If you were on the ground at 2022’s Lollapalooza in Chicago, you heard a burst of cheers from the crowd as soon as Tove Lo flashed the audience. If you only viewed the event online, you might have seen an endless parade of slut-shaming posts decrying her behavior. If you’re Tove Lo, you definitely don’t care about the latter.
After netting some sizable hits in the early 2000s with her out-of-nowhere smash debut album, the music industry, by and large, seemed unsure of what to do with a pop artist of Tove Lo’s ilk. While she had an ear for an easy hit (as evidenced by her numerous acclaimed co-writes for the likes of Lorde and Ellie Goulding), the albums that followed her debut went from Top 40-friendly hedonism to outright sex-positive celebrations.
Critics and fans embraced 2016’s Lady Wood and its 2017 sequel Blue Lips, even as the radio hits started to dry up, all while Tove Lo toured consistently and saw tracks like the explicit “Disco Tits” and “bitches” became gay club anthems. Her lyrics were frank, her beats were addictive, and her vibe was immaculate. Yet no matter what she tried (co-writes with Finneas! A stellar Kylie Minogue collaboration!), her material had become too dark, strange, and sexual for a mainstream embrace. Her pivot was to that of an acclaimed cult artist that just so happened to be signed to a major label.
Yet following the release of 2019 disjointed Sunshine Kitty and her subsequent departure from Island Records, a global pandemic forced the world into lockdown, and Tove Lo was able to take time to work on what would become Dirt Femme. While still undeniably sensual, Dirt Femme shows much more of Lo’s view on heartbreak, romance, and the fear of domestication. Instead of selling out, Tove Lo decided to turn inwards, and the results are deftly compelling.
Released on her own imprint, Dirt Femme truly beams without the weight of expectations. The opening salvo and obvious lead single, “No One Dies From Love”, kicks things off with its Tumblr-era chorus and Robyn-esque synth patterns. While Robyn tends to be invoked any time someone marries heartbreak with a thumping keyboard arpeggio, Lo doesn’t mind the comparisons, soon launching into the dancefloor-ready “2 Die 4”, which turns the seminal Moog classic “Popcorn” into a TikTok-ready banger. No wonder she’s said in interviews that she wants this album to feel like you’re dancing naked in the street while crying.
Yet as is often the case with Tove Lo records, the more daring she feels, the better her material turns out. In the stuttering “Suburbia”, she asks her partner what it would be like if they had babies together, questioning if she’d still get sleep before declaring that she can’t be no Stepford Wife. Yet on the stunning slow-burn centerpiece “True Romance”, Lo falls psychotically in love, noting that if her partner said, “‘Take a life for me’ / You know I’d do it instantly.” Her voice stretches and cracks over a slow electro pulse in what is her finest vocal performance to date and one of the most stunning pop moments of the year.
Tove Lo’s songbook is filled with tracks about using drugs and sex to escape harsher realities and Dirt Femme laces that work with a newfound sense of maturity. Closer “How Long”, initially featured on the soundtrack to HBO’s Euphoria, sees her narrator begging for someone else’s relationship to end so she can be inserted in it, creating a track as alluring as it is intentionally selfish. Even the lightweight aphrodisiac banger “Pineapple Slice”, which already contains a great line about how she will “hold your hand with my thighs”, still makes a point about how men complain about not finding love in the club while women find it all too easily. Even the slick “Kick in the Head” seeks release through pleasure, giving clubgoers something to chew on while coating a dancefloor in sweat.
Dirt Femme is one of Tove Lo’s strongest collection of songs yet, and the acoustic fingerpicking collaboration “Cute & Cruel” with First Aid Kit shows the different directions Lo can take her sound. Unfortunately, tracks like the by-the-numbers ballad “I’m to Blame” and the less-insightful-than-it-thinks dance cut “Attention Whore” get lumped in on the album’s back half, as they somewhat pull down the otherwise stellar material presented.
Even after her initial burst of success, Tove Lo has found her own distinctive lane of artistry, developing one of the most compelling and addictive pop discographies of recent memory. The internet trolls will try to write her off, but five albums in, it’s clear that Tove Lo’s songs are here to last for decades.