Tove Styrke 'Sways' to the Music

Photo: Emma Svensson

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.

Tove Styrke


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.






Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.