“All people should just have the same opportunity to be who they want to be, and that’s not the case today.” -Tove Styrke
The boldness exuded by twenty-two-year-old Swedish songwriter and electro-pop artist Tove Styrke inhabits more than her vocals and bass beats. She’s an unapologetic feminist using her gifts as a catalyst of change. The world was introduced to Tove Styrke after she placed third in Swedish Idol in 2009. Of the experience, Tove described it as: “Really strange, to be honest…you have so much to prove musically, ‘cause that kind of competition is all about popularity, it’s not about music,” she says. “And when you’ve done that, you sort of have everybody’s eyes on you while you’re taking the first baby steps trying to make something…but it worked out alright for me.”
For Tove, it’s worked out more than alright. Growing up in her hometown Umeå, Sweden, Tove was a fan of artists such as Patti Smith and Björk. Hailing from an artistic family, her mother, her sister, aunt, and cousin are all dancers. Her father, musician Anders Östman, scored a number one hit on the Swedish radio chart in 1975 and exposed her to music at a young age. Following her Idol claim to fame, Tove was signed by Sony Music in December 2009. In 2010, she released her self-titled debut album, which went platinum in Sweden.
Despite her fast track to success, she felt it was best to take a breather and reconnect with her roots before releasing her debut US album, Kiddo. “I really had a vision in my head of what it was I wanted it to do. I had a goal. I had so many ideas that I wanted to try…so much creativity came from that break really.” Tove exudes a freedom of spirit expressed through her music, “There are definitely a lot of electronic textures to it, but I really try to stay as free as I can, sound-wise, and not to strain myself.” As a young woman in the spotlight, Tove has witnessed gender inequality and abuse of power first hand. “…Especially in Sweden, you tend to think that we’re equal. We’re not. People have to go through different things to get to that stage of whatever space that you’re aspiring to claim. And that’s really unfair.” She speaks about her raw experiences and lessons learned on Kiddo. “There are songs about gender and equality. There are songs about love. There are songs about abuse of power.”
Tove has just released an energetic live performance video of her celebrated track, “Borderline.” When explaining the process behind the hit single she says: “I guess it’s a lot about my anger and my frustration towards society being the way it is. I mean you’re brought up to be something, and people expect a certain thing off of you, whether you’re like a girl or a boy or whatever, and I think that really frustrates me because it holds people back so much. It’s about breaking free from those rules.” From her ambitions to lyrical message, freedom rings – a cause she believes is worth fighting for. “I really hope that people aren’t afraid to keep using the word ‘feminist’…we need to keep on fighting.”
Read the full interview with Tove Styrke and editor-in-chief Indira Cesarine for The #GirlPower Issue below.
Indira Cesarine: Tell me about your early days of music. How did you get started as a musician?
Tove Styrke: Well, I started out in a different kind of way, I guess. I was on Swedish Idol when I was 16, and I came in 3rd. I mean that was kind of a weird way to get into music, but that’s how it started.
IC: How was it being a contestant on the show?
TS: Really strange, to be honest. I mean, I said it’s weird but it really is because when you do that kind of thing, you suddenly get all of this thing but you have so much to prove musically, because that kind of competition is all about popularity, it’s not about music. And when you’ve done that, you sort of have everybody’s eyes on you while you’re taking the first baby steps trying to make something. It’s different, but it worked out alright for me.
IC: I understand that your father is a musician. Did he impact your career at all?
TS: Well my dad—yeah, he’s a musician. He owns a music shop where they sell instruments in my hometown, up north in Sweden. I mean, he used to bring home a lot of instruments when I was a kid. And I guess that was probably a good environment to start from.
IC: So your mother was a ballet teacher. Do you feel like that inspired you to dance and have a career as a performer?
TS: She wasn’t a ballet teacher, my mom was a dancer teacher for a while, but most of my life, she’s been working in the office at a dance school. But I mean my whole family are artists; my mother, my sister, my aunt, and my cousin are dancers. My cousin is in the “Borderline” video—the one with the dark hair and bangs—that’s my cousin, who dances. My dad is into music, and my grandfather is the same, so I guess I’m from a creative family. And that must have had like some impact on me. But I don’t know anything else.
IC: And so how would you describe your sound in your own words?
TS: Well, there are definitely a lot of electronic textures to it. But I really try to feel like to stay as free as I can, sound-wise, and not to put strain on myself. So there are a lot of different things, sprinkles of fun electronic. I’m also influenced by so many different things, it’s not just music. I’m inspired by movies like Kill Bill, I was really inspired by that in the beginning of the creative process. And I ride a lot on the trains.
IC: You obviously have a lot of different influences. Do you have any particular musical performers that have inspired your work? Any favorite musicians?
TS: I’m inspired by so many. It’s really hard to pin down a few, because there’s literally a hundred. But I mean Bjork was really someone who’s music I fell in love with early. I think I was 10 or something when I discovered her. And I’ve always loved her. I love Patti Smith, she’s a great lyricist. I love M.I.A. There’s so many. And I’m a huge Beyonce fan also, you know. There’s a lot.
IC: Beyonce is pretty amazing. Everybody loves her, don’t they?
TS: And I’m one of them.
IC: Do you ever feel like you have had a difficult moment in your career? You know, when you were like ‘I don’t know if I can do this’…I mean, obviously, you did Swedish Idol, so that set a bit of a tone for your career. But at the end of the day, were there moments when you weren’t sure if you really wanted to be a musician?
TS: Well I did actually—3 years ago, I decided to take a break. I needed some distance between me and the music industry. I moved back to my hometown. I needed to explore music on my own for a while without any pressure to sell it. Also needed some time to really get to know myself because I’ve been doing this since I was 16. It’s a big job when you’re 16. Looking back on that, I spent almost a year away from everything, and I realized how extremely important that time away was. Because I don’t think that I would have made this record if I haven’t taken that time away.
IC: Did it give you a refreshed outlook on the whole thing?
TS: It definitely did. I really needed to touch base with myself and get to know myself as a grown-up, and reflect on the world, and my part in it, and from that place, I was able to make music with a completely solid foundation to stand on. And with this record, I really had a vision in my head of what it was I wanted it to do. I had a goal. I had so many ideas that I wanted to try. The whole thing— so much creativity came from that break really.
IC: What about your song, “Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You”—tell me a little bit about that song. What inspired that?
TS: It’s just that I had that line. Usually, I come up with lines when I’m on busses or on trains. They just come to you. We were sitting in the studio and we came across this drum beat. Suddenly, this whole rant just came from nowhere. I was writing it so fast, but I could barely keep up with my fingers on the phone. It was so many things that I needed to say because that song is really about just claiming your own space, that this is me, this is what I’m going to do, and I don’t care if you don’t want to hear. I don’t care if you think what I’m doing is irrelevant or not, I’m still gonna do it. If you don’t want to hear it, then you don’t need to listen.
IC: I like that attitude.
TS: I needed to tell myself that and I need to say it out loud. I’ve been in the industry for, what is it now, like 5 years and you know, especially in Sweden, you tend to think that we’re really equal, but we’re not. People have to go through different things to get to that stage of whatever space that you’re aspiring to claim. That’s really unfair.
IC: So tell me about your last album, Kiddo.
TS: Well, the album is quite all over the place. I think in a good way. The songs differ a lot from each other, every song is sort of its own story. With every song, I’ve tried to enhance the core in the meaning or the initial idea of the song as much as I can with the sound and everything. So there are songs about samurais. There are songs about gender and equality. There are songs about love. There are songs about abuse of power. There’s so many different things in it. I feel like this record is very very personal to me—so many things that I think about, things that make me happy or sad or furious are on there because I sort of deal with my emotions by writing about them.
IC: Your song “Borderline”, can you tell me about the inspiration for that?
TS: My initial idea was to describe, or try to describe, the patriarchy as the Matrix— something that you could wake up from, and could realize that this whole thing, is made up, and it doesn’t need to be this way. I guess it’s a lot about my anger and my frustration towards society being the way it is. I mean you’re brought up to be something, and people expect a certain thing of you, whether you’re a girl or a boy or whatever; that really frustrates me because it holds people back so much. It’s sort of about breaking free from those rules, breaking free and deciding for yourself who you are.
IC: That’s pretty inspirational, very important.
TS: Yeah, it’s really, really important. I mean, that message is such a simple thing. It’s so obvious that this is wrong and we should aspire for something else that I think people forget to talk about it.
IC: This is our “Girl Power” issue, which is focused on empowering women. And I’d love to ask you, do you consider yourself a feminist?
TS: I do. I definitely do!
IC: I know you’ve spoken out about gender and equality in previous interviews and I read a few of those where you talked about male and female stereotypes and how you wish society reacted differently to women. Can you elaborate a little bit about the opinions on the subject for us?
TS: I think it’s really simple. I mean all people should just have the same opportunity to be who they want to be, and that’s not the case today. If you’re a girl people expect something of you and if you’re a boy people expect something different out of you, and if you’re in between, I guess it’s really hard. I mean, it’s just messed up. I really hope that people aren’t afraid to keep using the word “feminist” and “being feminist” and to keep spreading the knowledge of what the patriarch is and what our society looks like. We need to keep on fighting.
Tove Styrke photographed by Jeaneen Lund for The Untitled Magazine’s #GirlPower Issue
Stylist: Karen Levitt
Hair by Clay Nielsen
Make-up by Georgina Billington
Interview by Indira Cesarine
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015), pick up a copy of the issue in our online store today!