Scandipop’s queen of candour bares more than just her soul
Pop Tove Lo Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Tove Lo is winding up her show when a red bra, launched from a few rows back, lands on the stage. Depositing it on the drum platform, she tersely addresses the fan who lobbed it: “I don’t wear bras.” That much we already knew: 15 minutes earlier, during the boisterous singalong Talking Body, the song’s explicit carnality had impelled her to lift her cropped T-shirt just long enough for the crowd to register that she wore nothing underneath, and respond with an intake of breath. Showing her chest has become a regular part of the Swedish singer’s sets, as both a nod to her home country’s relaxed attitude to bare skin and a flick of the finger to prurience.
The pop-EDM scene in which Lo operates is full of graphic references to sex, but generally stops short of nudity. By contrast, her musical identity is bound up with extreme candour – not just saying, but doing. A vagina symbol, seen on the cover of her current album Lady Wood, hangs above the stage and is printed on the drum kit; the entire set leads with hazy, gluey hedonism, starting from the moment she appears before a video backdrop of flames.
Appropriately, the show is topped and tailed by the singles True Disaster and Habits (Stay High). The former coolly claims that she “give[s] zero fucks” about the consequences of an intense physical attraction; the latter, her 2013 breakthrough hit, reveals that her remedy for heartbreak is drugs, and plenty of them. Lady Wood itself refers to female arousal, and its sparse title track inspires ringing audience participation. “I know what people say about you / They say the same about me,” sings Tove brightly, smacking a transparent drum with a single drumstick. “You give me wood …” The fans chorus back: “Lady wood! Lady wood!”
As a way of setting herself apart from the Scandipop rank and file, foregrounding her unfettered appetites works impressively well here. Zara Larsson might be the scene’s billion-streams queen and the Eurovision-winning Loreen its sporadically cool chancellor, but Lo is the one who lays herself on the line, and tonight does so in a way that compares most closely with a man – the Weeknd. The setlist, from Lady Wood and her debut album Queen of the Clouds, is heavy on brooding minor-chord tracks that call to mind the Weeknd’s lupine fug: her threepiece band make Not on Drugs burn slowly and stickily; Keep It Simple, which occasions a change into a black PVC leotard, almost generates its own cloud of reefer smoke. And Lo, caught up in her own haze and running her hands over her body, has a similar of-the-night quality.
She absolutely owns her feelings, it should be added. The worst you could say about her is that she’s an interesting character. In her own words from the set-closing Cool Girl: “Let’s not put a label on it / we don’t put a label on it.”
Hazy hedonism … Tove Lo