How Tove Lo got really weird and made the best album of her career

The Swedish pop genius on writing “Disco Tits” and Blue Lips.

How Tove Lo got really weird and made the best album of her career Tove Lo

Tove Lo knows how to write a hit. That much is clear from her first two releases, Queen of the Clouds and Lady Wood, which both earned a bit of chart success. But on Blue Lips, a new album that came out at the end of November, she took the pop mastercraft lessons she learned as a member of hitmakers Max Martin and Shellback’s songwriting collective, the Wolf Cousins, and bent them to her will. The resulting collection of songs is one of the strangest and most addicting pop albums of the year.

ADVERTISEMENT

The album is driven by its impressive first single “Disco Tits,” one of my favorite songs of the year. During a recent visit to our offices, I asked Tove Lo why she thinks the song has resonated so much. “I needed a breeze. It's a good song to just let things go for a second and dance it out,” she said.

In our conversation, Tove Lo shared the meaning behind some of her new songs, how she navigates the typically-uptight music industry, and what songwriting trend she’d like to see left in 2017.

Where did the inspiration for “Disco Tits” come from?

It's the happiest song I've ever written, honestly. The title came about when I was at Coachella, I just had my first performance there which was a huge feeling. I was wearing this see-through top with mirrors on it that looked like a disco ball had exploded onto my tits. My nickname for the weekend became "disco tits" and I thought, This is a state of mind that I'm very into. A week later I went to the studio and went into the producer's room, and was like, "This is the title, let's start from here."

They got super excited and started the beat. The first line was pretty much "nipples are hard / ready to go." I feel like, after Lady Wood, I am in a much happier, not heartbroken place. I think I was just excited to write something that was about the kind of "sweet escape," but not running away. Not trying to numb anything, just trying to enhance feelings. It took us a while to figure out the arrangement. Once I'd written all the melodies and all the parts I had a feeling like, What part comes in next?" and When are we dropping the bass drum and when is it coming back in?. We were really not thinking about the traditional arrangement of a song. It doesn't really follow the original "pop structure." It was really fun way of working.

I wanted to ask about another song on the record, “October 9th”, which sounds like it comes from a really vulnerable place.

It started as a poem first. I wrote it on my birthday two years ago when this [relationship I was in] was fully falling apart. I was so angry, so sad, and feeling guilty and betrayed all at once, but I still could see the beauty in what we had. It was like a way to say goodbye to this person even though I never said it.

I went into the studio with the poem and I had the phrasing like, "We never had coffee table books or dinner parties." We created the chords around the vocals so everything was built after the melody and the phrasing of what was there and not "here's a track, write on top of it.” It was a while ago since I recorded it. I can hear in my voice what I was going through at the time and it's so crazy now that I’m in a new place. You can heal if you want to. I'm happy to finally put it out even though it's like jolting me back into past feelings.

Has the person who inspired the song heard it?

Yeah, he heard it a while ago and we're at peace. It isn't as angry as some of the other songs on Lady Wood. It's more like an embrace almost, and a goodbye, which he thought it was beautiful as well. It was very sad and emotional.

ADVERTISEMENT

What are some artists you listened to when you made the album?

I was listening a lot to Banks, I was listening a lot to Lorde, and a lot of my favorite DJs all over. There wasn't any specific artist that gave me inspiration for this album. Obviously Robyn always plays a part when it comes to like, you know, saying something about an everyday situation very poetically but with a simplicity that I think she's really great at.

On the song “Bitches” you shout out Fifth Harmony in the chorus of this pretty raunchy song. What was that about?

I did a bunch of Jingle Ball dates with them. I knew their songs and everything, and I thought they were very talented singers and had very good pop songs but I had an idea that they were way more wholesome and not as edgy as they are. So when I saw them perform I was like, Damn. They were like so hot — all of them — and just confident. I feel like a lot of times with American girl groups there's a very strict limit to how far you can push, but they do what they want onstage and it's hot and confident so I just had that in mind when I was writing this and I actually ran into one of them in the studio so they were just on my mind.

In your lyrics and on your album covers, you aren’t shy about embracing your vagina as a symbol and part of your brand. Why do you think it's still uncommon to see that much of this in pop music?

You're raised that it's something that you're not supposed to show or talk about or share. When I was growing up, boys would run around without their pants and it would be funny. But if a girl ran around without her pants, they'd be like, "No no no no no, you hide that." I'm not saying everyone should walk around and show their vaginas but you should be good friends with it. You can have a lot of fun! [laughs] I think it just comes down to this thing about how you're supposed to be sexy but not supposed to want sex or want to be sexy. There’s supposed to be an unawareness to it. Somehow, that kind of innocence is more respected than if you are a sexual person. For some reason it's like, "Don't be sexual because people won't take you seriously" which has nothing to do with one or the other. I never thought that way. I don't know if Sweden is more open that way, but I feel it's just there's a lot of shame attached to it.

Have you faced pushback from people telling you not to do that?

Yeah, we always need to create alternative covers or alternative images because we can't post it in certain places. Or that the "Disco Tits" single cover was too violent or I looked too weird. There was questioning when it was time for Lady Wood, but I feel like the people that are on my team know. Queen of the Clouds was more like "You sure you want to say this? Is this really where you want to go?" and people would get a little frustrated and annoyed, but it was fine once they figured out, “This is her, this is what they want to do." I was just very stubborn. I feel like now I'm at a place where I can express myself the way I want and no one's arguing with me on that.

“There’s more blood, sweat, and tears in [pop music], at least for me.”
ADVERTISEMENT

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

The misunderstanding would be that it's just all tits and glitter. If that's the top layer that you want to take away from it, that's fine. If that makes you happy, that's the first layer. But all my songs are very personal and it's a lot about escape and fear and emotions and heartbreak and relationships and feelings that I think people go through every day and can relate to.

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 and that's what I love about pop today. There's this simplicity in the music but people are giving it a lot more weight now and creating their own worlds. Everyone's creating more of a theme than just, "Here's a song, let's put it out and see what happens." There's more blood, sweat, and tears in it, at least for me.

As an accomplished pop songwriter, are there any musical trends you would like to see end by 2018?

I feel like it's time we can finally let go of “tropical house” now. We don’t need more of that kind of drop with that one kind of marimba sound and a pitched vocal thing. There's ways to do that differently.

December 05, 2017
How Tove Lo got really weird and made the best album of her career