This summer just got a little hotter. Hot on the heels of her tour with MARINA, Tove Styrke just released her album, Hard, out via Sony Music. Featuring ten electric tracks, the album is a yearning for big, beautiful love and marks the artist’s album return after four years. “A lot of the themes on this album came from me falling very, very hard in love with another person,” she says from her home in Stockholm. “I thought so much about that connection. It can be the most beautiful, the most wonderful thing, but it can also be the sharpest object that can hurt you the most.” And while Tove recalls new experiences, falling in and out of love, she’s certainly no stranger to summer hits. Back in 2018, her song, “Say My Name,” was crowned the song of the summer for its catchy melodies and warm pop harmonies. Now, after a few years of introspection, the singer-songwriter is back and better than ever.
“This time was quite different from the previous projects I’ve set out and done before,” she shares. “What I wanted to do this time was let go of that need to have total control and let things be a little bit more messy, let it have some flaws. Because I think a lot of the music that we make today, it’s so easy to clean things up and to make it really, really perfect. But when you do that you almost clean away the humanness, a little bit of the soul.”
While making this album, the Platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated singer took some time to hone her technique, experimenting with different chord progressions and exploring what sounds interested her. And we’re excited to share that even a decade after her debut album, Sway, solidified her place among the top rising and forward-thinking pop artists, Tove is continuing to push the boundaries of her sound. Heavy bass lines and infectious melodies invite you in while her painfully relatable lyrics beg you to stay. And when heard all together, she illustrates the at times painful, but always beautiful impact of love. In one song in particular, “Millennial Blues,” Tove sings about being brought up with the “lies” of Disney princesses while facing the woes of growing older and falling short of meeting her own expectations. In another song, “Hardcore,” Tove sings about wanting someone so bad that you’re willing to risk it all. For this song, Tove took themes from gaming and how it’s an all-in mentality, “if you die, you die,” she explains.
“I really feel like a lot of the songs are very life and death,” she says. “In a way, it’s putting everything on the line for the chance to experience something real. A lot of the songs are about that combination of that experience, the bliss of just being completely absorbed in another person, but also having your heart in their hands.”
And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, last Friday, Tove released a bonus track to the album, titled, “Cool Me Down.” Featuring Tove’s trademark falsettos alongside a raucous guitar, the song rounds out the singer’s experience with love in the modern day. In this song, and throughout the album, Tove showcases her Swedish roots, exhibiting their special gift for turning big emotions into flawless hooks. And while Tove has been making music for 12 years, this LP is a fresh and evolved look into the artist. With her beautiful, rich timbre and bold lyrics, Hard cements itself as some of Tove’s most explosive and electrifying work to date.
Tove sits down with V to chat about her creative process for this album, touring with the iconic MARINA and why she thinks there are so many good musicians in Sweden.
V Magazine: Congrats on your new album, Hard! What was your songwriting process for this album?
Tove Styrke: This time was quite different from the previous projects I’ve set out and done before. If I were to compare it to Sway, I would say Sway was a very polished album. I really feel like I did everything that I could to make everything perfect. What I wanted to do this time was really challenge myself. I am a control freak, I tend to edit things and go over things a million times. What I wanted to do this time was let go of that need to have total control and let things be a little bit more messy, let it have some flaws. Allow it not to be perfect, but also allow it to be human. Because I think a lot of the music that we make today, it’s so easy to clean things up and to make it really, really perfect. But when you do that you almost clean away the humanness, a little bit of the soul. So I wanted to try and be freer in the process and let the songs guide themselves. It’s been very challenging, but I’m very happy about the result. I love this album.
V: Yeah, we love it too. And what’s the significance of the title, Hard?
TS: To me, this album is a lot about contrast and about humanness. A lot of the themes on this album came from me falling very, very hard in love with another person. I thought so much about that connection. It can be the most beautiful, the most wonderful thing, but it can also be the sharpest object that can hurt you the most. That contrast is where it came from.
V: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
TS: I love “Hardcore.” I love that song so much. It’s probably my favorite production on the whole album. It’s produced by this amazing Swedish producer ELVIRA. She’s so young and she’s so talented. She even plays the cello. I made that one with her and I came into the studio and almost immediately she started making this little beat and I just loved it. Often it’s a chord progression, a beat–some sort of sound that starts the creative process for me. Then I just sat down with a mic and I just started singing, I didn’t even write the lyrics down. I just let it come and I sang what felt right. A lot of those lyrics are still on there. I chose not to fix them too much, just let the music convey the message.
V: Yeah, I really liked when you sang, “Go make my heart explode, I want you hardcore.” It fits into the whole album’s vibe of putting yourself out there for a chance for something amazing. Can you elaborate on this theme?
TS: Yeah, I really feel like a lot of the songs are very life and death. In a way, it’s putting everything on the line for the chance to experience something real. Because I feel like oftentimes, we tend to stay with one foot, on our way out of a situation to protect ourselves because falling in love is the scariest thing in the world. It’s a tragedy because it makes you so vulnerable. It’s so scary. A lot of the songs are about that combination of that experience, the bliss of just being completely absorbed in another person, but also having your heart in their hands. It’s a really scary place to be. Everything is exposed and they can just crush you. I took the term from gaming. If you die, you die, but it’s all in.
V: Also you’re on tour with Marina right now, how exciting! You’ve supported so many other amazing artists like Katy Perry and Lorde during your career. What’s special about touring with Marina?
TS: Touring with Marina was such an incredible experience. She really is an artist. I think she’s so cool because her whole career feels entirely self-made. She’s got this cult status and this relationship with her fans that is very, very unique. I’ve never witnessed something like that up close. And as you said, I’ve toured with really, really big artists with invested fans, obviously Katy Perry, but there’s something about Marina, and the whole universe that she’s built and she rebuilds with every album. It’s so fascinating to watch. It was like magic every night. I used to stand on the side of the stage and watch the show. Every night I would get completely distracted by the audience. I’d look over there and there’s a whole drama taking place in the audience. Her fans were crying, screaming these lyrics. They’re so invested in this music and it’s just incredible to see that music can mean that much to people.
V: Yeah, I’ve seen videos of her on tour and it looks insane. How would you describe your fashion style on tour?
TS: It’s been a lot of different things. For the US tour, what I had in my head was Disney punk. So I wore these princessy, almost bridal dresses, from the ‘80s. They were really poofy. Then I did crazy makeup on top of that with a bunch of rhinestones and a lot of eyeliner.
V: You’ve been doing this for over a decade, which is crazy to think about. What do you think has changed? What’s changed since your early albums?
TS: I feel like I am very much the same. In one way, the core is always the same. But I keep collecting different tools for my toolbox. I just learn and I pick things up along the way. I learn new techniques, but I feel like I’m the same person as I was when I was 10, I feel like there’s no difference.
V: How do you think growing up in Sweden influenced your artistry?
TS: I think growing up in Sweden definitely influenced the fact that I make pop music because there’s so much great pop music that’s come out of here. I think that’s very inspiring to see, what other people have accomplished before you. I grew up listening to ABBA, and that really made a mark on me. I also think coming from a smaller place influenced me because it gets very dark pretty early so you’re inside a lot. I think that’s led to me being on the internet, looking for music and producing music. I spent a lot of time exploring music by myself because I spent a lot of time inside, bored. I actually think that makes a difference. There are a lot of people that make really good music here and I think that’s part of the reason.
V: So, what’s next for you?
TS: I’m going to tour a lot more. I want to come back to the US, either in the fall or in the early spring of next year. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m also very excited to put out more music I have. At this point, I’m very excited that the world has opened up and that I can travel. I can actually meet the people who listen to my music. I’m very excited to do that.