Scan­dipop’s queen of can­dour bares more than just her soul

The Guardian - - JOURNAL - Caro­line Sullivan

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.”

Pho­to­graph: Bu­rak Cingi/Red­ferns

Hazy he­do­nism … Tove Lo

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