With a huge Lorde tour in the bag and one with Katy Perry about to kick off, Thomas Smith meets a popstar with the world at her feet
Tove Styrke’s new album ‘Sway’ is the sound of falling in love. It doesn’t possess grand romantic statements about companionship, but the little things in relationships that make us tick. The songs on this album will conjure memories of that person you’ve been on wild nights out with, or the moment when you want to turn that hookup into something serious. “The album is a collection of little love stories,” the 22-year-old Swedish pop acts tells NME. “It’s like the pros and cons of being in love.”
Sure, Styrke says there are drawbacks to love – but the album’s bracing, energetic nature doesn’t seem to show it. On opener, ‘Sway’, she’s ready to embark on a new adventure, (“can we get out of here?/Wanna get you alone/So if you’re into me, I got the energy”) and there are mightily fickle moments, too, as on ‘Changed My Mind’. Omitted the big break-up banger, then? “I got heartbreak songs,” Tove says, “but I think I’m going to save them later.” There’s no time for break-ups – Styrke is about to break out.
We first meet in a London café in February, weeks before she heads out on the North American leg of Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’ tour. On May 23 she’s joining Katy Perry on her stadium tour of Europe. The former came about because of a cheeky slide into Lorde’s DMs by Styrke: “That’s the best way to reach out to people that you like. You slide in,” she says. Lunge in at your own risk, dear reader.
She didn’t barge her way in empty-handed, though. Stryke came bearing a gift – a cover of Lorde’s 2017 song ‘Liability’, from the Kiwi’s second album ‘Melodrama’. “I sent it to her to check if she approved because I really wanted to release it and wanted to make sure she liked it.” Well, she did. Soon after, she was invited on the next set of tour dates as Lorde’s opening act, and the pair even performed a duet together on the final date in St Paul, Minneapolis. Why ‘Liability’, though? “There’s something about it that makes it feel like almost like it’s mine. It’s that kind of song that just feels like it’s about you for a lot of people, and that’s what I try to do with my music.”
“I’m manipulating myself. Like method acting, almost.”
That moment transformed Styrke. Two months later, when we chat on the phone, she’s beaming about how special the Melodrama tour was. “I felt like I came out on the other side changed,” she says. “To actually play these songs in those big venues, it feels like ‘Sway’ was made for it”.
Styrke was born in Umeå, Sweden, and grew up on a healthy diet of pop icons including Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Britney Spears. In 2009, she finished third in talent show Swedish Idol, which gave her the launch pad for her first two albums, 2010’s ‘Tove Stryke’ and 2015’s ‘Kiddo’. “The music and experiences you have done before is almost like a tattoo that you made when you were younger. Like, I wouldn’t make the same album or decision today, but I still love myself so much for doing it.” But ‘Sway’ is the one where she feels most comfortable. “I have much more trust in my abilities now. I know that I’m capable, which is is such a good feeling,” she says.
Trust is a big thing on ‘Sway’. Few pop stars gear up for releasing their global breakthrough album by stripping their sound back – like, way back. There are only eight songs on the record (one of which is the aforementioned Lorde cover). The whole thing clocks in at 26 minutes. One track, ‘On The Low’, is an exercise in whisper-pop – one that’d be well suited to recent phonophobic horror flick A Quiet Place.
It’s a low-key pop album with huge ambition – one that asks the listener to deal with sparse production and the occasional bit of silence. But Styrke’s belief in herself and her songwriting is what makes the record such a success. “My last album was full of big feelings, bursts of emotions, big words and big productions,” she explains, “but with this one I wanted to catch more of this inner dialogue that you have. Sometimes going so deep into these songs is a little bit scary because it’s like I’m manipulating myself. Like method acting, almost.”
Finding the right words to express those nuances isn’t always an easy thing for Styrke. Sometimes, the puzzle just doesn’t fit together right away. “Songwriting can be frustrating because I’m very logical and I want to solve it immediately,” she says. “I want to solve it and express all of these feelings.” Björk is a big influence in helping her understand and communicate those emotions. “When I listened to her, I really started thinking about production. I didn’t even know what she was singing, if it was in Icelandic or English, it just would hit you right in the feelings.” Consider ‘Sway’ to be a complete sucker-punch to the heart.
Styrke’s tour with Katy Perry is set to kick off next week, which will continue to put her shoulder-to-shoulder with some of planet’s biggest names – but don’t expect her to be jumping on and writing tracks for them just yet. “I find it really hard to let someone else decide in the end. I would like to be able to write for other people, but I’m not really comfortable not having the final say,” she says. “If Beyoncé called, I would try…”
She’s making her own path to whatever comes next, though is happy to leave some of her luck up to the universe. As we wrap up on our second chat, we start talking about some of the random, unconnected items on the singles’ artwork. They include a skateboard (‘On The Low’), a lamb (‘Mistakes) and a pair of dice (‘Changed My Mind). Why dice instead of, say, a crystal ball? “We went for dice for that one as it’s a immediate thing. The crystal ball is about your long-term future, and that’s not really what this song is about. It’s more ‘Am I going to spend tonight with this person?’. And… I’m kind of hoping for double sixes.” You’d be a fool to bet against her.