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Tove Lo on Becoming a Pop Icon & Her Special Relationship With New Zealand

The Swedish pop star returns to the country this week to perform at Auckland’s Elemental Nights

Tove Lo

Moni Haworth

Even the biggest of stars start humbly. Now a globally renowned pop star, it all started for Tove Lo in her home country, Sweden, making ends meet with cover gigs, session singing, and providing backing vocals.

“I think my dreams then, I was like ‘if I can live off music, I’m going to be happy,’ and I was,” she explains. Looking back now, her gratitude for her career beginnings is evident.

“I still can’t believe I still get to do this, that I get to be so lucky to tour the world still,” Tove says. “I very much stay very present in it and value it.”

She’s speaking to Rolling Stone AU/NZ from her bedroom in Los Angeles, a week before she returns to New Zealand to perform at Elemental Nights.

“I love it there. It’s such a beautiful place,” she gushes. A week from departure, her mind is very much on what elaborate costumes to unveil for the show. The 35-year-old is known for many things – catchy melodies, expressive lyrics, impressive collaborations across her five albums – but also her vibrant outfits that adorn her onstage. 

She flawlessly rocks everything from corsets to full bodysuits – even a robot outfit as a nod to the character Annie from her music clip “No One Dies From Love”. 

They’re definitely not the most comfortable,” she admits through laughter. “I prefer to perform in as little as possible and be barefoot but I don’t always think that gives enough of a stage attitude.

“I want it to be a cool look for the fans to enjoy as well. It’s been a mission to find something that fits well, is comfortable, breathes but also looks good.” 

She speaks with excitement about stumbling upon a range of bodysuits which harness all the qualities needed for her be able to move freely across the stage. “They’re really flattering, they’re just basically like pantyhose across your whole body. I love performing in those.” 

It’s 10 years since Tove first troubled global charts with “Habits”, a mammoth hit that got the record labels running to work with her.

“That song that changed my life. It felt like I blinked and then I was all over the world, which was an incredible, surreal feeling,” Tove recalls.

She has many songs in her arsenal now, but she still recognises that “Habits” means something special to people. “It’s weird. My biggest song is still my first song, it’s crazy,” she says. 

“To me, it just means I unlocked something in that one song that resonated with so many people and apparently still does with a new generation.”

Tove soon signed a music deal in the US, embarking on a tour around America in 2014. She readily admits that she wasn’t quite ready at the time.

“Because I was 26 and opinionated, people kind of assumed that I had been doing it for a while and that I knew what I was doing and that I was an experienced touring artist – I really was not, I’d played a few clubs around Stockholm.” 

It all worked out in the end. Over the last 10 years, Tove has worked with everyone from Ellie Goulding to Julia Michaels, Flume to Nick Jonas.

When looking for potential collaborators, she says it’s important to connect on a level beyond their intentions to create something great. 

“I think I need to have a little bit of a personality click for it to feel genuine and for me to be able to relax and sing any idea that I come up with even if it’s bad,” she explains. “If you respect each other’s work and you’re a fan of each other, that makes it a lot easier too.” 

But it wasn’t always the way. Tove recalls a time when she felt voiceless, which only adds to the appreciation she holds now. 

“When I started writing, I would go into rooms and nobody wanted me there. My publisher was trying to give me a chance so they put me in these sessions with these people who were like ‘who the fuck are you?’

“You’re like trying to get an idea through and they’ll just pretend like you’re not there, so it’s been a minute since I had that, luckily.” 

Her happiness these days comes from striking a balance between performing live and putting new music together, with one feeding the other. 

“I think I need both to feel alive,” she says. “Life on the road and all that inspires what happens in the studio in the end.”

“When I play a show, like when I played Roskilde Festival in Denmark, or Lollapalooza in Brazil, everyone was jumping and engaging with me. I could feel every single person’s presence – that’s an indescribable feeling.” 

The conversation returns to Aotearoa. Tove travelled to the country to open for Katy Perry in 2014, but she now admits to feeling very vulnerable about the experience at the time.

“I had only played for about 500 people, club shows, maybe some bigger festivals. I was performing at arenas, I was so nervous, it was right before I had to do my vocal chord surgery. I was a fragile person, I was in a bad place mentally,” she says.

Her family accompanied her on the trip, and one day she and her brother headed to the beach at Piha. She remembers telling him that the view was “really just like the edge of the Earth.”

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So besotted by the beauty of their surroundings, the pair joked that they should find a local to marry so they could live there forever. 

Little did she know, she would actually end up marrying a Kiwi. On their first trip back to New Zealand together, they were walking along the beach when she remembered the conversation with her brother. 

“I was like ‘I think I’ve been here, I recognise this so much,’ and I was like, ‘oh my God, this was the spot,’ and he was like ‘are you okay?’ I said, ‘how insane is this right now?’

“So it’s got a very special place in my heart. Now I have family there too, so I love going there. It’s such a beautiful place.” 

Tove Lo performs at Auckland’s Elemental Nights on Thursday, July 27th. Tickets are available here