Icona Pop
Photo: High Rise PR

Icona Pop Return After Ten Years with ‘Club Romantech’

There’s nothing on Icona Pop’s Club Romantech of the caliber of their 2013 hit “I Love It”, but the slyly NSFW dance track “Spa” redeems the whole album.

Club Romantech
Icona Pop
Ultra Records
1 September 2023

Icona Pop‘s 2012 song “I Love It” was such a world-beating smash that it even found its way out of dance clubs and into at least one clubhouse. A men’s pro sports team used the song as the theme for their closed-door celebration after they won their league championship. (I not only have this firsthand, but it’s also preserved somewhere on a voice recorder.) When you’ve got a room full of sweat- and testosterone-soaked ballplayers to choose your neo-teenybopper pop confection as the tune they want to bounce around to while further soaking themselves in sprays of shaken bubbly, that can only mean that you, too, are the champions, my friend.

For a few months in 2013, “I Love It” seemed to be everywhere in the US, from The Vampire Diaries to Good Morning America and from Girls to Glee. No doubt the song’s ubiquity owed at least partly to the general tendency of anything that gets popular in one place to spread all over (or “go viral”, if you must, in this post-Covid world) just because it’s the readiest thing to hand—a tendency the social media age has hugely increased.

It’s not only that, though. “I Love It” is much more interesting than the usual dance track pablum. The tune has a semblance of melody and chords, and its verse is well built to spring load the infectious chorus. Lyrically, before the insouciant rah-rah of the refrain, we get this verse: “I crashed my car into the bridge / I watched, I let it burn / I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs.” There’s also a bridge (in the compositional sense) in which the singer half taunts, half boasts, “You’re from the ’70s, but I’m a ’90s bitch,” making it clear that this is a song about a younger woman dumping her significantly older (in)significant other and, for good measure, scorching the earth, or at least her car.

The composer of “I Love It” was Charli XCX, the moniker of Charlotte Aitchison. She decided it didn’t fit her self-image (or her Charli XCX image, in any case), so she gave it to Icona Pop, thereby making the Swedish duo (Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo) famous with a quintuple-platinum debut single. The associated album, This Is… Icona Pop reached No. 3 on the US charts.

Flash forward ten (!) years, and Icona Pop are finally back with their second record, Club Romantech. To kill a decade of suspense, no, there’s nothing here on the order of “I Love It”, which may or may not have to do with Charli XCX having written none of the new release’s 15 songs. Nonetheless, this music is quite successful at doing what it’s designed to do: fan out into clubs, teenagers’ playlists, and Urban Outfitters franchises and reach the nearest available pleasure receptors of young listeners. These are essentially interchangeable dance tracks, nearly all around the same length and tempo, and written mainly by the same consortium around the same repeating keywords (feel, heart, body, dancing, tonight, etc.).

Even the song with the refreshingly profane title “Shit We Do for Love” (ft. Yaeger) conforms to the largely anodyne formula. It repeats its lone verse (27 words) four times in less than 90 seconds, identifies none of the shit we do for love, and confuses batteries with their charger. No one who is dancing to this song cares; they love it. Icona Pop are not for critics, musicians, or people from the 1970s, whose shit Icona Pop throws in a bag and pushes down the stairs.

There is one exception to all this deliberately generic stuff. The last song on Club Romantech is also the longest, clocking in at a whopping 3:19. It’s called “Spa”, a word Icona Pop draw out—”spa-ah”—so it rhymes with “sauna”, which is pretty funny. They’re done dancing their hearts out tonight and are ready to go to this spa, where the song’s opening couplet, “Naked bodies everywhere / I’m OK, you can stare,” sounds a good deal less NSFW than it would if the setting was still the club—except, wait a second, “Spa” is deceptively but unmistakably extremely NSFW, if you pay a little attention. The naughtiness starts in the line after the one about naked bodies: “You and me forever young, with this facial made of”—and then there’s a very conspicuous absence where a word is called for to rhyme with “young”, until a sampled (male) voice circles in to supply a big “O”. [Beavis and Butthead laugh.]

A real male voice—the only one on Club Romantech, and a charmingly fey one at that—soon chimes in with a little godfearing spa S&M: “Slap my body with a birch / In the morning, we go to church.” Presumably, this voice belongs to Tucker Halpern, one half of the duo Sofi Tukker, who co-wrote “Spa” with Icona Pop and producer Jon Hume. Sofi Tukker are so called because the duo’s other half is named Sophie Hawley-Weld. Halpern and Hawley-Weld met in college, where Halpern was the captain of the men’s basketball team (!) before the Epstein-Barr virus forced him to quit and follow the usual transition from Ivy League All-Star sportsman to purveyor of electropop. The college they met at was Brown University, which explains why “Spa” is by far the cleverest and most exciting song on Club Romantech because everyone knows that all the smartest and most interesting people go to Brown.

Does “Spa” fit with the rest of the tunes on this album? No. Is it going to become a worldwide hit for Icona Pop? Unlikely. Will it be heard thumping in the background of a clubhouse celebration after a sports team wins its league championship? That prospect is marvelous to contemplate, but no, certainly not. I don’t care. I love it.

RATING 7 / 10