Thanks to both canny use in a pivotal scene of the HBO show Girls and a memorable cover by Sesame Street‘s Cookie Monster, Icona Pop reached mega-fame months before even releasing their debut album. Their scorching dancefloor stomper “I Love It,” penned by dark pop songstress Charli XCX, has been practically inescapable since its first appearance on the internet last May. The duo’s meteoric rise is all the more impressive given that Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo come from a DIY background, and thus handle their own maximalist production on This Is…Icona Pop.
Despite these bragging rights, Hjelt and Jawo remain relatable, using their high-profile debut to promote girl power — just like their collaborator Charli XCX did on True Romance. Their record is full of shout-along songs that are more focused on friendship than romance. While other artists might have struggled with their newfound fame, Icona Pop rose to the challenge of following up their breakout single with a batch of songs that are just as catchy.
Marissa G. Muller phoned Hjelt — Jawo was out sick — to talk about writing empowering songs, how their hippie families informed their wide-ranging musical influences, and how they opened up their sound for a larger audience.
“I Love It” is the perfect example of a post-breakup party song.
It’s a very angry song with a lot of emotions, but it’s also kind of empowering. When you’re singing “I Love It/ I don’t care,” it feels like you’re leaving something behind. When you break up with someone, you get devastated and you think that you’re never going to smile again and you just want to stay in bed. But then there’s one day where you feel a little bit stronger, a little bit better, then you get into the “fuck it” mode, and the “I love it” mode. You’re like, “I don’t care anymore, I love it.”
Did you try to sustain the feel of that song on this album?
We have some songs that are still empowering and have the same vibe, but the album isn’t 15 songs that sound exactly like “I Love It.” The people that found out about us through that song will get to see some new sides of ours.
What are some of those sides?
We take it down a little on a few songs. Some people just know us for “I Love It” and we’ve been writing this album during a lot of different states of mind and in a lot of different cities. You get the whole of us. Not just one feeling, one emotion, one state of mind.
We’ve been working on this album for such a long time and we’re so proud of it. We just want to show people what we’ve been up to over the past four years. We want to make music that makes people feel so we hope that people feel a lot of emotions from this album.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you were putting together the album?
Time and the logistics. We’ve been so inspired and have written so much music. We joked that we have maybe five albums worth of songs to release. But it takes awhile to kill your darlings and find the songs that really connect. So that was the hardest part — not writing or creating it, just finding the time to finish it. Starting a song is easy, but finishing it can take some time.
Did you and Aino set out to write empowering songs, or is that something that happened along the way?
When we go into the studio we never think, “Today, we’re going to write a song about this.” We just go in there and it’s our little Icona Pop world and we create based on how we feel that day. Or maybe we’ve been through something, or maybe our friends told us a story that inspired us, or maybe we rode the bus with someone who inspired us. But then I think, it needs to reflect who we are and how we feel together, and we feel very strong together. I think that’s where the message comes from. We are all about girl power because we feel the girl power.
You’re one of the few pop artists right now spreading that message.
Thank you. That makes me happy.
Who are some of the artists you looked up to growing up, and while you were writing?
We grew up in hippie families where we listened to everything from reggae to classical music. When we started Icona Pop, we were so inspired by Prince and David Bowie. We’ve also looked up a lot to PJ Harvey, Tina Turner, Beyoncé, Patti Smith — really strong female artists that are so great at what they’re doing.
That’s a really expansive group. Were you hoping to bring as much eclecticism on the album?
Yeah, I feel like we do that all of the time. We don’t have any rules when we write and we really feel like we can do whatever we want in the studio and call it our pop music. We can go into the studio and can do a reggae song but we can also write an EDM song. There’s a lot of mixed genres on our pop album.
You’ve found a spot in the indie crowd but you’ve also opened up your sound and it’s such a big part of mainstream right now. Why do you think your music appeals to such a wide array of people?
When we’re having a show, we’ve been having old biker guys come up to us and say, “I usually don’t listen to pop music but I love your music,” and then we have the cutest little girl standing in the front being at her first concert, or boys that are singing every lyric. It’s such a mix and that makes us so happy. I think people can relate to our music a lot because we’re not trying to be cooler than we are or anything — it’s just us doing what we love. We’re two normal girls from Sweden, and I think people can feel that it’s genuine and real.