Tove Lo, the moniker of Swedish pop star Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, has returned with Dirt Femme, after four years between it and the release of its predecessor, Sunshine Kitty. For her devoted and large fan base, the wait was agonizing, but to hear Tove explain it, the album couldn’t exist as it does now — a blend of hedonistic self-love pop bangers and heart-on-sleeve, amazingly brave confessionals — if she hadn’t taken the time to chisel away at it like a sculptor does to their marble.
The album is a cinematic telling of fairy tales and nightmares, experiences real and imagined (and in some case, dreamt) and translated into the infectious, radiant pop that Tove Lo has become celebrated for. Dirt Femme opener and pre-release single “No One Dies From Love” plays with neon-streaked synths and a festival stage-ready chorus drenched in autotune that gives the song an undeniable emotional heft. Tove sings, “No one dies from love / Guess I’ll be the first / Will you remember us? / Or are the memories too stained with blood now?” In the world of Tove Lo, taking this as a direct retelling of a personal event may be a fool’s errand, as she explains to Uproxx. “The songs on the record that are real heartbreak songs inspired by things like me having a dream about my husband cheating on me or leaving me or something,” she says. As such, they’re less re-creations of events than a way for Tove to figure out why her subconscious operates the way it does, and how that can apply to her listeners and fans generally.
There are moments, though, that Tove has lived through specifically and is now able to write upon after years of working through the associated trauma. “Grapefruit,” the emotional core of the album, finds the artist singing unflinchingly about her struggles as a younger woman with an eating disorder, recalling counting calories and choking on her “hands all night in my sleep.” It’s a brave, powerful, and graceful moment from Tove, but one that only came after years of reflection. It serves as this album’s philosophy in practice, that triumph takes time, patience, and a helluva lot of work.
Four years, especially in the modern music industry, is a very long time between albums. Were you nervous at all about returning after all that time?
I was just paying attention and saying, “Okay, where is pop culture and the world that I am moving in, where is it going?” I want to follow that, but I also want to veer off in my own lane and I had to ask how I do that in a way that connects but still feels unique and true to me. The number one way I connect with my fans is through the songs that I write, but after two years inside and so long since my last album, they also want to know a little more about where I’ve been personally. This album reflects that.
I’m so used to making this curated world that is focused on sharing my art as a musician. But then I also wanted to show my personality, what I’m like what I’m at home just being an idiot. I felt more in touch with my fans and it’s just another part of me that is now present in the music. Tove told a story to Uproxx about sharing “Grapefruit” with her collaborator Tim Nelson. Tove says that he told her, “I’m sorry, but I don’t really listen to lyrics that often, but is this about you? Is this about your feelings? Are you okay?” Tove had to explain the backstory, and even then, he was shocked by what she had gone through, how unfazed she was by it in her retelling on the track. She responded, “Yeah, it’s because of all the work I’ve done, all the therapy.”
I think a lot of the record reflects that, there are obviously the glossy, shiny, really fun pop songs, but then there are really gritty moments too. Was that something that took you a while to stumble upon in the studio or did you come into the process thinking about that balance?
Because I had more time to write this record, I could experiment and try new things and go in a direction that maybe wasn’t what I would initially do. This album is my best one yet — though maybe I say that every time — because for the first time since my first album, I had proper time to write it and make it exactly how I wanted. I was able to rewrite and live with the songs, go back and change things and explore new worlds, methodically and sonically. I feel like with “Grapefruit,” it was so important that the rawness of emotion was there. We recorded it so many times but kept my original vocal track. That was a luxury I probably couldn’t afford on previous records due to time.
Did it take more out of you to get to that place where you were comfortable sharing a song as vulnerable as “Grapefruit?”
My music is my most honest place and somehow I just have never touched on this. I feel like I’ve mentioned it in passing, how I used to hate my body as a teenager so it’s really amazing to love it now, but that’s as far as I’ve gone. I just needed long enough to be free from that disease to be able to write about it, and now it’s been 10 years of me being healthy.
Sometimes I get so mad at my younger self for putting myself through that during such crucial years of my life, because it just taints everything. What finally became this trigger was when I shot a movie in Sweden I had to lose some weight for the role. It wasn’t anything crazy, but I had to lose a lot of weight in a short time. I went on a diet for the first time in 10 years, a crazy diet. It just brought me straight back into those feelings that I hadn’t felt in a really long time.
I lost the weight, I did the movie, and then I went back to my regular place, my body just kind of adjusting back. Being able to do it made me think, “Oh my god, I am good. I could go through that and not fall back into old behavior.” That’s such a win on my end, and so I think that also sparked the need to write about it.
It’s obviously an anthem that I think a lot of your younger fans can find inspiration and hope in.
I hope so.
There are a lot of cinematic references in this record. Do you generally look to other sorts of art for inspiration for your songs or was this directly inspired by being inside for so long while writing?
I feel like it’s probably the latter, though I do get a lot of inspiration from art, books, and movies. I guess the best way to phrase it is that I write about myself, but I picture these stories cinematically in my head. The songs on the record that are real heartbreak songs are all inspired by things like me having a dream about my husband cheating on me or leaving me or something, then I wake up and I’m mad at him. It’s not logical, but that’s just the emotional person I am. Then I write a song about it and that’s how I deal with it, almost as if it’s a movie.
But I think there are also actual movies playing out in this record, of course. That is a product of being locked inside and watching a lot of things. By that same token, the reason why a lot of it’s so dancey is because I was just so missing the dance floor as well. It’s interesting looking at all the records and I’m like, “That’s when I was going through that, that’s when I was going through that,” and it’s just the storyline of my emotional life.
Lastly, how would you define the album title, Dirt Femme, if someone came up to you on the street and asked what it was about?
I would say that Dirt Femme is how I identify, and it’s explaining my relationship with my femininity and how it’s helped and hurt me. This album means a lot to me, because I’m showing the whole human. It can be quite contradicting at times, but that’s how human beings are. What else would I say? That it’s the best album ever, and you should listen to it.
Dirt Femme is out now via Pretty Swede Records. Get it here.