The Big Read – MØ: “The dream is to always push the boundaries”

When ‘Lean On’ became the most streamed song of all time, offbeat singer-songwriter MØ suddenly found herself in the record-breaking league of her idols, The Spice Girls. Stardom and superstar collaborators derailed plans for album number two but, as she releases new single ‘Sun In Our Eyes’, she’s ready to show the world she’s far more than a one-hit-wonder, finds Larry Bartleet.

Popstars beware: releasing the most streamed song of all time will fuck up your diary. MØ would know: three years ago, while working on the follow-up to her 2014 debut, her Major Lazer and DJ Snake collaboration ‘Lean On’ blew up, broke global streaming records, and had her phone ringing off the hook with calls from wannabe collaborators she couldn’t say no to. Over the past 12 months, working around a busy schedule that’s included a UK tour, an Australian support slot with Sia, no fewer than 10 feature credits and an interstitial EP of her own, the Danish star has finally put the finishing touches to album two, teased by new single ‘Sun In Our Eyes’. Ultimately, though – even if it slowed her down a little – MØ can’t see ‘Lean On’ as anything but a blessing.

“At the time I was in LA doing all these sessions with new people,” she explains at east London’s Ace Hotel. “I was terrified. It was so new to me, I was like: ‘Who am I, second album, I don’t know, argh!’. All of a sudden all these people I’d been dreaming to work with – producers and stuff – were open to working with me. And I was already lost, thinking about what the next album was gonna be like, so I just went with that high of ‘Lean On’, like: ‘I’ll figure out what’s going to happen with my own thing at some point, woohoo!’ – and now it’s been four and a half years.”

The antithesis to the anodyne popstar stereotype, Karen Marie Ørsted is garrulous, candid, self-effacing and extremely funny. She also has a kickass origin story: after a childhood obsession with the Spice Girls, she embraced grunge and punk in her teens and started a duo, the title of whose debut EP translates as ‘Pussy In Your Face’. Signed as a solo artist in 2012, she later combined her two musical passions with a brilliantly doomy take on Spice Girls’ ‘Say You’ll Be There’, which was subsequently included among the thorny pop of her 2014 debut ‘No Mythologies To Follow’. Then came 2015’s ‘Lean On’, and the rest is history: now she’s lending her vocal umami to a huge range of pop artists including Charli XCX and Yxng Bane – and those are just the ones with an ‘x’ in their name.

One of the key friendships of MØ’s career is with the jetsetting superstar DJ, Diplo. After she said she wanted to work with him in an early interview, word got back to him, leading to the Major Lazer man producing her 2013 track ‘XXX 88’. Later came the record-breaking ‘Lean On’, their shared Justin Bieber collaboration ‘Cold Water’ (currently the 15th most streamed song ever) and, more recently, two new singles – ’Stay Open’ and ‘Get It Right’, the latter of which finds the famous friends doing a synchronised dance in a cavernous ballroom – and clearly having a massive laugh.

“I’m a horrible dancer,” says MØ, “But it was one of the most fun shoots I’ve been on. Sometimes, when you do music videos they’re like: ‘Look at the camera and be like… [she pouts and moans]’ but this was like a ‘Do The Dance’ challenge. I like sports. There was some sportsmanship about it.” The actual writing of the song with Diplo and Skrillex gets an equally frank story: “I was really hungover, and on the way to the writing camp in Malibu I was like: ‘Fuck, I’m so unprofessional – I’m super hungover right now and I’m going to write songs with these megastars.’ But when I’m hungover I’m emotional – I think everybody is – so I was really feeling the moment and the song just wrote itself really quickly.”

“I love working with amazing badass empowering females” – MØ Photo credit: Jack Bridgland

A hangover probably followed her first encounter with pop pal Charli XCX, too. MØ doesn’t really remember the first time they met: “It was somewhere in LA during Grammy week 2014. She was hosting a show with Lil Kim – I was backstage drinking some of her vodka, and I got super drunk and went home. I guess,” she concludes, “we became friends in 2015.”

The pair first collaborated when writing MØ’s 2016 song ‘Drum’, and last year MØ featured on both of Charli’s landmark pop mixtapes, ‘Number 1 Angel’ and ‘Pop 2’. Both of those 10-track collections were notable not just for their experimental pop vision – continuing Charli’s forward-thinking work with the likes of SOPHIE and PC Music – but also for the legion of mostly female and LGBTQ artists they featured, among them Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, RAYE, Mykki Blanco, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, Kim Petras, Dorian Electra and Brooke Candy. Only MØ and cupcakKe were lucky enough to feature on both.

“I love working with amazing badass empowering females,” MØ says of the experience. “Also guys. But it’s so nice to be part of her army – she’s a great role model. I love people that have this energy of moving forward, juggling things. And I really love Charli as a person too. It’s just an honour to be part of those projects.” MØ says much the same of Diplo’s pioneering spirit: “Time moves so fast, everything changes, and he changes with it; I’m always so inspired by everything he plays me.”

It’s no real surprise that MØ has similar hopes for her own music. “The dream,” she says, “is always to push the borders of whatever area you’re in. You always want to not echo whatever’s out there. I dream of doing something where people are like: ‘That’s different, but it’s still something I can relate to’, because that’s the way of moving forward. I don’t want to just copy whoever I think is dope – you’ll shine when you feel 100% comfortable, but you’re also pushing it.”

Asked about her songwriting M.O., she says: “This is going to sound weird, but it’s the longing of something that’s hard to define. Some sort of longing for freedom, or being melancholy but at the same time being optimistic. That feeling of longing for something you really want, and it’s kind of sad, but it’s also beautiful, because you’re searching for something.

“Fuck,” she concludes. “I don’t have the word for it.”

Is that complication what makes good pop music? “I definitely think the best songs are written when you feel something strongly,” MØ reckons. “Not to be a bummer, but heartbreak is great for inspiration – we all know that – and it’s really hard to write songs if I go through a phase where I don’t feel much.”

Although album two is now complete, MØ isn’t quite ready to discuss it yet. “It’s hard for me to analyse it,” she says, “because I’ve been so much in the process of making it over the years – it’s really hard to look at it with different glasses, especially before it’s out.” What she will say is that writing with lots of new people – something of a first for her, after her debut – didn’t end up being the terrifying prospect she thought it might be. “I was so scared of losing myself, because I used to always sit and write my own songs,” she says. “But it’s a tool – a great way to use these brilliant people to help you dig out something you didn’t know you had.”

In some ways, teamwork has defined MØ’s past three years, but it’s one of her more fleeting partnerships that sticks out on paper. In February, she received a text from one of Britain’s breakout stars of 2017, Dua Lipa, asking her to come and perform her single ‘IDGAF’ on Radio 1’s iconic Live Lounge alongside a coterie of other excellent European pop stars – Zara Larsson, Charli XCX and ALMA. After just five months, the clip is pushing 25 million views, becoming the sixth most viewed video ever on Radio 1’s YouTube channel behind only the Live Lounge efforts of stars including Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran.

Like Tove Lo’s ‘Bitches’ remix –  accompanied by a hilarious, must-watch video co-starring Icona Pop, Elliphant, ALMA, Charli XCX and, yes, Broad City’s Trey – this kind of supergroup is manna from pop heaven, especially because the fun being had is palpable. “You’re in such good company with these nice, cool, awesome badass women,” MØ says. “They’re all big stars but they’re also just human… It was also just really fun to shout along to a song that you love.”

“One of the biggest traumas in my life was when The Spice Girls played in Denmark and I couldn’t go” – MØ Photo credit: ben Bentley

It’s now been 10 years since MØ and her friend Josefine started their first band, MOR – the Danish word for ‘mother’ (MØ translates as ‘maiden’). Discussing the Dua collaboration brings up nostalgic memories. “Something about the energy of when you’re with friends and you sing together,” she explains, “that thing when you look at each other and you sing along – there is something so powerful and so wonderful about that. I remember having that feeling when Charli came in to do ‘Porsche’ with me at Coachella as well. It’s such a rush to stand on a stage and look into the eyes of someone you adore and just – ahhh – it’s so nice. And I remember feeling like that when we did the Live Lounge. I was obviously pretty nervous, because it’s live and Live Lounge is a legendary thing. But we were all like: ‘Yeah, this is fun, and we’re here together, and it’s cool.’”

There were nerves back when she was in MOR, too, but they were dealt with easily. “We were always both super nervous before a show. Back then we were really young (17) so we would be shitfaced before every show. It was so awesome.” She does miss those early days, but acknowledges the hard truth: “You can’t go back. It was a great moment and you’ll remember it forever but… it’s hard to explain.” On the other hand, there’s no end to new experiences: “That’s the good thing about having – hopefully – a long life. You can do different things, and having that energy with Wes [Diplo] and Charli or whatever, creating new bands and new projects, doing things but also doing your solo thing – one can totally do all that. It’s awesome to know there’s many things you can do in the time to come.”

Talk moves onto the Spice Girls, who were MØ’s first musical love and who are in the middle of the will-they-won’t-they part of their reunion. Is there any chance of MØ joining them onstage, if they performed again? “I would want to do whatever I could. I would have to get a ticket. One of the biggest traumas in my life was when they played in Denmark, I couldn’t go, and I was just crying. My best friend won tickets or something crazy, so she went and saw it with one of our other friends, and then me and one of my best friends were broken. We hated our parents. We were like ‘fuck you!’ because we couldn’t go. It was so horrible. But we had all the Barbie girls, so all night we’d play with our Barbie girls and pretend we were at this show…” She catches herself: “Yeah, anyway, to answer your question – yes, I’d support, I’d go as a fan, I don’t care. I want to see it, if they play, ever. And I really hope they will.”

Asked about other dream collaborators, MØ’s initially reluctant to name names – “I’m so scared of leaving someone out because there’s honestly a lot of people I admire” – but soon cracks and provides a long, credible list: “I worship Kendrick Lamar, but that’s a big dream. Same with Rihanna. And then, like, Princess Nokia, Grimes, Santigold. I don’t know if Kim Gordon does collaborations but I’d love to work with her on something one day. I sound like such a douche right now…”

Before those collabs eventually happen, she’s got bigger fish to fry, with the release of that second album and an accompanying tour. “I’m definitely going to go into the third album process at some point,” she says, “but right now it’s all about album two”. As MØ knows only too well, you’ve got to take these things one step at a time.

‘Sun In Our Eyes’ is out now