Icona Pop video cover by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine’s “NEXT Issue.” Left: Aino wears a dress and gloves by MOSCHINO. Right: Caroline wears a blazer by MOSCHINO.
It’s been more than a decade since Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt of Icona Pop first brought their foot-stomping thunder to pop music. Their multiplatinum hit “I Love It,” featuring vocals by hyper-pop princess Charli XCX, blew the doors off the world’s nightclubs and singles charts in equal measure, rewriting the definition of “radio friendly” in the early 2010s with its metallic edge and bratty defiance.
“You have to try and be different,” Icona Pop told Untitled’s EIC Indira Cesarine following the 2013 release of their debut international album, This Is… Icona Pop. And though the world – and pop music – have changed since then, Icona Pop’s dedication to that belief has not. For their sophomore release, Club Romantech, dropping a decade after their debut, the Swedish duo winds back the clock to channel their early days DJing the European club scene. Club Romantech doesn’t shy away from the sugary hooks that first launched Jawo and Hjelt to mainstream stardom. But this time around, they are unafraid to embrace an experimental flair that is harder, faster, and celebratory of their evolution as artists and as women.
10 years after their first interview with The Untitled Magazine, Icona Pop are back as our September “NEXT Issue” cover stars to talk Club Romantech, collaborating with Galantis, SOFI TUKKER, and other dance music giants, and balancing their long-awaited comeback with new motherhood.
“The NEXT Issue” celebrates the new era of The Untitled Magazine and the launch of our latest digital micro issues. Each issue presents an exclusive interview with our cover stars, along with an immersive experience of behind-the-scenes videos and our latest cutting-edge motion covers.
Read the interview with Icona Pop below, and check out their cover shoot for “The NEXT Issue” with still and motion photography by Indira Cesarine.
Indira Cesarine: I’m excited to chat with you guys! How’s it going?
Aino Jawo: It’s been a while! How have you been?
Crazy, crazy summer, but lots of fun. I feel like we’re finally out of the pandemic – this is the first summer where everything has really been back to normal.
Caroline Hjelt: You feel the energy. Everyone is just living life. We’re happy and just doing everything.
Exactly, everybody’s been running around trying to make up for lost time. I’m so happy to be here with you on this journey. We interviewed you for Untitled when This Is… Icona Pop came out 10 years ago, and we did that fun photoshoot. It’s incredible to be able to interview you again now, 10 years later, and to look back at everything that’s happened in-between.
Caroline: It’s been a journey!
A lot of groups would have a hard time evolving with everything that’s happened, and you guys have managed to keep growing. What do you think is the glue that has kept you two together as a power duo over the last 10 years?
Caroline: We’ve been trying to figure it out. We were like, ‘We should write a book about relationships because it’s so cool that we can work together and hang out and be best friends.’ It’s just this weird thing that works out so well, but I think the key is that we have huge respect for each other, and we’ve been through so much together as a band. The most amazing things. But life happens sometimes, and we’ve been helping each other through all of that. We take care of our friendship. Even though we work a lot, we make sure that we have fun. I think that’s a very important ingredient in keeping things fun and fresh, and for not taking everything for granted with each other. Even when we’ve been out traveling and we come back to Sweden, Aino is the first person that I call.
Aino: I agree. People around us are like, ‘You two are crazy,’ but I feel like it’s a blessing to have a friend like that, and to have a relationship like that. Not everybody has that.
It’s almost like you’re twins, but you’re not.
Caroline: It really is.
How do you feel like Icona Pop has evolved over the last 10 years since you launched your debut album?
Caroline: I think one way for sure is that we know more of what we want. We’re not scared of saying no or scared to tell people what we need. I guess that’s something that comes with experience and age. You have to learn certain stuff by doing it. That’s the biggest thing, and it’s much easier because we know what we want and we have a great team. I also think that as an artist, you’re constantly trying to grow. Creatively, you want to do different things, and you never want to do the same thing. You want to evolve and push your limits, and I feel like we are in a very good place where we let each other do that. And I really value Aino’s opinion. If she says something like, ‘I think this is really cool,’ I really take a second to listen or look at it because, if she likes it, then there’s something in it.
Aino: Me too, I agree.
Let’s go back to the song that put you guys on the global map, “I Love It,” which is now five-times platinum. That is such an incredible impact, and I know you collaborated with Charli XCX again for a remix last year. Looking back, how do you feel that song impacted your career? Can you share a little bit about your ongoing collaboration with Charli for the remix?
Caroline: It’s absolutely a before and after. We learned so much from that song and it opened so many doors for us, but it didn’t just happen overnight. Our label at the time, they were not seeing it the same way we did. They were like, ‘This is a weird song. It’s not for radio.’
Aino: And they dropped us before it came out.
Caroline: We worked on that song for two years before it became big. That also taught us that when you believe in something, you work for it. We have such a beautiful relationship with that song because we’re not tired of playing it live. It still has that crazy energy, and when we play it live, it’s like pushing a button. We love to share that with our fans. And we have such huge respect for Charli and what she’s done with her career. We love her – she’s just so talented and badass, and we would love to do more with her.
You’ve worked with so many incredibly talented people, from Tove Lo to SOFI TUKKER. You also collaborated with Galantis for “I Want You,” which was the first single from the new album. Can you tell me a little bit more about some of these collaborations?
Caroline: Collaborating with people is something we really love because it can bring that extra little thing. You never know what’s going to happen when there’s a third party in the room. We work so well together, but someone that hears a song with completely different ears can bring a different energy to it and make it possible for the song to go in another direction that we might not have been able to see by ourselves. And collaborating with people you love is when you’re like, ‘Is this even my job? I get to hang out with my friends, and we write music and put it out. Pinch me in the arm!’ It’s just amazing. I feel like we’re going to do a lot of collabs in the future as well just because we love that.
What was the inspiration behind “I Want You” with Galantis? How did the collaboration come together?
Aino: That song was a pretty weird way of working since it was during lockdown. Christian [Karlsson] was in LA, and we were in Sweden, so we were never actually in the same room. I think we met up for the first time just before the release. That was such a cool way of working because we’ve never done that before. We usually have a hard time doing Zoom sessions and stuff like that, but I think that worked out pretty well.
Caroline: We’ve known him for so many years. We were always bumping into each other at festivals when we started touring, and we’ve always said that we should do something together. Even our fans were like, ‘When are you going to do something together?’ If you listen to the Galantis sound and our sound, they go very well together, the choirs and the melodies and the production. It was almost like, ‘Oh, finally. We needed a pandemic to make it happen.’ It was really fun, and we love how the song turned out. When it came to all the feedback and the way of thinking, it was very easy because we wanted the same thing for “I Want You,” and that was clear from the beginning.
Your sophomore album, Club Romantech, just dropped! How does it feel to be putting out your first new album in a decade?
Aino: It feels surreal.
Caroline: Surreal and exciting. We were a little bit nervous, of course, because [an album] represents everything you care about. But most of all, it feels so exciting to finally be able to share the music that we’ve been working on for a long time with our fans. It just feels so liberating, and we’ve already started to work on our third album.
Aino: And it’s not going to take 10 more years to put out another one. That we can promise.
Caroline: This album means so much to us. We wrote it during a very weird time. During the pandemic, everything was quiet, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen.
Aino: We were also pregnant while we were writing this album.
Caroline: Yeah, and we went into it like, ‘Okay, let’s just go to the studio and write music because we love writing and see where we end up. Let’s not have any rules. Let’s have very open minds and try everything.’ And we really did try everything. Sometimes we’d go too far in one direction, but pretty quickly, we realized, ‘This is going to be a clubby album,’ and it felt like we found our thing. Like, ‘This is exactly where we are right now, creatively.‘ That’s when we started talking about this sweet escape that we’ve created: ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait for us to get back to hanging out with friends at these great clubs and playing in front of an audience.’ We started talking about what that was, and we called it our “club romantech.” And then it was, ‘This is where we want to invite our fans.’ This is an album where we want them to feel exactly how we felt – we want them to be able to cry if they’re sad, but feel pure joy when they’re listening to our music. Club Romantech was born out of us dreaming – a sweet escape.
It’s incredible you were both pregnant at the same time! You were writing the album, you gave birth within 10 days of each other, and this is during lockdown. That must have been such an incredible process. Can you tell me about how it was to experience pregnancy at the same time, and how that impacted the album and your creative process?
Caroline: It’s such a cool process to see your body – and your head – change a lot. We were really emotional with all the hormones, and you’re just thinking about life and about what’s important to you. It definitely changed both of us. It felt like we were more rooted, in a way. Close to our core and our feelings. I think that definitely affected the writing process a lot. We talked about it, and before you have a kid, you don’t know how you’re going to feel afterward. When it comes to how you want to work, and do you want to work – everything – it’s so hard to tell how your body is going to react and feel, and if everything’s going to go well. But it was very cool to see that we both just felt like, ‘Wow, we love music. This is what we want to do, and this is how we want to do it.‘ But it was also very, very cool to see how we changed our way of looking at it because your perspective of what’s important changes so much. Your kid is the most important thing in the world. It’s not the music anymore.
Aino: For the first time in our lives.
Caroline: For the first time in our lives, something else is more important. That’s been very healthy for us. Even work-wise, it’s been really good. We’ve been making better decisions. We don’t have time for bullshit because we love working, but we also want to hang out with our families, and we need to have time for that too. So we’ve been better about appreciating it.
Aino: I feel like when we go on tour – we’re in LA by ourselves right now – you really appreciate that time, but you’re also longing to get home, and you appreciate that as well. Before, when we went home and no one was there, we’d get a little sad.
Caroline: Yeah, we always call it the “touring blues.” You get home and everything is quiet, and you’re like, ‘Who am I?‘ Now, we’re going home to the most important thing in our lives.
How do you balance performing and touring with young motherhood? That must be a completely new experience.
Caroline: It puts a lot of pressure on our team to be able to plan more. Before, we were all over the place. We could be on three different continents in one week. We want to work hard, we love touring and we want to tour, but now, we also need some planning to be able to make it happen. If we go on longer stuff, we want to bring our kids. If it’s just a one-off, then it’s better for them to just be home. But it’s a lot of planning, and we’re thankful we have the best team that can make that happen.
Almost like a production… making sure you have all your ducks in a row.
Caroline: Yeah, but I have to say, I’m really positively surprised that everyone has been so nice and happy for us.
Aino: Because you never know.
Caroline: You never know! 10 years ago, if someone in the industry had a baby, they just disappeared. They came back with a six pack and didn’t talk about it. Very different time. Now, you don’t have to feel like your career is over.
Aino: You can be a proud mom, and you can have a career, and you can still be a sexy woman.
Caroline: You can be a very sexy woman standing on stage and have a baby. I think it’s a very cool time in that way.
You both look amazing! No one would believe that you both recently gave birth.
Both: Thank you!
Caroline: It’s running after the kids.
I understand that you guys sold your house in LA and moved home to Stockholm during the shutdown, and that going back was almost a culture shock for you. Can you tell me about that period of time and how it influenced the album?
Caroline: We’ve been living in different places abroad almost since we started, and we’ve been touring and going nonstop. For us to be forced to sit down in one place–
Aino: And get bored.
Caroline: Get bored, get stuck with the thoughts in our heads, that was very healthy for us. It was the first time in our career that we really sat down and talked about some of the stuff we’ve experienced together. I look back at it now, and it was a very tough time because it was like, ‘What’s happening? Will we ever be able to stand onstage again?’ There were so many people struggling in the world, and you could really feel that there was a lot of anxiety.
Aino: I think that’s why we noticed that when we released “Spa” early on, people got so excited to hear something they could run away to, like a song that was more fun and happy that they could use to escape from reality for a while. It was a really cool thing to be able to connect with people over Instagram live and all those things.
Caroline: We did our “rave spas” in the studio with sheet masks and just played music with our fans who were having their own spas in their homes.
Aino: And they connected so much.
Caroline: So much, yeah. It was so much fun, and it was also a time when it felt like people had an urge to talk about stuff. We could dance, but it would also be like, ‘Hey guys, how are you? Where are you in the world? What are you up to?’ Like, ‘What are your feelings?’ I think it was a beautiful time in that way, even though it was very hard.
There was a 10-year hiatus between your two albums. Was that a conscious decision, or was it more that life got away from you and it just happened that way?
Caroline: Life happened. We’d wanted to do an album for at least a couple of years. We almost had an album ready before the pandemic, but then everything changed and it was just like, ‘What are we going to do now?‘ And then we went to Sweden and wrote a new one. We still took some embryos from the album that was done, but we remade them because we were in a different place. There were a lot of things going on. It’s hard to say no to stuff. When you have great stuff happening and you’re touring, it’s so easy to be like, ‘Okay, but next year we’re going to take a break and write a song, write an album,’ and then it gets pushed to the next year, and then it just keeps on going. Even though we haven’t been releasing albums, we’ve been releasing a lot of music, so we’ve still been very busy. It feels insane when you think about how it’s been 10 years because in one way, it feels like we’ve been a band forever, but in another way, we have this naive, beautiful, everything-is-possible feeling, like we just started a band yesterday. I don’t know how that can be possible, but it is. And it’s such a cool thing.
It is pretty incredible how time flies. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I first interviewed you!
Both: It’s crazy!
Club Romantech sees you going back to your early club and DJ roots. Why did you feel like it was important to go back to the beginning?
Aino: I think it happened pretty naturally.
Caroline: It wasn’t something that we talked about. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s go back.’
Aino: I think it was sitting down and reflecting and just trying stuff out. We didn’t go to a studio like, ‘Let’s write a song that doesn’t have a pop structure.’ I think our rule was to not have rules when we went into the studio. Some songs are just a hook, and nothing else. I think we felt some kind of freedom when we went back to the studio to do whatever we wanted to.
Caroline: I guess that’s our happy place. And if you listen to the melodies, they’re still very poppy melodies. We love pop music and we love really good pop hooks, but we also played around a lot with the production. I feel like we were kind of untraditional creating this album in that way. Sometimes we wrote a hook that we really loved, and then we were like, ‘But let’s treat it like a sample, let’s make a new verse, or maybe this song doesn’t have to have a [pre-chorus], we can just have that hook.‘ It was so liberating to just be in the studio and do what we thought was best for the song. It was very freeing.
Listening to some of the new tracks, something about them really resonates with what you’re saying. Your new track, “Fall in Love” – I saw that the music video was directed by Cassandra Powell, and it’s such a cool video. Tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind that song and the lyrics. What was the message?
Caroline: That song is about when you fall so hard for someone that you get so dizzy, you’re almost nauseous. You’re like, ‘Is it supposed to feel this way? I can barely function. My brain is, like, not here.‘ In that way, that song is a very traditional pop song with a clear love message. But when it comes to the production and the melody and the chorus, I feel like that’s the experimental part of it. We played around a lot with the melody. We just stumbled over a weird note and we were like, ‘Wait, yeah, there’s something interesting in that.‘ And then we tried to keep it and we were like, ‘We love that so much more.‘ And now it feels complete.
Aino: That was kind of a happy mistake.
Caroline: It was a really happy mistake. That song has been one of our favorites since we wrote it, And we were longing to release it for a long time.
The video takes place in an abandoned tower. Was there any purpose or reasoning behind the location for the video?
Caroline: We love a contrast – something gritty with a beautiful sunset or something. That really sparks us.
I love the surreal component of the love lyrics mixed with that very dramatic location.
Jumping forward to your forthcoming North American tour, can you tell us what we can look forward to with that?
Caroline: We will! They’re still working on the dates. But we created a whole new live show and a very cool DJ thing that we’re doing right now. We’re super excited to just get out there and play some music. It’s going to be epic, and we’re bringing everything we’ve got. We’ve been playing this whole summer, and a lot in Scandinavia. Amazing festivals.
Aino: We’ve been DJing a lot.
Caroline: But now we’re going to be based more in the US and tour here, which will be fun.
IC: What do you feel defines an Icona Pop show in 2023? Do you have a vision of what embodies who you are now?
Caroline: I feel like it’s definitely like going to the best club together with us. We do it together with the crowd, so they’d better bring their dancing shoes because it’s one of those shows. It’s a dance party, but it’s also very emotional, and we pour our hearts out. We really do give it all. And now when we play, we have this huge – we call it the “mothership” – we built this really cool table that we have onstage with drum machines, synthesizers, and vocal effects, where we do almost everything ourselves. We are very busy onstage, but we love to challenge ourselves, and it was about time. We’re very, very excited to show this.
IC: I can’t wait to see you perform live. That’s going to be exciting. Congratulations on the new album!
Both: Thank you so much.
Aino: Thanks for having us! The magazine is so much fun.
Interview, Photography and Video by Indira Cesarine @indiracesarine
Makeup: Roberto Morelli @robertomorelli1
Hair: Netty Jordan @nettyjordan
Styling: Indira Cesarine
Styling Assistant: Olivia Moroso
Assistant to Indira Cesarine: Preston Foster
Cover Video Editor: Lijie Xie
Design Assistants: Ashley Fernandez, Lijie Xie