Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Interview: Icona Pop talks big hits, Swedish pop, what's next

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By Jay Cridlin

Times Staff Writer

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 of those addictive, omnipresent singles that artists across all 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.

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 going to 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.

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. 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?

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.

So you haven't had any sleepless nights over, "What am I going to 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.

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