The heir to ABBA’s sequined legacy she is not. Swedish singer Tove Lo’s breakout single, “Habits (Stay High),” is an ode to a drug-and-sex-fuelled post-breakup bender—and in person, she is all smudged eyeliner, holey tights and gravelly voice.
The smoky voice isn’t normally part of the package, explains Tove Lo (real name Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson) as we chat in a Toronto café. “I’ve been sick the past couple of days, so instead of having a few beers with the band before a show, it’s been, like, tea and beer, tea and beer,” she says, laughing.
The 26-year-old is being hailed as Scandinavia’s next big gift to pop (which means a lot, coming from the home of Avicii, Robyn and hitmaker Max Martin). Before releasing her acclaimed EP Truth Serum earlier this year, Tove Lo wrote songs for artists like Lea Michele and Cher Lloyd. “I chose that instead of being an artist, but I had these songs I wouldn’t give away because they were too personal,” she says. “So I was like, ‘Go fucking do it yourself.’”
Tove Lo inhabits dichotomies easily: a Kurt Cobain super-fan who performs hooky dance music, a psychologist’s daughter who can’t write honestly in her mother tongue. “If I were to write in Swedish, it would be too much for me—it’s just too straight-up,” she says. “English helps me to distance a bit. It’s like how when we Swedes swear in English, it’s not a bad thing to us!”
While she’s beautiful—feline eyes framed by dirty-blond waves of the “it just air-dries like this” variety—Tove Lo doesn’t dress the part of the pop star. “My favourite jacket is an old suede one of my aunt’s. It actually has poop on it because she used to have parrots that would sit on her shoulder,” she says, grabbing her phone to find a picture. “It’s kind of gross, but I love it.”
The mix of grungy cool and raw lyrics sparked serious buzz ahead of the release of her album Queen of the Clouds in September—and scored her a gig opening the Australian leg of Katy Perry’s world tour this fall.
Tove Lo played to packed venues on her most recent North American visit—and also had a first brush with a slightly “stalker-ish” fan: “I had a girl knock on my door in my hotel in New York,” she explains. “I was in a T-shirt, barefoot, and I was, like, ‘Uh...hi.’” Not a public-relations-polished pop-princess moment—but maybe the start of something even better?