For 26 minutes, Swedish singer Tove Stykre delivers the sound of perfect pop for today's youth. She also makes it sound like a threat.
4 May 2018
The term pop music must be dynamically defined. It's always changing. Pop usually means youth music full of effervescent emotions like love and tears, exuberant joy, self-conscious observations and surprise. Yes, it's narcissistic as its concerns are largely one of self-discovery and an understanding of the world outside the self. It should also be fun. For 26 minutes, Swedish singer Tove Stykre delivers the sound of perfect pop for today's youth. She also makes it sound like a threat.
Styrke belongs to the school of Lorde, who she recently opened for and covers on this disc, and Katy Perry, who Styrke is scheduled to tour with. Her songs are full of highs and lows, as she mentions on the brilliant "Mistakes"—a sexy breathy ballad about taking chances. She sings the lyrics with infectious bravado and a touch of vulnerability. Tove pushes forward, sometimes moving to martial beat, the next time slurring the words as if intoxicated by the thought of a certain lover. The anonymity of her object of desire suggests the actual person doesn't matter as much of her physical cravings. Or as the Boss would say, "I'm on Fire". The theme can be found in pop from the beginning, but this latest manifestation still makes it fresh.
As the album title suggests, Sway is full of movement. Styrke's vocals are frequently layered over heavy bass lines, drum machine beats, and synthetic rhythms. She often sings between the empty instrumental lines, when there is silence that needs to be filled by a human voice. The disc is meant to be danced to—or maybe even serve as a soundtrack to petting and more. There are invites to hold her tight and spend the night. Tove's not making a booty call. She's searching for love and enjoying her youth. Whether she likes it or not!
This ambivalence keeps the music from falling in a rut. Styrke turns Lorde's "Liability" into an ode to being wild. One person's rough edges may be the best thing about them. Loving someone for all the wrong reasons is cause for celebration. Again, the cliché about the rebel is an old chestnut, but Styrke makes it sound new by underplaying the sentiment. She's cool with it.
Styrke has a way of stretching her voice like putty on tracks such as "On the Low", where she speeds up and slows down her phrasing as if answering her own interpretations of what she's felt and observed. She also changes pitch. The resulting effect suggests Styrke is always questioning herself. That doesn't mean she's weak or wimpy. Check out her command to "Say My Name". She wants you to "wear it out like a sweater that you love", which must be a Swedish thing. But the feeling that "she can't get enough" comes through loud and clear. And comes through again and again, because after all, this is just pop music.
But this is just a lie. Styrke knows that love is serious. When she sings about teetering relationships, she understands the balancing act has real consequences. What hurts more, being in love or not being in love? Pop has it both ways so there is double the damage. Yet it hurts so good.