We’ve Got A File On You: Tove Lo
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
“Just let me talk this through,” Tove Lo lays out on her just-released album, Dirt Femme. “So if we had a baby/ You’d love them more than me?/ What if I’m way too lazy/ For the mom-Olympic team?” And she doesn’t stop there. The song in question, a thumping, ominous track called “Suburbia,” has the Swedish dark-pop luminary wringing her wrists over more potential outcomes, should she ever decide to be a mom: What if she decides to go for it, and she can’t have kids? Would her husband leave? “What if I don’t want the things I’m supposed to want? What then?”
“Suburbia” is just one more example of the singer’s trademark honesty, a songwriting attribute she’s been cultivating for more than a decade. Whether it’s admitting to numbing out the pain of a breakup with too much alcohol on 2014’s “Habits (Stay High)” or taking full ownership of her lust on the potent “Talking Body,” Tove Lo has rightfully earned a reputation for articulating the full spectrum of human emotion in pop music, which also just so happens to sound insanely catchy. Those tendencies are once again on full display throughout Dirt Femme’s 12 tracks.
Originally from the Swedish city of Helsingborg, Tove Lo started her professional music career as a songwriter, co-writing hits like Icona Pop’s “We Got The World” and Girls Aloud’s “Something New.” She was even mentored by Swedish songwriting royalty: Max Martin and Shellback. Writing for others morphed into a successful solo career, which produced five standout albums, including the just-released Dirt Femme.
While Tove Lo has been one of the most consistent hitmakers of the last decade, Dirt Femme marks a significant career departure — it’s the first album she’s ever released independently after four for Island/Polydor. Not only does an independent move give Tove complete control over her expansive artistic vision, it empowers her to write pop songs about nontraditional subjects — such as weighing the choice to stay childfree and what it means to identify as pansexual and be in a straight marriage. (Tove married her now-husband Charlie Twaddle in 2020.)
In the lead up to releasing Dirt Femme, which also features guest spots from First Aid Kit, SG Lewis, and Channel Tres, Tove Lo hopped on a Zoom call to talk about the femininity at the heart of her new album and the significance of going independent. She also looked back at some career highlights, such as singing “Talking Body” with Taylor Swift, embracing TikTok, and watching Vin Diesel sing a karaoke version of “Habits.”
Dirt Femme (2022)
Dirt Femme is your fifth studio album, but it’s your first as an indie artist. How was the transition out of working with Island, your label home since 2014? What did moving to an indie look like for you?
TOVE LO: It was a natural path. My deal was up in 2020, and during that time I wasn’t writing any music at first. I just felt that feeling of, “I think it’s run its course, we’ve gone as far as we can together creatively in this journey.” [After leaving Island], I met with a few other labels. I met with a lot of various major labels and indie labels to see what the next step [was] for me. I’ve thought a lot about [going indie] over the years, because I have such an extreme need for the creative to be exactly how I want, which isn’t always the most commercial, profitable way or the smartest way to do things. But even if I love pop music and I’m a sucker for it and I’m in that world, I still have this very strong need to do things my way.
So it was in the back of my mind, but I still wanted to see if I could find someone who would want to be like, “I love what you do, keep doing it and we’ll just sign you and be your label.” But I didn’t find that in any of the meetings, except for when I met with Mtheory, who were just like, “We’re here to serve you as your company. It’s your label. You do whatever you want and we will do everything outside of the creative for you, and help with the release, and be artist relations or the distribution team and all that.” They were so excited, and I felt the excitement in the meeting that I needed to feel. Honestly, it was a quick, impulsive decision by me to go that route.
This is my fifth album. I feel like my fans are amazing and dedicated. I feel like I know the communication with them, and I feel like it’s a journey between me and them now. It was definitely overwhelming at first, but I’m so happy that I made that decision. It’s a lot more work, but it’s worth it.
With the album itself, you mentioned in the press materials that some of the songs on Dirt Femme will contradict each other around femininity. Can you lay out some of the songs that do that? How did you want to show contradiction in femininity?
TOVE LO: I guess it’s like, I’ll sing one song about being totally devoted and can’t-live-my-life-without-you kind of love. And then another song I’m destroying everything, and I’m to blame. It’s “I don’t know why I am this way, I just kind of do this shit” excuses. It’s a lot about my relationship, but it’s more about me in my relationship. Who am I now as a queer woman in a straight marriage with, in a way, a very untraditional life — but then in some senses, a very committed, traditional relationship. And I guess me freaking out about my identity, but then also loving wearing a ring and being a wife. I guess I just throw myself around in all those different thought patterns in my life and on the album.
Also, because we got married in a very unconventional way in Vegas, and it was wild as it should be. But then it’s like, now all these traditional steps are supposed to be taken and I’m not ready, or I don’t know what I want. Neither of us know where we want our life to look like. We don’t even know where we’re going to live in the future. We have no future plan more than that we want to be with each other. And I can tell that that frustrates the hell out of my more traditional friends or our parents. But I feel like it’s really important for me to not have it all set up, because that’s when I feel free. Also, during [the pandemic] I had to be still for the first time in so many years. That forced me to [think], “Who have I become? What happened in life?” That’s why songs like “Grapefruit” happened, because it was like, I look back at how I used to feel about myself. And there’s moments where I feel really proud of how I feel about myself now versus then. Then there’s things where I feel bad for hurting someone in my past and tell myself a million times to not repeat mistakes.
I’m 34. I feel like it’s a natural place in life to start to… But I think when I think about having children… I found someone I know I want to be with for as long as I possibly can, I found my person. But having kids to me is the ultimate vulnerable… You can’t get more vulnerable than having a child with someone. We’re forever tied together and it’s forever, no matter what happens, we’re always going to be in this. I don’t know if it’s that I’m scared of that [vulnerability], or if it’s because I just don’t have the longing for a baby…
I have artist friends of mine who’ve just had kids, and I’m like, “You guys seem like you’re the same person still.” I think that kind of stuff seems to really matter to me. Again, I have no answers to these questions, I’m just thinking out loud basically on this whole album and feeling very strongly, taking out all my most dramatic emotions about everything on this record.
Singing “It’s Corn!” On TikTok (2022)
New anthem 🌽 thank you @schmoyoho and Tariq
I didn’t want to let you go without telling you how much I liked your Corn Kid TikTok. But we live in this time where artists are under so much pressure from their teams to make TikToks. Have you ever gotten that kind of pressure, or did the whole platform feel pretty natural to engage with from the jump?
TOVE LO: At first, [TikTok] was very, “Really? Another one I have to deal with?” And honestly, I just don’t want to be on my phone that much. The scrolling of it just bores me. I get a bit exhausted by it. But it was actually another artist friend of mine who was saying, “Look, it’s part of pop culture. It’s where the world is moving. I just don’t want to be left behind. So I’m going to give it an honest try and see if I can find my way to do it because it is such a broad platform. You can literally find anything on there. It can be as niche as you want.”
And I think I was like, “Okay, I’m going to give it an honest try.” I didn’t even think about it like, “This is a place where I promote my music and show my art.” I thought about it as “Just be your silly self and go on here when you’re stoned and want to be weird.” And once I did that, I was like, “Oh, I found my thing on here. I like it.” Now I actually really enjoy making all my little weird videos. Once I found something that I’m like, “This is funny,” I’ll just do it. And I have a really good time with it.
Obviously my team too was like, “You should be on TikTok.” It’s clearly an amazing way to gain new fans and share your music. But I think it’s pretty lazy of a big label to take 80% of the artist’s money and then go, “Oh, and then you also have to do TikTok, but all it’s all on you. You have to do it because it has to come from you.”
Look authentic! Be organic!
TOVE LO: Yeah, “Be authentic and organic.” But I would say to artists, just give it a shot. You don’t have to be funny enough to do the trending dances. You can literally just find something that is your thing. Whether it’s singing, whether it’s song production, whether it’s just sitting there looking cute, I don’t know, whatever it is, give it a chance.
Singing With First Band Tremblebee (2007)
Looking back at your first band, Tremblebee, what did you learn, if anything, from that early performing experience that’s stayed with you throughout the years?
TOVE LO: So much. It was such a good thing for me to do.
First of all, we would play the shittiest bars around Stockholm for like five people sometimes. So just learning that if the crowd isn’t with you, just play for yourself because you love playing music — that’s a really good lesson when you’re starting out.
I also learned a lot of stuff that I don’t know how to do anymore. I would go with the guitar player and grab all the gear from our rehearsal space, go to the venue and set up. I would set up the drum kit, I would mic up the amps, I would do all that kind of stuff. The live experience, it gave me so much respect for musicians, crew and everything around touring. And I think it also gave me a thick skin, because we would play at the most random spots where people did not want to hear our music, because the music was kind of intense. People would literally stare, not clap, and then just yell, “Shut up!”
Co-Writing Icona Pop’s “We Got The World” (2012)
I know you go way back with Icona Pop. How did your early collaborations and co-writes with them ultimately impact what you wanted to do as a solo artist?
TOVE LO: I think it did so much for me for my career. We went to high school together, me and Caroline [Hjelt] lived together. They’re actually coming to stay with me tonight because they’re in LA and their flight got canceled.
I did have a publishing deal by that point, but I wasn’t really getting any sessions because I was so new. Very early on they were like, “We want you in the studio with us to do lyrics.” They were being really sweet, and they had to fight for [me] because things were taking off for them and people were like, “No, we need a bigger writer in the room.” They’re like, “No.” They did me a real solid, which I will always be so grateful to them for that. Once I got a couple cuts with them, then it was easier for me to get into sessions with other people, especially in the UK, and eventually in the States. It really helped spark my songwriting career. I think at that point, I was so loving being a writer that I wasn’t really focusing on my own stuff. I was just loving being in the studio and getting to know and learn so much about the craft. My main thing was that I just really wanted to work in music, and I wanted to be able to live off making music. So if that goal was happening, I was good.
Singing “Talking Body” With Taylor Swift On The 1989 Tour (2015)
What was the onstage experience for you, when you guested on Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour? Did you guys sing the original lyrics to “Talking Body”? Because I started to think about how wild it would be for a 1989-era Taylor Swift singing the words “We fuck for life.”
TOVE LO: I’m pretty sure we did. I honestly can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure we did, which is so dope. I had only played club stages at that point, some festival stages that were a little bigger. But it was mainly for me, just 300 to 500 people, max. The fact that she brought me out and she had me come up out of the ground, I thought it was cool that she let every guest really have their star moment. “And then you’re going to come up out of the ground with all these dancers, there’s going to be fire.” And I was like, “You’re putting all this effort into my song?” It was really special and quite a beautiful move from someone that big to let me shine that way.
I just remember walking into the rehearsal, and it was my dad’s 60th birthday, so my whole family was there. And at the same time, I was going through the worst breakup of my life. I was a shell of a human. Oh my gosh. But I got there and I was like, “I’m not letting that ruin this experience.” And I ran out on stage to her for the rehearsal and I was seeing all those empty seats and I was like, “Whoa, is it like 30,000 people or something?” They’re like, “No, 56,000.” I was like, “Oh my God.” And then feeling the crowd sing along to it, it was unreal. That was a bucket list for sure.
Co-Writing Songs For The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, Fifty Shades Of Grey, And The Divergent Series: Allegiant Soundtracks (2014, 2015, 2016)
In the ’10s, you co-wrote songs for a lot of huge YA movie franchises. Had that always been a goal, to write music to be featured prominently in global movie franchises? Or was it more organic than that?
TOVE LO: I just love writing soundtracks to anything. I guess because I’m such a visual person; I care so much about my music videos. It’s just another way to tell the story. It would be like: They’re looking for songs for this movie. It would come through my label or through my publishing. And then I would write something that I thought would fit and then hopefully it would make it. I’ve been lucky that it has. It’s just something I love to do. I’m always down to try if I have time. It usually takes a little bit more focus than when you’re just writing whatever you’re feeling that day because you want it to be something that reflects and resonates with what they want the message of the movie to be. But yeah, it’s something I’m always going to be down to do and be interested in. It’s just like you’re part of enhancing this other creative thing, which is really cool.
Writing “How Long” For Euphoria Season 2 (2022)
Did you write “How Long” specifically for the Euphoria soundtrack? Or was it more for Dirt Femme?
TOVE LO: So that was definitely with Euphoria in mind, without knowing if they wanted it or not. I actually sent a letter to the director [Sam Levinson]. I was like, “I love this show. I would love to have a song in this show. And here’s some songs I think would…” I think I sent two or three songs that I was like, “These are, in my mind, the Euphoria essence.” And then “How Long” appeared to be the perfect one. Everyone wants to get a song on that show. So that was a big moment for me.
Acting Debut In Swedish Adaptation Of Vilhelm Moberg’s The Emigrants (2021)
Speaking of the screen, you actually made your acting debut last year — is that something you’d like to do more of?
TOVE LO: Yeah, honestly, I love the experience. It was such a challenge. I felt like I could pick up on cues and direction quite quickly, but it was such a new format for me to work in. It takes so much time and dedication. I would love to do another movie, but it just comes down to when will I have three months where I can dedicate myself to that again. That would be the only reason to not do it — because of timing. And you’re so immersed in it, which is what I love. I love being so in something where you’re not thinking about anything else, you don’t notice the outside world, you’re just so focused in this moment, which what I love about performing live too.
Vin Diesel Singing “Habits (Stay High)” As A Tribute To Paul Walker (2015)
Did you ever have a chance to see a video where Vin Diesel is singing “Habits (Stay High)” karaoke as a tribute to his Fast & Furious co-star Paul Walker? How did that choice strike you, if so?
TOVE LO: I think someone sent it to me without any context to why he was singing it. I remember at first it was just like, “Well, I love that.” And then you could kind of sense that, wow, he seems like he’s in pain. He seems like singing from a place of pain for the song. And for me, I know it’s kind of taken its own life and that it is a heartbreak song and a party song at once. But I think for the people who look at it as a party song, it was the wrong choice. But I think that the people that listened to it as from a heartbreak perspective maybe felt like it was the right choice.
Releasing The Short Film Fairy Dust (2016)
After your short film Fairy Dust was briefly pulled from YouTube due to explicit content, you expressed some frustration in the press about the US’ conservative streak compared to Sweden and Europe. Since that time, has this country’s conservatism impacted the way you create art, or not so much?
TOVE LO: I feel like when it comes to the songs and my lyrics, I just write what I want. But I also think after living here and spending more time here, you get influenced. I maybe try to be slightly more clever with some of it, and maybe not as blunt, at least in the visual aspect, to make sure that I can share it without it getting blocked everywhere.
But I still clearly don’t have the sense for… I get flagged on TikTok and get “You’re not following the community guidelines” all the time, even when I do talking videos. And I’m like, “What am I doing wrong? I didn’t even say a swear word.” And I feel like I’m still not fully caught up on the sensitivity completely, because I just grew up with such a different attitude towards it all. But I definitely feel like I try to think of another solution, a clever way to get to do what I want without it getting blocked when it comes to videos. Just to make sure that I can share the art.
Dirt Femme is out now via Pretty Swede Records.