The age of the Reality TV artist is over. The Simon Cowell School for Manufactured Music unable to sustain the careers of their students past the promise of a number one single, longevity shirking their grips. The curse could have struck Tove Styrke (pronounced Toovah Steerkah), who at the tender age of 16, sung her way to the Swedish Idol finals, releasing her self-titled debut a year later. Tove could have easily pursued a follow-up, cashing in on the spotlight TV-infamy brings.
Her next move was unexpected. “I took a break. I went away. I started in music when I was 16, and when I got to 20, I felt like I didn’t really know myself. I needed to reclaim my time.”
Tove echoes the stone-faced invocation from Internet sensation, congresswoman Maxine Waters. It resonates far beyond its original context, the idea of reclamation specifically speaking to Tove’s present, her past but most of all her future. “I never relied on Idol. I’m not at all ashamed of it, but I knew it wouldn’t sustain me; it was always about the music and it was about being an artist, never the fame,” Tove declares.
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I needed to reclaim my time...
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Three months into 2018 and it’s already an epoch-making year for the now 25-year old, doe-eyed Swede, who over the duration of our call, speaks with an assured sense of self. Part of a renascent Nordic wave of progressive artists coming to the fore, the likes of Sigrid, Astrid S and MØ are galvanised and empowered by a long line of compatriots that have transitioned to the international stage. “It’s about both tradition and progression. We have the balance down. We have good female role models to look up to. For me Robyn made me see what was possible.”
Like Robyn’s synesthetic brand of electronica, Tove is always in a process of renewal, shifting from fledgling ingénue to an artist that is even more attuned to pop’s best instincts. “It was important that I find a new voice. My last LP (2015’s ‘Kiddo’) was fictional, super weird and fun. This time it was personal; I wanted to reflect the inner dialogue I have with myself.”
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A nonchalant minimalism pervades the cuts from her upcoming album ‘Sway’, but it’s achieved through hours upon hours of dexterous production patchwork with her primary producer Elof Loelv. “We spend a lot of time making these sounds standout, and we use samples more than instruments. Elof is a perfectionist like me, we create and build everything together. He understands that I wanted to keep the production minimal, but it’s way harder to make something low-key actually have impact.”
You can hear it in the sedate digi-pop of ‘Say My Name’, which bubbles around a rubbery ukulele loop and the fiendishly catchy ‘On The Low’, built from unorthodox noises forming the lower end. When stripped of all its synthetic make-up, it’s still a carousel of emotion, “it’s the one song I can sing without anything, and the message would still be clear,” Tove says.
On title track ‘Sway’, Tove captures the inner-workings of metropolitan relationships, dissecting the ambivalent nature of hooking up, embracing indecision than all-knowing omnipotence. “I relate to complex people, it’s more interesting when you’re relatable. It’s not like those songs where they go, ‘This is the best thing ever!’ or, ‘I love you so much I want to die!’ It’s very rare that you actually feel that strongly about something.”
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It’s about being your own best friend, but that doesn’t mean the loneliness fades...
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In between recording sessions, Tove covered Lorde’s devastating ode to self-love, ‘Liability’. Whilst her version retains the melancholia of the original, Tove adds the bombast of music that you could dance to, whilst crying. Tove is sweeping in her praise for the song: “It’s a song that I felt had that dancing- with-yourself metaphor. It’s about being your own best friend, but that doesn’t mean the loneliness fades. That feeling is universal.”
Her version of the track comes with an accompanying live visual, infusing neon lights with intricately placed synthesizers, expressing the despondency in the words by contorting her body through lyrical dance. It’s something to behold - a signifier Tove has her finger on the pantheon of iconic visuals. In her video for ‘Mistakes’, Tove utilises the runaway-bride trope but flips it, jilting her lover and raving alongside a host of clone brides. It’s a middle finger up to deterministic patriarchy and a showcase in liberation. “I wanted to make the video for ‘Mistakes’ cinematic and tell a story of this woman who rejects convention and goes her own way. It felt powerful.”
It’s this sort of fortitude for fashioning an audio-visual experience with meaning that sets the songstress up for the long road ahead. Tove is both spirited and resolute when asked what her five-year plan entails. She pauses, then chuckles, then responds in the most deadpan, unwavering tone: “Worldwide domination.” You’d better believe it.
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Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photography: Luc Coiffait
Fashion: Sophie Van Der Welle
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