Swedish duo opens up about "Girls," its debut album and performing at arenas after being broke.
"I don't care -- I love it!" goes the entirety of the chorus to "I Love It," the aggressive, omnipresent pop single from Swedish duo Icona Pop featuring U.K. singer-songwriter Charli XCX, which debuts at No. 69 on this week's Hot 100. With that refrain and a synth line that's perpetually speeding by the stationary percussion, "I Love It" is, at first glance, a champagne-swilling celebration aimed at the YOLO generation. But Icona Pop's Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt tell Billboard that "I Love It" was created at a time when they were both broke and heartbroken, and the song is very, very pissed-off as a result.
"The song was written at a time when we were in living in London and didn't have anything," explains Jawo. "We didn't even have a real bed to sleep in when we sang that song. I think you can hear our frustration and anger -- plus, the heartache. It's a very honest song for us."
Icona Pop formed four years ago in Stockholm, when a mutual friend dragged Jawo to one of Hjelt's many house parties; after dancing the night away and "talking about everything and nothing at the same time," Icona Pop was formed the following day, and played its first gig one month later. Hjelt says that, after struggling to find a label and breaking up with "some really bad people we were working with," the duo -- now best friends -- left their earthly belongings behind in Sweden and moved to London, hoping to become inspired by the scene.
"We were home writing with our friend Patrik Berger, and he played us this track he wrote together with Charli XCX, who we had met in London a couple of times," recalls Jawo. "And we were like, 'Rewind. We want to do that song,' and asked if we could do it our way."
That way, of course, involved stomping beats and fiercely independent declarations like "You're so damn hard to please, we gotta kill the switch/You're from the 70s, but I'm a 90s bitch," spat out by both members of the duo in unison. "We wanted to express the anger that happens when you go through heartache -- a 'break free' song, in a way," says Jawo.
Icona Pop had experienced some minor success before the release of "I Love It" -- their first EP, 2011's "Nights Like This," included the dreamy single "Manners," which was sampled by hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang as the "Breakfast" album track "Mind Your Manners." But "I Love It," off Icona Pop's "The Iconic" EP release last September, has opened more doors for Jawo and Hjelt than they could have ever imagined. After "I Love It" was featured in the opening credits for MTV's "Snooki & J-Woww" and on the "Need For Speed: Most Wanted" video game soundtrack, Icona Pop inked a deal with Atlantic's Big Beat label for the release of the "Iconic" EP. Icona Pop kicked off a North American tour supporting Marina & the Diamonds last October, and in November, an "I Love It" remix package, featuring new takes on the single by Cobra Starship, Volta Bureau and Wayne G & LFB, was released.
And then, on Jan. 27, "I Love It" was featured in an episode of "Girls," the the hit HBO show that recently won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy TV series. The song was used in a scene in which creator-star Lena Dunham's character Hannah is on a cocaine binge at a Brooklyn club; as Dunham dances in slow-motion to the propulsive track, she blissfully shouts along to the titular hook. Like Robyn's "Dancing on My Own," "I Love It" has benefited from the cultural cachet of "Girls": 10 days after the episode aired on HBO, "I Love It" made its Hot 100 bow. The track has sold a total of 125,000 downloads to date according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 46,000 of those downloads have occurred in the past week.
"When we lived in London, we saw all the episodes of 'Girls' and loved it," says Hjelt. "When we first heard about it [being used for the show] months ago, we got so excited. We were like, 'Yes, of course, please!' And when we saw the finished result, we couldn't have been more pleased. We actually saw it after everyone, because we were working and didn't have time to watch it. We just saw it a couple days ago, but everyone was telling us, "We just heard your song on 'Girls'!"
It's not surprising that Jawo and Hjelt were preoccupied as "I Love It" enjoyed another mainstream look. The duo says that they've been working nonstop for "six or seven months," playing shows in places like Europe and Australia while trying to finish their first proper LP. "We're working on it right now," says Jawo. "It's almost done. It doesn't feel too far away. There's a couple of songs that we want to rerecord, and we don't want to rush that."
In the meantime, Icona Pop is staying busy performing in the biggest venues of their careers as support on Passion Pit's tour with Matt & Kim, which kicked off earlier this week. Despite not having a proper album to their name, for instance, Jawo and Hjelt will be taking the stage at New York's Madison Square Garden on Feb. 8, marking a staggering trajectory for a group that was barely scraping by when they recorded "I Love It."
"It feels surreal," says Hjelt, who adds that more headlining dates and festival appearances are also coming later this year. "It feels like it's been chaos, but this great, positive chaos. I think we function so well in that."
Check out Icona Pop's upcoming North American tour dates:
Feb. 8 - Madison Square Garden - New York, NY*
Feb. 9 - Agganis Arena - Boston, MA*
Feb. 11 - RPI Fieldhouse - Troy, NY*
Feb. 12 - State Theatre - Portland, ME*
Feb. 13 - State Theatre - Portland, ME*
Feb. 14 - Rickshaw Stop - San Francisco, CA**
Feb. 16 - Troubadour - Los Angeles, CA**
Feb. 18 - Main Street Armory - Rochester, NY*
Feb. 19 - Masonic Auditorium - Cleveland, OH*
Feb. 21 - Compuware Sports Arena - Plymouth, MI*
Feb. 22 - UIC Pavilion - Chicago, IL*
Feb. 23 - Orpheum Theatre Madison - Madison, WI*
Feb. 25 - Jesse Auditorium - Columbia, MO*
Feb. 26 - Peabody Opera House - St. Louis, MO*
Feb. 28 - Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University - Ames, IA*
Mar. 1 - 1st Bank Center - Broomfield, CO*
Mar. 2 - The Complex - Salt Lake City, UT*
Mar. 4 - Knight Arena - Eugene, OR*
Mar. 5 - Paramount Theatre - Seattle, WA*
Mar. 7 - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium - San Francisco, CA*
Mar. 8 - BUKU Music & Art Project - New Orleans, LA
June 2 - Wakarusa Festival - Ozark, AR
June - The Governors Ball Music Festival - New York, NY
*w/ Passion Pit + Matt & Kim