Tove Lo isn’t one to turn it down. The Swedish pop star made her name with bawdy, provocative hits like “Habits (Stay High)” and “Disco Tits,” and during her set at W Bali during Wake Up Call Fest, she doesn’t hold back, getting the crowd to sing along to the chorus of “Talking Body”: “if you treat me right/we f**k for life.” She says that sometimes she’s told to go a little easy, or asked not to flash the crowd. But she doesn’t listen.
“Being from Sweden, it’s a pretty liberal country. We don’t censor a lot of stuff. It started as like kind of a fun thing between me and the fans. Like I would flash, and they would flash me back. We would have a moment,” she says. “I didn’t realize how much of a political statement it was going to become. I fully stand for it, but that’s not the main part of my show. It’s like a fun little sprinkle.”
She understands that her raunchy persona can be a bit much for some people, and knows that giving her albums names like Blue Lips and Lady Wood is a provocative move. She’s gotten some pushback, she admits, but she refuses to apologize. “I realized how some people will take it because that’s just how the world is, but it doesn’t bother me. I can understand people saying ‘it’s too much for me,’” she says, “but when it becomes that you don’t have a right to express yourself that way, that’s when I get frustrated.
“Even in what I do when I talk about sex and sing about it in my songs, I always have to defend myself and explain it,” she says. “Whereas a man who sings about the exact same things, no one would ask him to do that.”
Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden. She was in a grunge-influenced rock band while in high school, and eventually fell in with songwriter and producer Max Martin, best known for his work with Britney Spears. She began writing songs for pop stars such as Ellie Goulding and Icona Pop. Eventually, she decided to keep some of her songs for herself.
“Habits (Stay High)” was the first one where I felt like ‘I can’t give this one to anyone, it’s too personal.’ I released it for myself without a label, thinking that songwriting is gonna be my career and I love doing that, but I love having something out there that is just kind of my expression that isn’t altered in any way,” she says. “I didn’t expect it to take off in the way that it did. That’s how I got a record deal, and how the ball started rolling.”
She’s been busy ever since, releasing hot albums and bold music videos. She’s currently working on an album due out next year, which she describes as “happier than my past three albums, but still very personal, still very my way of telling stories, and talk about love and everything I’m experiencing in life at the moment.” While fans wait for that one, they can hold themselves over with the remix of her single “Bitches,” which features Charli XCX, Icona Pop, Elliphant and Alma, and a typically scandalous music video.
“It’s a cheeky female empowering song. So I just reached out to girls that are my friends and artists that I respect and love, and they were all down and killed it,” she says. “It’s always a different vibe when you actually do collaborations with friends. There’s a lot of politics that don’t even matter.”
These days she splits her time between living in Sweden and Los Angeles and is always finding herself amused by the cultural differences between her birthplace and a new home. “It’s the little things, like when we’re gonna go eat dinner somewhere, all the Swedes are like ‘I’ll go where everyone else wants to go.’ It’s a very communal thing that we decided together,” she says. “Where I feel like the Americans are like, “can somebody just make a decision?’
“Also in the States, it’s like you’re allowed to be proud of yourself. Which is something I hate about Sweden,” she says. “But then the Swedes, we have something called Janteloven, which means, ‘don’t ever think that you’re worth more than anyone else, no matter what your position is, and I think that’s a really beautiful thing. I like the blend of that.”