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Icona Pop's Aina Jawo talks 'I Love It' covers, Swedish pop, global success and more



Cookie Monster pushed this whole thing over the edge.

Robin Thicke helped. So did Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, as did New Jersey punk group Titus Andronicus.

But last week, when Sesame Street’s resident cookie addict became the latest artist to cover Icona Pop’s global pop smash I Love It, that pretty much sealed the deal — the song has officially entered the pop-culture pantheon. Like Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and Thicke’s own Blurred Lines, I Love It has proven to be one of those addictive, omnipresent singles that artists across genres want to cover.

“I think it’s amazing that people take the time and they deconstructed it,” Icona Pop’s Aino Jawo said during a recent phone interview from a hotel in Sweden, her home country. “First of all, it’s not that many chords, so it’s very easy to learn. But also, I think the song reaches out to so many because it’s such a mix when it comes to the music. It’s pop music, but it’s different. We were influenced by so much more than only pop. When you listen to it, it can actually sound a little punky. It’s not ordinary pop. And that makes it so interesting when you try to make your own version of it. When you listen to Robin Thicke, it sounds like R&B, making-love music. And when we do it, it sounds more like, f--- it.”

Following in the footsteps of Swedish pop acts like ABBA, Ace of Base, Robyn and Avicii, Jawo and fellow singer Caroline Hjelt have been riding high on I Love It’s hedonistic vibes (“I crashed my car into the bridge! I watched, I let it burn!”) since the song was released in early 2012. Since then it’s spread like wildfire in clubs around the world, reaching the top 10 in some 20 countries, including the United States.

Icona Pop will make a push to avoid one-hit-wonderdom with their album This Is ... Icona Pop, due in September. But first: A U.S. headlining tour, including a stop Sunday at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa. In an interview, Jawo talked about Swedish pop, the enduring appeal of I Love It and more. Here are excerpts.

Sweden is globally known for great pop music. Is the American pop music machine very different from the one in Sweden?

No, I don’t think so. But I think Swedish people, it might be that they’re very good at finding bittersweet melodies, and lately, bittersweet melodies have become very big all over the world. And Sweden is a very small country, so if you’re good at something, it’s easier to get to work with the good producers and people. So it creates its own sound in a way.

Are American audiences more or less fickle than in Sweden and in Europe?

I would say the audiences in Sweden can be kind of rough sometimes, but when they start to dig it, they really go crazy. But the support we’ve got from you guys has been like amazing. Fans following you all through the country ... the audience is amazing. And very good dancers, also.

I find it amazing that Sweden is known globally for pop music, while Norway is associated with black metal, In your experience, have those worlds ever intersected?

Black metal music? No, I don’t think so. I have a couple of friends playing in metal bands, and I think it’s a very beautiful sound when you start to listen. It’s really musical people behind those bands. You can hear there’s a lot of classical melody in it. But Sweden has also a metal scene, and Finland is big, so it’s not only in Norway.

When you recorded I Love It, how confident were you that it could be a giant hit around the world?

(laughs) I mean, we’re dreamers. But every song that we listen to, we never think, “Okay, this is gonna be a hit.” We had a really strong feeling about that song, but I don’t think we understood how big the song had become. It still feels like we’re doing exactly what we did before, but on a bigger scale. Of course, it’s actually crazy when you think about it. It was like we went there and we had something to say, and we shouted that out on the song, and it feels like people understood that it’s not actually some lyrics, it’s actually about someone. It’s more like expressing yourself and your anger. (laughs) It’s so fun when you play it live; you can really see that in people’s eyes as they’re singing.

Has having a song that big changed how you see yourself as a performer? Before this, did you think of yourself more as a DJ than a singer?

No. Me and Caroline, we both had bands before. The DJ’ing part has only been for us to be able to travel. We love playing music, but we definitely do not see ourselves as DJs. It’s more of a hobby. We started to (DJ at) clubs around in Stockholm, and that was such a good way of getting your music out, and still today sometimes we try out songs and see how people react and dance. But I definitely see myself more as a musician than DJs.

Where do you feel like we are in the lifespan of I Love It? It’s still on the rise in some parts of the world, but you’ve been performing it and singing it for months and months and months now.

It’s opening a lot of doors for us right now. Just to be able to release our album in a month, it’s so nice that people actually will listen to it. We have such a big nice fan base now, and we’re interacting with our fans and really hearing what they’re saying. They want to hear more songs, and so I think there is an interest for Icona Pop out there now, and we’re just so happy about that.

You’ve aligned yourself with artists who fall more on the indie edge of the pop spectrum, like Passion Pit, St. Lucia and Matt and Kim. There’s a difference between touring with Passion Pit vs.. touring with a pure pop artist like Robin Thicke or Justin Timberlake. They’re two different ends of the pop spectrum. Has that opened your world to new opportunities?

Definitely. Our music is a balance between mainstream pop and indie. I loved watching the crowds that were so different, and also, the ages — it’s everything from little children to old grandmas standing there digging our music. There’s always been such a lovely mix, and we want to keep it that way.

Having a song as big as I Love It can probably come with a lot of unexpected pressures and problems. What’s been the most stressful part of this whole experience?

Hmmm  … I think … I’m not seeing that many negative sides. Actually, no negative sides from I Love It being this big. Because before, we had the problem that we didn’t have anything to do. Now, yeah, maybe we have a little bit too much to do sometimes. But I mean, you want to be able to do everything. It’s hard sometimes, but I don’t see anything negative with having a huge hit.

So you haven’t had any sleepless nights over, “What am I gonna do next?”

(laughs) No. If I get my eight hours’ sleep, I will be happy. I don’t even think. I just fall asleep like a baby.

[Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 1:35pm]


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