How High Can Singing Sensation Tove Lo Go?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes good things happen to great songwriters.
By Eugene S. Robinson
See Tove Lo at OZY Fest in Central Park on Sunday, July 21 — alongside fellow musical artists like John Legend, comedians like Trevor Noah, cultural forces like Spike Lee and politicians like Beto O’Rourke and John Kasich. Get your tickets here.
Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson’s stage name, Tove Lo, is derived from an early fascination with lynxes (lo is Swedish for lynx). In fact, most everything about the 31-year-old Swede’s breakout success started young.
Riding a pop music wave of the dark, the autobiographical and the darkly autobiographical, Lo has been nominated for Golden Globes and Grammys over the course of three records — her fourth hits later this year — and tours with everyone from Katy Perry to Coldplay.
[Lo’s lyrics are] intimate, confessional, real. Not just pop emptiness.
Joe Chiccarelli, Grammy-winning producer
It’s all the more bold when you consider that this was not the path her parents were expecting. Living outside of Stockholm with a CEO father and a psychologist mother willing to indulge what they expected/hoped was just a phase, Lo did what most 10-year-olds do when given an inch. She took the whole yard and started her first band.
With a love of lyrics that grew out of a love of literature, it was pretty clear Lo was going to be the lead singer. By the time she was 15 and showed up at music school, she was a bona fide frontwoman. Two years after that, the die had been cast and it was clear to all: Lo was not going to grow out of anything musical.
“I was suspicious when I first started hearing about her,” says Berlin-based music producer Manuel Liebeskind, voicing a concern about musical management creations — pretty girl, edgy image, other people’s songs. “But she spent 10 years in the trenches trying to make it. Tourists don’t do that.” Even after Lo started to attract notice, courtesy of a demo tape passed to an A&R guy, she moved to Los Angeles on a songwriting deal.
That’s a clear way for a record label to say we want to hear you more than we want to see you. But once you’ve stood behind a mic onstage, sitting behind a desk or a keyboard or a mixing desk, scratching out lyrics or producing records just isn’t the same. Not when you’ve grown up with Courtney Love, Madonna and Amy Winehouse as your lodestars. And especially not when you see other quirky creators — Lana Del Ray most significantly — laying it down.
While stating that she feels “amazed” at having a parallel career as a songwriter — with hits for Ellie Goulding, Hilary Duff and Nick Jonas to prove it — Lo always imagined she’d make her mark right where she is now. And when a 2015 surgery for vocal cord cysts laid her up for two months and raised the possibility that she’d never return to center stage, being center stage feels as good as you’d imagine it does.
In an interview with The Fader, Lo said, “All of the songs are me and my words. I’m creating something because it means something to me and is special to me. There’s a lot of layers to it, even though it’s pop.”
Grammy-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli agrees. “The lyrics are strong,” he says. “Very much of the new group of pop writers, and I’m thinking of Billie Eilish … intimate, confessional, real. Not just pop emptiness.”
And beyond that, Lo, with a certain Swedish comfort with the somatic, is subverting the whole sex thing that almost exclusively coheres around female frontwomen. On occasion she flashes the audiences, and with her single “Disco Tits,” Lo is staking a claim that this shouldn’t be weird at all, against general critiques by the modest and more specific ones from YouTube, which pulled some of her videos in 2016.
“Why should I not be able to do it?” Lo told MTV News. “I hate when someone tells me I can’t do something because I’m a girl; then I’ll do it twice as much.” That sentiment carried her up to (and beyond) her breakout moment in 2013 when she was 26 and deciding to perform some of her deeply personal stuff just to keep herself sane after her move to LA. Someone heard it, she got signed by Universal Music, her single “Out of Mind” started climbing the charts and after 16 years making music, Lo had arrived.
So much so that when she dropped her unreleased record’s lead single — the record is Sunshine Kitty, the single is “Glad He’s Gone” — teasing a release with a lyric video? The world lost its mind. At least 2.3 million times, according to YouTube.
Laughing about Lo’s 21-year “overnight success,” Chiccarelli puts a finer point on it: “She’s the real deal.”