Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG
It comes as little surprise that 2016’s best pop export hails from Sweden. Lotta Lindgren, better known as LÉON, released her debut track “Tired of Talking” only to receive a larger-than-life response; the song reached #1 on Hype Machine quickly after its release, leading to a frenzy of critical acclaim. To date, it’s racked up over 40 million Spotify plays, showing how clearly the breakup anthem resonated with an international audience. The 23-year-old talent followed up with “Nobody Cares”—an infectious pop gem that proved the singer to be anything but a one-trick-pony. Whether it’s her poignant and relatable lyrics (“Cuz I’ve been nothing but good to you / Your howlin’ into the night won’t do / I’m tired of talking, talking, talking…”) or the beautifully husky texture of her incredible vocals, there’s some sort of magic taking place within everything LÉON touches.
Premiering today on V is her latest track, “Sleep Deprived.” We also caught up with the singer before she kicks off her first U.S. headlining tour on February 1st.
Coming over from Sweden, what was it like for you the first time you performed in the States?
LÉON: It was kind of crazy because I’d never been in the US before. I came a few weeks after I put out my first song on SoundCloud. I mean, everything was kind of overwhelming, and the fact that people wanted to hear my music and I had no idea—it felt strange that people had heard my music and in other countries. I’m usually not a shy or quiet, awkward person. It was just so overwhelming that I turned into this really shy person, because everything was so new to me. And Americans and Swedish people are so different. I would say that Americans tend to be more forward, and I had to take everything in. But it was really cool to have that; my first real show in New York. It just feels crazy to me.
Was it more nerve-racking for you once you realized you had an audience and fan base listening to everything that you do?
L: You become more aware. For example, the first song I put out was “Tired of Talking,” and then I was putting out another song called “Nobody Cares,” and you become more aware in a way. But you have to not care. You just have to put out music that you think is good. And if you keep doing that, it’s gonna make it easier to start listening and thinking more about what would work. But it’s so important to think about what you think is good.
It must be an interesting shift emotionally when you have a hit like that—like, maybe you’re nervous that you won’t be able to deliver the second time around.
L: Yeah, I meant to put out songs that have some sort of difference between each other. In the beginning, I was like—is that a good thing or a bad thing? Because I have so many different genres that I love, so I feel like I couldn’t really decide. I wanted to go for everything. Like I love soul, I love jazz, and I love rock, and I love pop, so I was like, well, I’m just gonna, ya know, throw everything in the songs I’m doing and just see if people like it.
Do you ever wonder about who’s listening to your music? Like if you were to write a song about a love interest or an ex—do you wonder if that person is going to hear this?
L: I think one thing I've learned is not to write about anyone specific or anything. I should keep it to myself. I feel like it's a diary in a way, still. It sounds a little cheesy. I feel like it's easier for me to write about stuff and then share it, and sometimes I don't think about it when I'm writing. I think I realize it more afterward when I actually put a track out or when I perform the song. But sometimes I'm like, "Oh, this is kind of personal!" I realized that after. If you feel something you should say it, but you don't have to always explain what the song is about, you know? Let people get their own opinion or ideas of what the song can be about.
What has it been like having so many people relate to what you’re writing about?
L: I think that's one of the best parts of doing shows. I just did a European tour and it's the best feeling to have people actually singing along, and sometimes I end up in conversation with people on Instagram or Facebook or after the show where you can kind of connect and talk about, I don't know! Sharing experiences I guess? It sounds so corny. It's kind of amazing to talk to strangers about something you both understand. You know what I mean?
L: It’s kind of cool to do that with a complete stranger. Straight away, you can connect.
It’s pretty crazy to think about how much of an influence you might be having on these people’s lives with your music.
L: It's strange because, actually, I thought about that last night, because I was listening to music I listened to years back, because I have a playlist for every month since like, 2012 or something? I just listened to this song—it just takes me back to moments like, straight away. It’s weird how you can be so strongly connected to a song. I feel like five, six, seven years later, I still feel the same feeling in my gut. It's crazy! Also, when I was younger, I would actually think that artists were thinking about me. I would listen to this song like, "What?! How did you know?" Like you can…I don't know. It's weird how you can relate so much to somebody.
How have you connected in the same way with collaborators, both for your music and videos?
L: Well, I feel like when I just put out new music and I came to America, it was a lot of directions I could suddenly go in. When I was putting out photos on Instagram in the beginning without even, you know, knowing what would happen with my music, I just put out pictures that I saw. Suddenly you realize like, "Wow, I can work with that stylist" and it became kind of overwhelming to have so many opinions about different directions you can go in. When I made my first music video, I had never had a stylist before. I had never had makeup artists and hair stylists and it was overwhelming because it was amazing to have these people come up with these ideas.
I think it’s a matter of still knowing yourself despite all the chaos and opinions around you.
L: Yeah! My friend’s not even a photographer, but she’ll take pictures of me that we can use. I have my sister take some photos, too. We're just playing around. My sister’s boyfriend who's actually a photographer, he takes my photos too. If I like somebody, I tend to work with people or that person, like directors, for a while. I think that if something's working, like, it's not broken, don't change it. Sometimes it's good to break out of your comfort zone, though. I like to take photos and make videos or work with people that know me and I know them. It just feels easier to be yourself, which makes sense. For my single cover and a song I put out a few weeks ago called "Liars", I just had a friend take the photo in my apartment, and my sister took a few photos here and there in the kitchen. It's very basic.
I mean I'm open to working with different people; it's fun. You're like, "Let's drink some wine," and, "Okay let's put something this way" and you're like, "Okay this looks great! Let's take a photo."
What are you working on now? I know you have upcoming shows so I'm curious what is occupying your days or if you get a little breather before the tour starts?
L: Well, I'm going to record some music this week actually—new stuff. I'm putting out new music this week. It's everything from taking photos for merch to single covers and then just working on music. It's a lot of different things. Trying to find work on my wardrobe for the tour. It’s hard because I try to see friends in-between, so I have to schedule it, like once a week I see my mom or dad. I'm just trying to get ready for the U.S. tour and finish things that I started because it's so hard when you're traveling around.
What has been the most rewarding part of your job, or what has made you feel the most “successful?”
L: The most rewarding would be a live show. I feel like that's where I have the most fun and that’s when I feel the most. It just feels like this. I'm corny today! I'm sorry, but I feel like the music comes to life when you perform in front of an audience, and it feels more real when you have an audience in front of you and you actually get to talk to the people who listen to your music.
There’s definitely a difference between seeing people playing your music online and then having them actually show up to a show in the flesh.
L: Yeah, it's weird because when I talk to people on Instagram or Facebook…it's just weird when you actually meet the person. I talked to a guy and a girl for like, months, since 2015. I met them like a year later and we met up in Chicago and talked and hung out for a while, and that's just crazy. I don't know…I tend to always freak out before putting out a video or putting out something. I always tend to get cold feet when I put out music or a video so a live show is just easier to cope with in a way.