Tove Lo: Swedish for “ew”

If you listen to popular (read: top 40) music you’ve probably heard the name Tove Lo before. Or, at least some version of her name, the Swedish singer appears to have a name that Americans have some issues with. Lo has somewhat exploded in recent months with at least two international to 10 hits, a spot on Katy Perry’s “Prismatic” tour, and a track on the Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 soundtrack. But, her songs, while catchy, have some pretty problematic lyrics.

Her first U.S. hit “Habits: starts off with this cheery tableau:

I eat my dinner in my bathtub
Then I go to sex clubs
Watching freaky people gettin’ it on
It doesn’t make me nervous
If anything I’m restless
Yeah, I’ve been around and I’ve seen it all

…OK? I guess this is a typical Saturday night in Sweden? Eating your dinner in the bathtub really doesn’t scream “mental health” to me but maybe she lives in a studio apartment. Or, and I’m just guessing here, eating in the bathtub gets you in the right head space for the sex club tour. She continues in the chorus:

You’re gone and I gotta stay
High all the time
To keep you off my mind
Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
High all the time
To keep you off my mind
Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
Spend my days locked in a haze
Trying to forget you babe
I fall back down
Gotta stay high all my life
To forget I’m missing you
Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

And, here is where Ms. Lo loses me. Sweetie, get to a therapist. You need to be high forever? To get over someone? Girl, please. And, here’s the problem, because of the genre of this song and it’s prevalence, teens are singing this song and not really thinking about it. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a prude in any way, I’m not, nor am I trying to shame her either. Honestly she’s an adult her choices are her own. I do however think that when ideas like this are paired with a good beat people don’t really think about what the singer is saying. Kids especially will rarely notice the deeper (or even surface) implications of what they’re signing.  And then there is also this verse:

Pick up daddies at the playground
How I spend my day time
Loosen up the frown,
Make them feel alive
Oh, make it fast and greasy
I’m numb and way too easy

which makes benefit of the doubt a lot harder to give. My suspicion is that in Swedish this song might not be as aggressively sleazy, I feel like we’re hearing the google translated version.

Of course her latest single, “Talking Body” makes even that argument difficult to see. Before I dive into that song, I again want to say I’m not trying to slut shame, but I do think that the immense sexuality of this song is, if nothing else, awkward on the radio. This song is basically “R” rated. And, while the RIAA has dubious standards and purposes, I do somewhat agree with them conceptually.But:

Now if we’re talking body
You got a perfect one
So put it on me
Swear it won’t take you long
If you love me right
We fuck for life
On and on and on

I mean…That is pretty tacky. This is the chorus to “Talking Body” so this is repeated several times throughout the song. The bridge also features this further reference to her potential alcoholism as a developing theme: “Day drunk into the night/ wanna keep you here/ Cause you dry my tears/ yeah” Lo is also skilled at giving us truly bothersome mental images through simply upsetting lyrics:

Bodies! Our baby making bodies we just use for fun
Bodies! Let’s use them up til every little piece is gone
Let’s go
On and on and on
Let’s go
On and on
Let’s go

On one hand, you do you. On the other hand this lyric is basically dripping with sleaze. Growing up, I was never really censored. For good or bad I was pretty much allowed to see and hear what I wanted. It helped that I was (and still am) vastly more pop-culturally literate than my parents which gave me significant leeway in policing myself. Knowing that, I have always been a little unclear on exactly where the line of appropriateness was. I tend to follow the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity- I know it when I see it- as laughable as that is. I don’t feel that I was injured in any way- I honestly don’t think that hearing or seeing sexual or drug-realed material puts ideas in kids’ heads. The ideas are already there and hiding from that reality is naive at best and absolutely ludicrous at worst. But, there are levels. I do think there are somethings that benefit from a barrier to entry. I don’t have a good answer.

Whether you love or hate pop music aside, the allusions in these songs are at the very least bothersome. Maybe Lo is pulling a satire on all of us, skewering the popstar life the way Trainspotting assaulted the “heroin chic” movement. But, Lo’s songs feature not a hint of irony or subtext her songs feel absolutely sincere. What’s worse is that they’re catchy as hell! “Talking Body” particularly is a really fun song. And, ultimately these songs aren’t any dirtier than songs of the past. That the lyrics are so overt, and not cloaked in slang like in hip-hop/rap or some of the more “coded” songs of the 60s-90s is what makes these songs so very uncomfortable to sing along to.

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One Comment

  1. Apart from overt & tacky, fairly juvenile & crude is also how I’d also like to classify her lyrics. The fact that Talking Body is an insanely catchy song my 14-yr and 7-yr daughters are picking up makes me seriously uncomfortable even with my laissez-faire libertarian ways of “kids will figure anyway”. For now, I’m hoping it slides away from charts pretty soon. Suddenly, “I want your sex” that I grew up with sounds positively poetic

    Reply

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