"What's happening now is a revolution. It takes bravery to stand up and say, this happened to me too.” Multi-platinum selling Swedish pop star Tove Lo is the sex-positive role model we wish we had growing up.
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Last week, almost 2000 women signed an open letter highlighting the rampant culture of discrimination and harassment in the Swedish music industry, and demanding a zero tolerance policy on violence against women. Of course this isn’t unique to Sweden, or, as the wider world is rapidly discovering, the music industry. But what a totally positive step in the right direction. The women who signed the letter -- staff at both major and independent record labels, artists, booking agents, promoters, publishers; women from all areas of the industry -- all gave their names with many sharing personal experiences that were shocking but all too familiar. Scandi pop icons Robyn, Zara Larsson and Tove Lo were some of the most recognisable names on the list.
Stockholm singer, songwriter and Grammy-nominated cool girl, Tove has just released her third album Blue Lips (Lady Wood Phase II). A continuation of her 2016 record Lady Wood, it is divided into two further chapters, with the wild video (in which Tove has a passion-fuelled night with a muppet style puppet) for lead single Disco Tits nearing six million views in under two months. “I didn’t want to just cram 20 songs into one album,” she says, calling i-D from a rainy New York where she’s spending Thanksgiving with friends. “I wanted it to be one piece of art you could take in and really listen to with my intros and outros; one big emotional journey. I wanted to make a double album and release the second half a little later on, but I just kept writing new songs and adding and changing things. It’s all still part of Lady Wood though.”
You recently turned 30, how’s it treating you so far?
It’s pretty much the same. A little too much fun, a lot of work. It’s good so far!
Balance is key.
Exactly! I don’t know how to do that quite yet but I guess that’s my goal for the year.
Good plan. What do you know now that you wish you had known at 16?
Oh man, it’s cliche but it’s the fact that it doesn't matter what people think. Honestly, if you to try to live by other people’s opinions of you, you’ll be very unhappy. I guess that’s what teenage years are about, just figuring out who you are in your own eyes and not according to others. It’s really important to follow your own gut if that’s a possibility for you -- not everyone has that -- but if you do, you should.
Totally. You’ve become a sex-positive role model to so many people. Did you have someone like that, growing up?
Oh that’s good to hear. I don’t remember anyone in particular, but I think it’s a general attitude in Sweden. I remember my parents being very relaxed about it. There was never any stigma around it. We learn about sex early in school and in junior high there were after school groups with sessions where we would sit around and talk about sex and relationships. We’d pick one question and talk about it as a group. The people working there were in their 20s and knew how to teach us without judgement. I think that really played a big part for me.
Sex education is so important.
Yeah, I mean, there were the classic rumours in school about girls that hooked up with a lot of guys, but we would stand up against it and say, ‘that doesn't matter! If you can do it, she can do it!’ That kind of mentality was always present.
"I’ve been asked whether, given this is such a sensitive subject right now, I feel like I shouldn’t sexualise things so much. And I’m like, 'But you’re putting it back on the women and making it about what we can do to change shit.'"
You were one of the many people to sign last week’s open letter against abuse in the Swedish music industry. Is it something that has affected you personally?
It’s something that you learn about from the beginning. With this whole #metoo campaign going on, I know a lot of people who have spoken out about particular people and experiences that have made me think back and realise, oh yeah... that happened to me. Luckily for me, it’s always been a situation where I’ve been able to stand up for myself and say, “Hey, that’s not fucking okay. Stop doing that!” But I thought, what if? It’s happened to so many people and you realise how many people have kept quiet. What’s happening now is a revolution. It takes bravery to stand up and say, this happened to me too. I’m proud of all the women that have come forward.
Like most women, female artists, and most of my friends, I’ve been put into a situation or backed into a corner and had to make a choice. I’ve had to deal with the the consequences of not wanting to sleep with someone, or of how you reacted to someone putting their hand on your ass. It’s something that we’re taught how to avoid, but it’s not supposed be part of the job.
What are your thoughts on the media response to the exposé?
I’ve been asked whether, given this is such a sensitive subject right now, I feel like I shouldn’t sexualise things so much. And I’m like, “But you’re putting it back on the women and making it about what we can do to change shit.” Now that we’ve spoken out, now that you know that it’s not okay, how do we make men and other people in power learn that they can’t treat people that way? That being a sexual person or being open about sex doesn't mean that you automatically want to have sex with everyone? It sounds so stupid to say this. It should be obvious.
I saw a documentary on Netflix recently called The Mask You Live In and I really recommend it. It’s about how saying things like “Be a man,” or “Don’t cry like a girl’ to a young boy is the most stupid thing you can teach them. If everything that’s seen as a feminine trait is seen as weakness, how are they ever going to respect a woman when that’s their mentality? It needs to start there.
Excellent point. Let’s talk about your album now. What film do you reckon it would be the best soundtrack for?
That’s a good question. The first film that comes up in my head is a Swedish one called Fucking Åmål, which is about this bored teen girl living in small town Sweden as she explores her sexuality and tries to feel things. It was my favorite movie growing up and it’s really stuck with me.
The name Blue Lips refers to never being satisfied. What are you chasing right now?
Right now I’m very happy and in love, so for the moment I’m chasing other kinds of adventures within music, and finding new ways to express myself in a visual way. Usually when one part of my life is stable, I find another one to create something that’s out of my comfort zone. So far that has been with my music, but now I’m creating a new challenge for myself.