Swedish singer Tove Lo nearly topped the charts with her hit single "Habits (Stay High)" back in 2014. Now the 29-year-old is back with a new album, Lady Wood. It's a brooding, synth-infused concept album about female desire, which is alluded to crudely in its title and on the album's cover, which pictures a woman suggestively pulling down the front of her shorts.
That said, Lo (real name: Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson) isn't much concerned with what anyone thinks about her sexually charged lyrics and videos (one of which was just pulled from YouTube for being too explicit). In fact, she thinks Americans are much too hung up on that subject.
"I feel like I grew up in a place where nudity and sex is something natural and not shameful," she told the music magazine (and website) NME. "Here [in the US] they're like: 'Oh, you're a bad girl, aren't you? You go against the rules.' That's not at all what I'm trying to say or do here. It's about just not feeling like it's something bad. All of a sudden, I'm fighting this fight I didn't know I needed to fight."
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The first half of this album finds Tove Lo recklessly embracing hedonism on her terms, which is hardly positive. But halfway through comes the brief song "Fire Fade," which suggests all that pleasure seeking isn't doing much for her. She asks plaintively after a lover's apparent departure, "Where did you go?/What? I'm lost/I don't know where I am." Those lines aren't positive per se, but they do evince some self-awareness about the void in Tove Lo's heart.
"Imaginary Friend" finds the Swedish singer honestly expressing her disappointment as she sings, "Hate on this world 'cause reality sucks." She's also aware of how some kids today try to deal with pain and dashed hopes in life by getting high or injuring themselves. On "Keep It Simple," Lo says she's struggling, but hanging on: "I've been deep down in the dirt for some time/ … But I'm breathing, I'm breathing, I'm breathing." It's one of the album's very few genuinely positive moments.
"Flashes" profanely unpacks the difficulty of dealing with mistakes when, as a celebrity, those mistakes are almost always captured on someone's camera. The similarly profane "WTF Love Is" wonders what real love actually is.
"Don't Talk About It" critiques our narcissistic, pleasure-oriented culture, one that's focused on being in the in-group and documenting every awesome moment with a selfie: "Don't talk about it/Sweep it under the rug/If you're sitting with us, then you're in it," Lo sings. "Take our pics is like a fix for your anxiety/The world is beautiful, so why don't you feel anything." Later she adds, "We can take perfect pictures all night/ … You better keep a straight face 'for the camera flashes," before adding …
… "But you're f---ed." Indeed, that kind of blunt, profane assessment of life, love, sex and loneliness is all over Lady Wood, with more songs than not containing similarly harsh profanities. On "Influence," a song about drunken lust at a club, Tove Lo brags, "I'm fine as f---" before singing about, apparently, having sex with someone right on the dance floor ("Hiding in the crowd, we're making love without a sound").
"True Disaster" is Tove Lo's two-word description of a man she's falling for, but she says she gives "zero f---s about it." "Lady Wood" uses that suggestive phrase to describe how someone makes her feel. She also says of herself, "Dirty on the inside, damaged goods with nothing but pride."
"Cool Girl" embraces a commitment-free relationship: "You can run free, I won't hold it against ya'/ … No, let's not put a label on it/Let's keep it fun/ … I'm a cool girl." "Vibes" talks of being "skin to skin" with someone whom Lo later tells, "I want you to lick my wounds." On "Keep It Simple," she sings, "I go to bed with you and dream about him," and later says that she's seeking out a physical relationship with someone other than the mans he loves "just to forget how f---ing broken I am."
"Don't Talk About It" includes this description of a debauched party: "Golden tables, broken mirrors, naked girls around/You and scared of love affairs so keep your conscience down."
Defiant and depressed. Living life on her terms but living life alone. Indulging in sex and excess but struggling to find meaning or permanence or lasting joy in any of it. Such is the self-portrait Tove Lo paints on an album that while ostensibly about seeking sex on her own terms, mostly just shows how empty the results of that self-focused pursuit end up being.