Tove Lo's 'Clean Slate': How Her New Album 'Sunshine Kitty' Came 'From a Calmer Place'

Moni Hayworth
Tove Lo

It’s 2:00 p.m. and Tove Lo is already splattered with color: icy blue hair, a color-blocked sweater, and a single daisy sticker on her left cheek. She’s open and friendly as she sits in the corner of her hotel in New York, giggling at the end of every sentence even if it’s not meant to be a joke. It's Thursday, Sept. 19, the eve of release for her fourth studio album, and above all: she's happy.

“I was definitely going through some shit on Lady Wood and Blue Lips. I was working through it for everyone to watch, but that’s just how I deal with everything,” the Swedish electro-pop powerhouse says of her two previous records, released in 2016 and 2017, respectively. “This album is written from a calmer place so, naturally, it’s me looking out instead of looking in.” 

Looking back at those two albums, the difference is clear. In the video for “Cool Girl,” part of Lo’s short film Fairy Dust, she shaved her head and wore neutral colors as she rolled around, isolated in a desert, and ruminated on her darkest pains. Then, Blue Lips was still full of dancefloor bops like “Disco Tits” and “Bitches” (a song that was later remixed with the likes of Charli XCX, Icona Pop, Elliphant and Alma), but it was songs like album closer “Hey You Got Drugs?” that made it feel like Lo was signing off on the bad relationship that inspired most of the record.

“It was a very dramatic relationship that ended very horribly, so that broke me a lot,” Lo says. However, the toxic experience was soon wrapped with a neat little bow and sent away, making room for the even bigger and brighter chapter in Lo’s life. Enter Sunshine Kitty. “This feels like a clean slate,” Lo says. “It’s also a way of being able to observe myself and a relationship without feeling so much anger. Kind of admitting to your own flawed sides without being frustrated with them.” 

Lead single “Glad He’s Gone” was written while drinking vodka straight-up in the studio. “Shellback was like, ‘I figured out how to not get a hangover,’” Lo shares of her producer. “And then you drink these rehydration drinks on the side. I’m pretty sure I still got a hangover, but it felt very grown-up or something. There were definitely some drunken experimental sessions -- ‘Are U Gonna Tell Her’ -- was another one of those, but I think I’ve been in a clear state of mind for most of it."

Most of the album was written between Los Angeles and Lo’s home base of Sweden. “It would be like studio lockdown for a couple of weeks. Get some ideas and a couple of songs you love and then get back in and finish them maybe a month or so later. It was like going into a studio bubble for two weeks,” Lo explains of the process. “You just can’t have any other plans during that time. My parents were like, ‘Maybe we’ll come visit if you’re in L.A.,’ and I’m like, ‘No, you’re not...I mean I love my parents, we get along well, but just getting a text from them inviting me to dinner disrupts everything.” 

Lo goes on to explain that she doesn’t do interviews and also implements a phone ban during studio time for that same reason. It’s a special process for her that’s easy to get taken out of. “Having a phone is like someone walking in and being like, ‘Hey, I’m going to pull your mind in a completely different zone!’ And then you might lose what you’re doing and nothing pisses you off more than if you’re on a roll and something fucks it up.”

Fortunately, with Sunshine being the pop star’s fourth album, she’s at a place in her career where she has the power to decide when and how she wants to make music. Sometimes she stays in the studio until late at night, and other times she’ll call it a day early if nothing great is happening. “The time pressure thing isn’t a good thing,” she says. That’s also how she gets down to the gritty, real experiences in her life -- because she writes when she truly has something to write about.

Being happily in love doesn’t stop Lo from writing about jealousy and heartbreak though. On the Kylie Minogue-featured single “Really Don’t Like U,” she sings about the gut-wrenching moment of running into an ex with his new girlfriend at a party (a particularly real moment for Lo, who moved to a different city after a breakup). “The hate you feel for the new person isn’t something you should be proud of, it’s not the right way to channel your feelings, but it’s what you very naturally do,” Lo says with awareness. “I feel like there’s a ‘new girl code’ in place where you’re supposed to support each other and not shit-talk each other. We need to elevate each other to move forward, and I think that’s kind of hinting to that, but you still honestly feel that feeling.”

On working with Minogue, Lo says it was “very surreal and very easy.” The two met when they both played the same AMFAR charity event in Hong Kong, two years after Minogue responded to a photo Lo posted on Twitter (which Lo freaked out over, obviously). After the song was written, Lo had it in the back of her mind that the Australian pop icon would be a perfect fit, so she sent it over and hoped for the best. “She was like, ‘I love this, let me do my thing to it,’ and she gave it a lot of Kylie vibes.” Minogue even came up with the concept for the karaoke-fueled visual. Still grinning, Lo says, “Yeah, she’s a very lovely icon.”

Lo’s list of collaborators sometimes seems never-ending. Doja Cat, Jax Jones and Mc Zaac appear on the record, in addition to Alma on “Bad As The Boys,” a groovy, LGBTQ-friendly song about getting your heart broken by another girl. “I was like ‘I want a female artist on this who can relate to the words and is also into girls and has been heartbroken by girls.’ Alma was first to mind,” Lo says. When she sent over the track, Alma responded with pure glee. “That was a very easy moment.” 

“It feels very empowering. The random times when we’re in a room together, it feels like we’re invincible,” Lo adds, referring to the rest of her musician friends like Charli XCX, Icona Pop, Dua Lipa, and many more. “It’s a very supportive community with all of these female artists. Everyone has a strong voice, so there’s space for everyone to do their thing and write with each other. It’s just fun and it feels sincere, and it’s cool to be like, ‘I admire you, but I also really like hanging out with you.’”

While the singer has already ticked off a lot of people on her list of dream collaborations, she’s still hoping to work with Sia and The Weeknd one day. “Such good writers, and I love their music and their voices,” she says, also name-checking Billie Eilish and Finneas. “I’m very much a fan girl. I have like, a lot of her merch,” she laughs. “The way I feel about her is kind of the way I feel about Lorde, it’s just such a distinct thing that isn’t possible to replicate, which I think is really amazing.” 

Later that evening at Lo’s Sunshine Kitty party at Bowery Ballroom, the singer exaggerates her already-vibrant look, appearing on stage in an oversized denim jacket with shoulder pads over a tight yin and yang-patterned top and very short denim shorts. Blue glitter is smeared all over her eyes and of course, the denim jacket comes off halfway through the set. 

“It’s going to be emotional and sweaty,” Lo shares before the party, and it most certainly is. Something about Tove Lo feels like she’s everyone’s big sister. There’s a cool openness to her and she exudes love, making it her most fun set to date. Even her saddest songs are transformed into club bangers, each cut feeling euphoric. “This album is a little bit more playful,” she says with pride in between songs. Everyone is bouncing in the air as Lo turns her back to the crowd to shake her booty. “Jacques,” the infectious track about Lo’s night with a “French fuck boy,” made with British super-producer Jax Jones, is a particularly buoyant hit.

The inclusive energy at the party is also felt on the album, which wasn’t necessarily intentional, but it was natural. “I think it’s really important to not edit that out just to fit a certain demographic or reach more people. People say that if you do anything that’s gay-positive, you lose the conservative audience, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever really had them anyway,” she says, laughing. 

“It’s just about acceptance and equality and loving who you want and being who you want. For me, it just doesn’t make sense to not be a part of it. I also grew up in a very liberal family -- my parents are very open-minded people -- so it has always been a bit of a shock to me here. In the beginning, people here thought I was so provocative and political and whatever...so if people can feel free to be themselves when listening to this album, that makes me really happy.”

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