How do you follow-up the most streamed song of all time? OF ALL TIME. Easy, just carry on being really fucking amazing. That’s MØ’s plan anyway, and thankfully she’s sticking to it.
Growing up, Karen Marie Ørsted, aka Danish pop whirlwind MØ, was obsessed with three things; the Spice Girls, Kim Gordon and the number 13. Born on the 13th, she saw it as her good luck charm, often scrawling it on her sketches of Gordon. The number now appears just above her right knee, as part of a tattoo the size of a large fist. Its meaning has evolved over time. “I’ve always wanted the tattoo so I got it just as the 13 at first,” she explains. “Then I ran into a little bit of bad luck and thought maybe I was jinxing it, so I was like fuck it I’m putting a four leaf clover around it. Now I feel like the balance in the space around me is even.” She lets out a little giggle to defuse that last sentence’s Oprah-isms, the kinetic energy she seems to constantly radiate sizzling up through her antenna-like plaited ponytail. At one point, during a particularly enthusiastic monologue about Rihanna (excerpt: “Through the years I’ve been like ‘nah’, but now I’m just like ‘okay I’m all yours, I adore you, I love you, I wanna be you’”), she mimes kissing the wall of a particularly quiet east London restaurant. No one quite knows what to make of her.
MØ (Danish for “virgin”) isn’t like other popstars. There aren’t many who, for example, can claim to have co- written and sung the most streamed song of all time (Major Lazer’s ‘Lean On’), and started an electro-punk band as a teenager whose debut single translated as Pussy In Your Face. Or who has written for former child star Ariana Grande and performed songs called things like ‘When I Saw His Cock’ and ‘Grease Me Up With Gravy Baby’ as part of a short-lived art project. Even her debut album as MØ, 2014’s No Mythologies To Follow, approached pop from a weird angle, its airy, DIY production encasing emotional tales of friendship, fractured relationships and destruction.
You were obsessed with the Spice Girls when you were younger. How did their gang mentality influence you?
I think I was affected by that because I wasn’t one of the pretty girls and I was far behind on many levels. I wasn’t into boys at that point. Some of my friends were starting to be like [mimes pouting], but I was just like ‘eww’. So for me it was perfect – ‘let’s just be friends forever and hang out!’.
Did they make you want to be a popstar?
That was my big fucking dream as a 7-year-old. That was all I wanted. Then when I became a teenager and got into politics and activism of course I was like, ‘I want to be like Kim Gordon! I don’t want to be a popstar, fuck popstars, that’s the worst thing you can do, fuck capitalism’. Even during that change it was still the same dream – imagining myself on a stage being cool.
Were you a bit of a loner?
I always had friends but I was definitely an outsider in my ways. I’d walk around with a hat and a jumpsuit, being very much a tomboy, all goofy and sporty. Just ugh. I remember moving into my teens was when I started to separate a bit more from people.
Why were you drawn to the punk movement as a teenager?
I think it was just that I always felt a bit different and therefore, at a certain age, with girls starting to wear tops showing off [mimes a low cut top], I was like, ‘No! That’s not for me! I’m going to dress all in black and listen to metal music’. It just seemed natural for me. I remember my older brother had this friend that was a goth and dressed in a big leather jacket down to his ankles, big black hair and make-up and I was just like [takes massive intake of breath] ‘FFUUUUCK!’. I wanted to be him. I wanted to just be different and I wanted to rebel and I wanted to be like, ‘FUCK YOU MUM AND DAD AND FUCK YOU ALL MY OLD STUPID FRIENDS, I HATE YOU’.
I wanted to just be different and I wanted to rebel.
It’s like craving attention still, but in a different way.
Maybe it was that actually. I could see how the other girls got all this attention and I was like, ‘But what about me man!’. It was the same actually as when I discovered the Spice Girls and they made me want to make music – through writing music I discovered that was a great way to show your emotions. I also learned that I was good at something. The same with the punk and activism thing – at first I got into it just to rebel, but then when I met the people and got into politics I was like, ‘Fuck, this is so much better than anything else’. I’m really happy that I did that so I could see how great that environment was.
Your dad’s a psychologist, your mum’s a teacher and your brother’s a doctor – did you feel pressure to do something academic as well?
I wanted to be different. I’d been determined my whole life that I’m going to be a fucking musician or an artist or do something that’s not academic. Which is weird because whenever I meet academic people I’m always like ‘wow, that’s so awesome!’ I love it. I adore my family for doing it but it was never for me. I wasn’t good at school either. So I had to find another way to shine.
A few years ago at SXSW MØ was performing at a showcase thing in some club or other. She can’t remember specifics. She does, however, remember a couple in the crowd, arms folded, faces like two slapped arses. Their look said IMPRESS ME. So she climbed down off the stage and stomped towards them. “I don’t know what came over me but I just threw myself on the floor before them and was just like” – she mimes writhing around on the floor, arms flailing like two slippery eels – “I was just like ‘fucking don’t stand there and be like that!’. They did get into it in the end. That was pretty intense.”
Despite appearances that night, MØ’s intensity isn’t physically aggressive necessarily. Her songs are punchy, but often anchored by sweet tales of drunk friends fixing each other’s heartache (her Elliphant collaboration, ‘One More’), mending distant friendships (the forthcoming BloodPop-produced banger ‘Drum’) and, on the lovely New Year’s Eve, that sort of reckless abandon you only feel with your bestie (“Oh, friend, will you fly with me into fire?”) It’s that vulnerability that makes her brand of pop music so bold.
Just before you became MØ the songs you were performing were almost intentionally difficult – were you finding it hard moving from punk to pop? Was it self-sabotage almost?
Right before MØ I was doing this very detached art project thing. I was pretending to be this crazy girl, you know, but I was tired of being rough and hard and just [grunts]. I am a very sensitive and warm girl, I guess. It was such a relief to sit down and write a song where I could also put myself into it. It just took me a while to dare to take down the guards. I was terrified about it because I’d learned that you had to be tough and [screams], so it was lovely to just let go of it. But keep it there a little bit. I want to throw up if I hear something that’s too sweet and vulnerable – you need that element of strength and a little bit of frustration at the same time.
How has your stage persona evolved?
The first time I was ever onstage was just before I got into punk. I was in these rock bands in school and I remember going in and playing at this festival and I was so fucking nervous. It was the most horrible fucking moment in my life. At that point I thought you had to be a certain way. Then I got into punk and I had this band and through that I learned that it’s about just letting go. Everyone’s dancing and pogoing and the bands are just letting go completely and not worrying about impressing anyone. It was such a relief. That has stuck with me throughout my performances because that was the only way I didn’t feel awkward.
Ironically it’s MØ’s awkwardness in a sea of professionalism that makes her interesting, an asset that was in danger of being suffocated by her sudden success. In 2014, MØ was tasked with writing ‘Lean On’ by producer Diplo for his Major Lazer project. The idea was she’d write the song, demo it and then he’d get Rihanna (she said no) or Nicki Minaj (she said no) to perform it. Fully aware of the situation, MØ made sure her demo was basically undeniable, eventually getting the nod the song was her’s. (She’s also contributed to Major Lazer’s new single, ‘Cold Water’, a collaboration with Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber: “It’s so fucked up” she laughs about the Bieber love-in). The huge success of Lean On, though clearly welcome, also caused a slight derailment of MØ’s own career. While commercial expectations ramped up, MØ had to try and work out how it fit with what she wanted for her own project. “I lost myself,” she says. “Everything blew up and everyone else was like ‘woah you’re next step is going to be so important’ and that was too much. I wanted to feel myself in it all again.”
Is current single ‘Final Song’ about losing your identity slightly?
It’s about how I felt last year and that point where you’re like ‘who am I now?’, artistically at least. After all the fame of ‘Lean On’ I wanted to get back into my own writing process. Sometimes when you feel like that the fire is gone, or you don’t know where it is, it’s so important to have that passion burning in you and be able to do what you love. The song was about singing to that emotion and reconnecting with it.
Is making the second album easier or harder than the first?
So much harder! That’s also because of the situation of course; Lean On has opened lots of doors. I’m the person who’s like, ‘Let’s go with the flow, see what happens, blah blah blah’, but when you have so many opportunities you can get lost, like, fuck I don’t know now. It’s awesome to meet new people and try and work with them, you want to really feed on it, but I need to feel like I love and relate to all of it. It’s a long learning process. Maybe it’s going to be fucking great and maybe it’s going to fail, but you learn something from both. I’d rather do that than stand still. I’d rather fucking try something out and then pick myself up after the big failure and do a third album.
That night MØ plays a gig in the basement of a swanky hotel to a bunch of people from her record label. Wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the words Death Metal, she flings her limbs around like she’s discarding them, not only venturing into the crowd but climbing onto the bar at the back of the venue. By the end of new song True Romance she’s on her knees, that plaited ponytail spinning round like a helicopter blade.
Are you proud of the fact that you are to some girls what the Spice Girls were to you?
I hope they think like that. It would be so awesome. I’m not from a musical family, we didn’t have a lot of money or anything. I was such a normal random fucking girl you know. I want to say to those people, if they do look up to me, that they can actually fucking do it.