Love My Life”
I didn’t realize Robbie Williams released solo singles that could work as Take That songs. It’s no “Back For Good” — and actually, it might be outright bad — but “I Love My Life” gives me that 1995 feeling again.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • In Taylor Swift’s lawsuit against a former radio DJ accused of grabbing her butt at a meet-and-greet, the judge agreed the photo of the incident will be sealed from the public until the case goes to trial, so as not to engender “scandalous” and “prurient” behavior or taint the jury pool. [TMZ]
  • However, Swift’s deposition detailing the alleged meet-and-greet groping incident has been unsealed. [The Wrap]
  • The New York Times describes four new Kesha songs — “Hunt You Down,” “Learn To Let It Go,” “Rosé,” and “Rainbow” — in a new profile of the embattled pop star. [NYT]
  • The Chainsmokers announced the Collage EP (which will feature the new song “Setting Fires”) out 11/4. [Twitter]
  • Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett opened a new venue in central London. [NME]
  • The concert film Madonna: Rebel Heart Tour will air on Showtime in December. [TV Line]
  • As promised, DJ Khaled documented the birth of his son on Snapchat. [WaPo]
  • An “extremely sick” Charlie Puth cancelled the remaining dates of his Don’t Talk Tour. [Twitter]
  • Lady Gaga endorses Hillary Clinton, but in a recent BBC interview she wouldn’t even say Donald Trump’s name: “I have nothing to say of him.” [YouTube]
  • Sting will receive the special American Music Award Of Merit at this year’s ceremony on 11/20. The award was last given in 2008 to Annie Lennox. [US News]
  • Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and John Mayer all attended Drake’s 30th birthday party in LA on Sunday night. [Direct Lyrics]
  • Alessia Cara will sing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” in the end credits of Disney’s Moana. [Disney]
  • Elle King kicked off her Ministry Tour, on which she’s officiating the wedding of a couple onstage every night. [YouTube]
  • Pentatonix will sing the opening theme for NBC’s Thursday Night Football. [ABC]
  • Hayley Williams finished tracking vocals for Paramore’s next album. [Twitter]
  • Mariah Carey cancelled most of her Latin America tour over “promoter negligence.” [E!]
  • Buzzy pop songwriter Julia Michaels (the songwriting partner of Justin Tranter) has signed with Republic Records with a solo EP coming next year. [Idolator]
  • The Weeknd will launch some Starboy pop-up shops next weeknd. [Instagram]
  • Fetty Wap picked up some beautiful new teeth. [TMZ]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME