In 2015, Danish oddball MØ co-wrote ‘Lean On’, the most streamed song of all time. As she announces her biggest ever tour, Nick Levine finds out how its mega-success impacted on MØ’s second album – and her life
“It’s something I think about from time to time,” MØ replies, when I ask how ‘Lean On’ re-routed her career path. Released in March 2015, her Major Lazer collaboration exploded to become Spotify’s most-streamed song ever until Drake’s ‘One Dance’ came along. Two years later, whack on an episode of Geordie Shore or Ibiza Weekender and you’ll hear a flow of songs that borrow from its tough-edged tropical-dance sound.
“I couldn’t really analyse it until some time had passed,” MØ continues. “But now I’ve digested the whole thing, I can see it changed things for me, on many levels. Of course the media started to be more aware of me. But also, a lot of doors opened: people you want to work with are suddenly open to working with you. I mean, I’ve always dreamed about having a song that became a hit. But also, very importantly, it was a song I really loved and didn’t compromise how I see myself as an artist.”
It would be unfair to suggest MØ, now 28, was a nobody before ‘Lean On’. The Danish singer-songwriter, known as Karen Marie Ørsted to the people who check her passport, released her impressive debut album ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ in 2014. The same year, her glitch-pop cover of the Spice Girls’ ‘Say You’ll Be There’ built buzz online. Yet MØ admits today that she felt like “a small fish in the water” before ‘Lean On’ went supernova, ensuring in the process that her stage name will be mispronounced forever. “MØ” isn’t supposed to rhyme with “go” – it actually sounds more like “Murgh” – but that’s how everyone outside of Denmark says it now anyway.
‘Lean On’ was no fluke. MØ and Major Lazer re-teamed last year for ‘Cold Water’, another huge hit that also featured Justin Bieber on vocals and Ed Sheeran as its co-writer. MØ followed it with superb solo smash ‘Final Song’ and the appealingly hedonistic new single ‘Nights With You’. Her second album will arrive later this year. “I want to reach a lot of people, but not at any cost,” she says today. “There’s this weird thing with me: as a child, I was a big, big fan of pop music. But then as a teenager, I was into punk and activism and I was super, super anti-everything. Now, as a grown-up, I wanna do both. My dream is to reach a lot of people and be a mainstream artist, but I still want my music to be edgy and push things.” And bring some gutsy punk attitude into pop? “Yeah, exactly! I want to make pop music, but why would you make pop music that just sounds like everything else?”
As MØ rises, she’s also mastered the art of pop star diplomacy. In 2014, she recorded ‘Beg For It’ with Iggy Azalea, who was far cooler then than she is now. The track was decent, but when the pair performed it together on Saturday Night Live it was painful to watch: Azalea delivered polished pop moves, while MØ stood stranded next to her, an awkward afterthought. “I have no regrets at all,” MØ says today. “I just think it was a very different move for me at that time. I remember that I was super-grateful for the opportunity and I was like, ‘Maybe this isn’t the right look for me, but I’m not too good not to try it.’ I wanted to try it so I would find out whether or not I should’ve done it. And I thought she was badass and I always wanna support cool women.”
To that end, she praises Katy Perry for embracing the idea of “purposeful pop” with ‘Chained To The Rhythm’, her subtly political new single. “I think it’s f**king cool she’s doing that!” MØ says excitedly. “We’re living in f**ked-up times, and I actually thought it would take longer for the big artists to start doing something about it. I think it’s a really brave move from Katy Perry – and it’s good that the song isn’t like, ‘F**k Trump!’ You can interpret it as you want, but it has a message. I want more of that kind of pop music.” And what message does MØ want to share in her own music? “I can’t say this without sounding cheesy,” she says, “but I think my message is: ‘Be open-minded and open your heart to everybody.’ Especially nowadays, it’s so important that we aren’t fearful of one another. And f**k, I know it sounds like a cliché, but just be yourself. Because it’s just so much better for you, in so many ways.”
MØ’s new single ‘Nights With You’ is out now. Buy tickets for her UK tour here: momomoyouth.com