Tove Lo: No Sleep, Just Rendezvous

Tove Lo: No Sleep, Just Rendezvous

Interview by Troye Sivan / Story by Bradley Stern / Photography by Maisie Cousins / Creative Direction by Michaela Stark

It hasn’t even been a full two months since the release of her fifth studio album Dirt Femme, and Tove Lo is already recording a new song.

“I know!” she laughs during a Zoom call stretching across the world with fellow pop superstar Troye Sivan, who is currently stationed in Australia. “I want to put out another song before I do the US tour. I don't know why...”

It’s not much of a surprise: Nearly a decade after the international breakout success of her Platinum-certified debut Queen of the Clouds, boasting smashes like “Habits (Stay High)” and “Talking Body,” the 35-year-old Swedish “Cool Girl” isn’t one to sit still for too long. At least she’s finally figured out where she likes to spend most of her time — musically speaking, anyway.

“What’s been nice about this record is that I really found my two favorite places to exist,” she explains.

“There is this sort of sassy, sexy, dancing side of me,” she continues, pointing to come-hither club-ready cuts like “Attention Whore” with Channel Tres and the tasty (wink wink), SG Lewis-assisted “Pineapple Slice” ("I prepared for tonight/ Ate a pineapple slice for you"). Then there’s the “darker, emotional, frustrated” place, where the raw and raspy “True Romance” and “I’m to Blame” reside.

More often, as Troye points out to her, it feels like the Queen of the Clouds is floating somewhere in between both realms. From the melancholy robo-bliss of “No One Dies From Love” to moody Euphoria soundtrack standout “How Long,” there is no shortage of distress on the dance floor within Dirt Femme.

One of the album's bleakest offerings is also its most deceptive: “Grapefruit” comes equipped with a sing-along of a chorus that is so catchy and pop radio-friendly the casual listener might not pick up on the fact that it’s about Tove’s journey with disordered eating and body dysmorphia. “One, two, grapefruit, how am I back here again?/ Three, four, lose more, I know my mirrors are lying,” she agonizes, tackling the triggering subject matter on a record for the first time.

Custom lingerie: Michaela Stark, Bracelet: Daniel del Valle, Bag: Simone Rocha, Boots: Dries Van Noten

The track is a reflection of a past version of herself, which she was forced to confront again while making her acting debut as Ulrika in 2021’s The Emigrants — a role that required her to lose weight to appear more emaciated.

“I was playing a starving prostitute from the 1850s,” she explains. “They were like, ‘you're too tan, you're too healthy. You can't have muscle. We need you to look unhealthier.’ When I was going on the diet, all these memories started flooding my brain. It was a bit triggering, I guess.”

Over time, with the help of therapy, Tove says she eventually triumphed over unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns developed early on in her life, well before achieving international success.

“I was lucky that I was like 26 when my first song broke out because by then I had been healthy for a long time,” she recalls. “I think if I was sick and got into this... oh my God, no fucking way.”

Dirt Femme isn’t just another stellar addition to Tove’s discography, it’s the dawn of a new era. The album is her first release under her own label, Pretty Swede Records — a decision she admits has resulted in more work for herself than ever but infinitely more creative fulfillment.

“It’s the best,” she exclaims, sounding relieved. “I don't have to argue or discuss it with anybody, I just make it happen.”

Having her own label means she gets to decide exactly what kind of music and videos she’s making (no matter how “weird” they may be), when she’s releasing it, how she’ll promote it, and who gets to hang out with her in the studio, including collaborators new and old, like Timfromthehouse (Tim Nelson), SG Lewis, Channel Tres and A Strut (Ludvig Söderberg).

Going independent has also allowed her more time and freedom to bounce song ideas off her contemporaries, like Troye.

The 27-year-old “My My My!” singer-songwriter has plenty of thoughts on the music, as he’s deep in studio mode as well, working on his forthcoming album, a follow-up to 2020’s In A Dream EP. Ahead of that, he just released a sun-drenched disco foray in the form of “You Know What I Need” with PNAU, the electronic collective responsible for remixing Elton John and Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart” into a global smash.

The two share a mutual admiration of each other’s work and align on a multitude of important issues: pop diva worship, social media-induced anxiety, strong feelings for The 1975’s Matty Healy, justice for “Disco Tits” and an aversion to the idea of long-term domesticity. Don’t expect Troye to return to his Blue Neighborhood. You won’t find Tove laying low in “Suburbia,” either.

“I've never really wanted to know what my life was gonna look like,” Tove reflects. “And it turned out to be something so much more than I could have dreamt of.”

In an illuminating conversation, Tove and Troye tackle the more intense subject matter covered by their music, body issues, being part of the queer community, dating misadventures, tour life, going independent and the highs that Tove stays chasing almost a decade later.

Troye Sivan: Wait, Tove... Wasn't there something you were trying to solve with that new song you’re working on?

Tove Lo: Yeah, I had to change the words. After I talked to you, I was like, this is a great title, I need to just work around it. It feels really good. I can't wait to play it for you. I think you're gonna like it.

Troye: I can’t wait to hear it, but you put out Dirt Femme in October. Why are you working on music right now?!

Tove: I know! [Laughs] I want to put out another song before I do the US tour, I don't know why. I don't need to — this song is kind of already written. We're just recording it now and then I might put out one more. I'm not gonna try and write the next album while I'm on tour, that's for sure. I've done that before. You go into the studio bubble and then you tour, right? You like it separate.

Troye: Yeah, it just doesn't sound fun to me at all.

Tove: [Laughs] It’s pretty stressful.

Troye: I'm curious to know, because you just did Europe: How do you feel about the album now? Has it changed in your head having played it live? Does that inform the kind of music that you wanna make in the future?

Tove: Yeah. I feel like what's been nice about this record is that I really found my two favorite places to exist, in how I write the lyrics that I write, and what it means for me performance-wise. There is this sort of sassy, sexy dancing side of me, like “Pineapple Slice” and “Attention Whore,” which I love. “Disco Tits” falls into that category too, I love that.

Troye: So do I.

Tove: [Laughs] Yay. But then I feel that the other part of me is the darker, emotional, frustrated, dramatic place as well, like “True Romance” and “I’m to Blame.” I was worried about doing “True Romance” live. First of all, it's a really hard one for me to sing.

Troye: Your voice is so good on that song.

Tove: Oh, thank you. It's crazy. It's really long. It’s almost five minutes and it's slow. I wanted to give it a try and see if it resonates in the middle of a dance set. It’s been received so well, this emotional break. A lot of people will cry during that song. [Laughs] When I perform, I'm like, okay, these are my two favorite states to exist in.

Troye: And the music that you're making today, which version of you is it?

Tove: I would say it falls into the dramatic, emotional side. But then the other song that I've also made recently is definitely in the sassy, sexy world.

Custom lingerie: Michaela Stark, Earrings: Daniel del Valle

Troye: Amazing. The good thing about a lot of your stuff is you manage to do both. It might be a clear distinction in your head, but there's moments like “Grapefruit,” for example. It's such a good pop chorus and it feels so good. I have songs where it's like, how the fuck am I gonna tackle this in a 3:30 pop song with a verse, a pre-chorus and a chorus? I think this happened one day with me, you and I think maybe SG Lewis, where I brought up the most intense shit randomly. We tried to write this super dark concept. It’s one of the most difficult things that you can do. You have to be in the right mental space for unpacking something that large. How did you go about it with that song?

Tove: It’s so interesting because that one, for me, I had to write by myself. I was with my producer, Tim [Nelson]. He made this dance-y, beautiful track. There was obviously that sad banger-like vibe in the track. It can be a heartbreak song, but you wouldn't expect it to be about body issues and eating disorders. It was around when I was shooting that movie that I told you about [The Emigrants]. They asked me to lose some weight, and…

Troye: What?!

Tove: It wasn’t that bad. I was playing a starving prostitute from the 1850s. They were like, “You're too tan, you're too healthy. You can't have muscle. We need you to look unhealthier.” If I was playing a version of myself, I would've been like, “Fuck you, I'm not doing that!” But I can see why, and it wasn't a lot.

It was also like a test. Can I go through this after having struggled with that in my past? I hadn’t been on a diet in 10 years. It was fine, but when I was going on the diet, all these memories started flooding my brain. It was a bit triggering, I guess. I had to get it out of me. I was trying to write, like, “One, two…love you,” trying to make it a happy song. But it's just not where I was, so I wrote those lyrics. It took me not that long. Tim started singing along, and then he was like, “Wait, what are you saying? Are you okay?” [Laughs] He kind of freaked out. I had to be like “No, no, it's not happening presently.” I’ve never written a song about this. I can't force writing about something happy if I'm not in that state.

Troye: This is a personal question. You don't have to answer if you don't want to. For a lot of my friends, or people that are close to me, or even myself who has been through body stuff, it feels as though you can get better, but there's always that little voice in your head. It sounds like you really feel as though you're on the other side of it. How do you feel like you got to that place? Is it gone completely or is it something you feel like you still have to actively work to fight?

Tove: I'm actually really happy to answer that. I went to therapy for years: first to break the behavior and then to break the thought patterns. The eating disorder therapists would tell me this is not something you can get well from. You never fully recover because you have to eat. I always found that to be the least motivating thing you can hear, but it might also be a hard, harsh truth. I also went to therapy to deal with, “Okay, why did I even end up there?” It rarely has anything to do with your body or food in general. It’s something else, so I think doing that made me get through to the other side.

And going through other things, like vocal cord surgery and other things in life, sad things would happen to me while I was sick, and I would still think more about what I ate that day than mourn something or be upset. I do not want to let this take up more time in my brain. I was lucky that I was like 26 when my first song broke out because by then I had been healthy for a long time. I think if I was sick and got into this... oh my God, no fucking way. I would be so bad. I mean, you're the most beautiful man I've ever seen. I'm sure you—

Troye: No, no, no, no. On the other side of the coin, there's the other Tove, who's still the same Tove to me. “Pineapple Slice,” I remember you played that for me in the studio with SG and I was obsessed. I look to you personally as an inspiration for how to live life. I feel like you're a really free person while still doing a lot of things I think are really important. You're in a beautiful relationship, right?

Tove: Mhm, yeah.

Troye: You also still live life and enjoy life. I'm curious about how you found the balance. Do you feel any pressure to settle down? Because that's something that I am always on the fence about, finding the balance between independence and freedom and co-dependence, but not in a bad way.

Tove: I know exactly what you mean. We’ve talked about this a lot when we've seen each other. You just never know what's gonna happen. There's no clear plan. It always changes, anyway. That thing of settling down and having a life of consistency, I just don't think that's ever really gonna be there. I think that's what I've always wanted. I've never really wanted to know what my life was gonna look like. And it turned out to be something so much more than I could have dreamt of, in terms of doing what I love, then meeting someone I'm also in love with and having this very free-spirited relationship. We’re married and I’m very committed to Charlie. We’re both 35. At some point, maybe we don't need to go out to every party and be the last people there. But as long as we both wanna do it, we're gonna keep doing it.

Troye: I went to a party in LA a couple of months ago. It was this cool art crowd or whatever and there's this lady carrying her baby in a backpack. I was like, that is so fucking sick. That's gonna be me one day.

Tove: [Laughs] I love that. I've never really cared about what I'm supposed to do. I only get those questions from mutual friends that I grew up with still in Sweden, who have like three kids and are like “Oh, we're having dinner at 6 PM.” Nothing wrong with that, just not the life I want. But they are like, “Don't you get over it at some point?” I have the best friends in the world, who I DJ music with. We love going to shows, listening to music, we have so much fun together. We just love hanging out, being spontaneous and not having too rigid of a life where there's certain things that I just don't do. I think that's really important to me to have that kind of freedom. Charlie's very similar to me. That's why it hasn't worked with other people in the past. I don't know if you've felt this, but when you meet someone and they're like, “It's so cool what you do, I'm so impressed.” And then a little bit in, they start to feel second to it or like they're not being prioritized. All of a sudden what I do is a problem or the way I express myself is an issue. That’s been every person except Charlie.

Troye: I wouldn't know, I'm out of there before that happens. I watched your Gay Times speech, which was so iconic and amazing. I wanted to ask about your relationship to the queer community and what that’s meant for you, personally and professionally? All the gays love Tove.

Custom lingerie: Michaela Stark, Shoes: Bottega Veneta

Tove: [Laughs] I feel very grateful to be part of the community. As a pansexual in a straight marriage, I feel like I can move between worlds. I’m part of the community, but I can also exist in the more traditional community. It’s been easy for me in that way. I just feel like it's an honor to be included in this group of people, where it's about acceptance and love and being yourself and having support. There is this beautiful relationship between pop bitches and the queer community. Whether you're gay or straight, there is that connection. I don't really know where that comes from. Maybe it’s because it's supposed to be a place to be completely free to express yourself and be whoever you want. I think maybe that's why I love the energy. My shows are the most fun because it's this beautiful queer crowd, so in it, giving me so much. I feel very part of it.

Troye: Well, you should, of course, because you’re queer. That's a given. About the pop girl thing, that's something I've been so curious about my whole life. Even as a four-year-old, I was like, wait... the Spice Girls. You know what I mean? It’s just innate. Cut to last night, I was in bed with a man and we were flicking through, watching Britney and Christina videos. It’s the common thread. Something about the power of a pop girl is so intoxicating to me, I'm obsessed.

Tove: I love that [laughs]. Can I just say, I fucking love your song [“You Know What I Need”] with PNAU? The artwork is so dope. I'm getting space Salvador Dalí vibes.

Troye: Thank you, it was all done through AI. I filmed myself on my iPhone. It was really crazy. It's hard sometimes for people in the Northern Hemisphere to understand that Christmas is our hottest day of the year here and so it's come out perfectly timed for Australian summer. I'm really happy about that. I wanted to ask: This is your first independent release. We've spoken a lot about that over the years. I would love a little check-in on how it's going, it’s super inspiring.

Tove: It's the best. Maybe this is stupid to say, but I still don't know financially what it's gonna mean for me. It always takes a minute, but I will say that this album has had the best response for me since Queen of the Clouds, just based on this first month or two. It’s this feeling that is so special. I never felt trapped at my label, it wasn't like that. But having this small team of 12 to 20 people, knowing that I know who everyone is, and who's doing what, pretty much... I can choose where to focus and where to spend more money. There’s this level of freedom of being fully in charge, while also obviously taking advice from people. The times when I don't want to do the most commercially viable thing, it means so much to me artistically, I just do it. I don't have to argue or discuss it with anybody, I just make it happen. I'm now realizing how important that is to me to be able to do that.

Troye: Do you get overwhelmed?

Tove: Yeah, for sure. Have I missed something? Should I be doing something differently? Did I drop the ball on this? Those things come up all the time. I think it's definitely a lot more work, but I'm so happy I made the choice. I really feel that it was the right move for me.

Troye: It's iconic. How do you feel about social media and promoting yourself on there and making content? Is that something that comes naturally to you?

Tove: I was very hesitant to join TikTok at first. I just had figured out how to express myself on Instagram. It’s more about you showing off your artistry and your music. I feel like TikTok is more, who are you? Like, the mistakes and the DIY, so once I stop thinking about it as a place to promote my music and just be my silly self, then yeah. I'm having so much fun with it. There are definitely times when I do get stressed out around releases. How many more platforms do I have to do unique things for?[Laughs] But the in-between, I'm having so much fun with it. You’re really good at it. Do you like it?

Troye: That’s the thing. For me, I've sort of regressed with it. I grew up on the internet, like when I was 12. I'm 27 now. I have a much harder time with it now than I ever have before. I just don't really like yelling from the rooftops about myself anymore. I used to think that everyone was interested all the time.

Tove: I mean, they are.

Troye: But I have a harder time with it. I go through phases. I don't have TikTok on my phone. I will watch on my iPad. When I watch, then I wanna make stuff. In general, it's actually something that I struggle with. That would be something I think would scare me about being independent because it all falls on your shoulders.

Tove: It's true. I think that's a natural thing to go through, like, I'm just sick of myself. I don't know if you feel the same, but I will have days after I've done a lot of performances, I just don't want anybody to look at me today. Can some people just not look at my face?

Troye: On shoot day, like the worst.

Tove: “Can you smile?” I'm like, if you tell me to smile one more time, I'll... [Laughs] Some days, I’m like, “Look at me,” I want all the attention. That’s the thing that can really give me anxiety with all the social media. It needs to be done daily. I don't have anything to say daily. It’s a part of the job that's kind of new and different and can be stressful. I think I've found a way to navigate it.

Troye: When you do have those days where you're like, don't look at me, what do you do?

Tove: I stay off my phone and read. Or say it’s on a day on tour and I do not want to perform and I just don't have the energy to give what that they deserve, then I just like to spend the day off my phone, maybe walking around the city that we're in. I try to play games with my band. Before the set, I get drunk, 'cause then I'll have the energy for anything [laughs].

Troye: I’ve always been too scared to do that. At the last show of a tour, we'll do a shot before we play the show and it’s always the best show, but I'm just scared I'm gonna become an alcoholic because I’ll become dependent on it.

Tove: Are you sober on tour or just sober on the show days?

Troye: Well, if I have the day off the next day, I'll drink after the show. Even so, I'm not really a big drinker. It'll be like two or three drinks at a hotel bar or something like that. I don't drink before shows. Sometimes at like a festival, but it feels different. The rules go, you can kinda do whatever you want.

Tove: It’s funny, the stamina with festivals, you just feel a bit looser and more relaxed. It's the best.

Troye: You do your little show and then you go watch The 1975, and it's fucking sick.

Tove: I just went to their show on Monday in LA and it was so good. Their set design is really incredible. I was so blown away.

Troye: Oh my gosh. I've had a big crush on [Matty Healy] for so long, but it's at its worst right now. Last night, I was on his Instagram page about to try and slide into his DMs.

Tove: You would've died because he and Ross, the bass player, made out on stage. He was being extra hot. If you get the chance to go and see this tour, you should.

Troye: I think he's actually my number one. You’re about to do the US tour. What do you think people should expect? What kind of night are they in for? I feel like I know the answer.

Tove: Get ready to get immersed into my Lady Wood. [Laughs] I'm gonna change up the set a little bit from the Europe tour. It’s gonna be dance-y, sweaty, emotional — just a hot show, it's gonna look hot.

Troye: That's exactly what I want from you. When can I see the show?

Tove: I start on February 5th in Nashville and then I'm gonna play in New York when it's Fashion Week. Are you in Australia right now?

Troye: I'm in Australia right now, but I'm going back to America then, so I would love to come.

Tove: Please. I play New York and then I'm gonna stay during the weekend for Fashion Week. So if you’re in New York, that would be fun. But then also I play LA in early March, so if you're there, then amazing. There'll be options.

Troye: I can't wait. I'm so excited for you.

Going back to TikTok, do you feel that it's affecting the music that both of you are making now?

Tove: I will say it's wild seeing if a song starts trending on TikTok, how suddenly my streams go up by, like, millions. The instant impact is so intense. I’m still a lover of a full song, three-, four-minute length. Maybe we're having a revival of the '50s era, where the songs were two minutes long. We're already seeing it. It’s going more and more that way. What I do feel is that lyrics are becoming even more important. If you tie it into TikTok and social media, the songs that people love to make videos to, outside of the dance videos, the lyric content really plays into that. Quirky, personal, very identifiable lyrics are gonna be even more of a thing.

​Troye: Is that something you think about in the studio when you're writing?

Tove: I can't think about it. It honestly makes me cringe, which is weird because I would love for a song to go viral. But I can't think about it. I'm very selfish when I write my songs. I need to write what I think is best and what I would need to get out of my system. I rarely think about what it would be like for other people in that moment.

I wonder if it's that thing of content creator vs. the artist. As long as I can make my weird cinematic short films and do crazy music videos, I'm so happy to do all the content stuff. It's just that I can't replace artistry with content. I think that's my bottom line.

Troye: Nail on the head.

I'm always curious how artists feel about their music, months out, years out. I'm wondering if any of your songs from the past that you're bringing out on tour have a different meaning or hit harder. What is your relationship to your past records now?

Tove: Ooh, good question. There’s this thing with my fans. They’re all yelling, “Justice for ‘Disco Tits’!” It’s one of my absolute favorites, still. It was on Blue Lips, and it was impossible to promote. I think I did one TV performance. They couldn't even say the title because... tits. You can't search it. I don't even say “disco tits” in the song. Why is that the title? My label was struggling with it. “What are you doing? You're making this so hard for us!” But that one goes off so hard during the set. If I'm tired during the set, that song always gives me life. When everyone hears it, they're like, “yeah!”

Troye: I think I've told you this before, but every single time I yawn, I’m like... [starts singing “Disco Tits”]

Tove: I say hi, you say hi, we stay high! I love that.

Troye: Do people flash you back? You know, when you flash the crowd?

Tove: They do. Yes. They write things on their tits, like... choke me, love me, fuck me. All the things. It's a beautiful moment. [Laughs]

Photography and creative direction: Maisie Cousins
Creative direction, body morphing and custom lingerie: Michaela Stark
Styling: Alex Francisco
Makeup: Wendy Turner using PAT McGRATH LABS
Hair and body paint: Janina Zais
Nails: Nofa Nailz
Set design: Penny Mills
Retouching: Gentle Touch Retouch
Photography assistants: Emma Ercolani, Federico Covarelli
Hair and body paint assistant: Jake Martin
Set design assistant: Lucy Swan
Production assistant: Lily Davies

Editor-in-chief: Justin Moran
Editorial producer: Alyson Cox