Over a year ago, I sat down on a train from Didcot to Reading, cracked open a new copy of the NME, flicked hastily to the Radar section, and saw a Danish girl with a moody press shot staring back at me. The same Danish girl who’d graced the cover of Soundvenue a few months previously. When I went back that night, I searched for MØ, and played the only three tracks that featured her on a relentless loop for several hours; debut single ‘Maiden’, follow up ‘Glass’ and a rather shouty, stressful vocal contribution to alternative party anthem ‘Let the Youth Go Mad’ by fellow Copenhageners Broke.
And here we are, one and a half years after MØ, AKA Karen Marie Ørsted, brought her electronic loops, hollas and long blond plait into our lives, she’s about to release her debut album No Mythologies to Follow in one week. She’s nervous. “I’m terrified actually. And freaked out. I’m going through a lot of emotions, because it’s something that’s been a process for so long, with all this buzz and all this talk.” But she’s optimistic: “My producer and I are happy with the album and we feel we can look ourselves in the eye. You never know what people will say or think, but as long as you feel like you were yourself in the process, then I guess you can’t go totally wrong.”
It’s only natural she should feel the pressure. The press coverage for this debut release has been extensive. The singles and high profile collaborations with the likes of Avicii and Diplo have been trickling out for almost two years now, each with even more social media output than the last. There are sidebar ads everywhere on the internet and big summer fixtures in the UK and Denmark. You can hardly move for the artwork; a black and white up close shot of (presumably) Karen’s mouth blowing bubblegum. There’s even a link on her Facebook to help you recreate the photo. It’s a compelling image, and, like the majority of her work, conveys a strong degree of youthful attitude. An appropriate cover then for the album that Karen tells me is “very much about being young and restless and confused, and being a teen in modern world society.”
It perhaps sounds a little cliché, but at the rapid rate of social change currently taking place, MØ’s not wrong to release a ‘young spirited’ record. “It’s called No Mythologies to Follow, and it is very much about the fact that nowadays we don’t have guidelines as we used to. We don’t have religion in the same way either, which I think is good, but it just costs all of us young people that we have to find our own way. The social media becomes sort of like a bible.”
And the difficulty of social media’s quasi-worship is not restricted to its lack of guidelines. “All these social medias are so much about showing the world how great you are. It can still be kind of insane, this glorification of being young and beautiful, being perfect and not showing your flaws. It can be hard to be young and secure in that kind of society where everyone has to be Miss or Mr Perfect.”
Born in 1988, Karen’s teenage years came just before the boom of social media. And sitting behind a computer feeling insecure was the last thing on her mind. “I was a punker. I wore black clothes and went to loads of demonstrations. I was in that posse.” She recently posted a photo of herself and a friend at the local anti fascist cafe in 2003, sporting red, messy curled hair. “I was actually in a punk band for five years, and we toured Europe and Scandinavia. We also played in New York four times. But that was very underground of course.” It seems far away from the electronic fused pop tracks MØ’s released. “When I was seven or eight years old, that was when I started making music, because of the Spice Girls. So back before I turned a teenager, I was obsessed with pop music. The punk has been a big part of my life too, but I can’t run from the fact I’ve been a big pop girl.”
Karen’s adoration of and inspiration from the Spice Girls has been almost as well documented in her interviews as her alias. And it’s hardly surprising; she brought up the topic with me without any prompt. Clearly, talking about Sporty and Scary excessively has not diminished her admiration. She spread her love of girl power further recently by releasing a cover of ‘Say You’ll Be There’, complete with VHS footage of a young Karen and friends performing a routine in appropriate costume. “When I look back at me and my friends, we were all totally obsessed with the Spice Girls, like every other girl at that time. It was really cool because they were really preaching some cool messages, about girl power and about sticking with your friends, and fuck the guys if they don’t see you as what you are. I think that’s great. I think that’s a better message to send out to little girls than “you should be sexy and have every man under control.” Fuck that. I prefer “go have fun and be fucking fabulous the way you are.”
Among the artists MØ has been compared to is fellow female singer Grimes, who has in the past made statements about the sexism she’s experienced in the music industry. Following our conversation about girl power, I ask Karen whether she herself identifies as a feminist: “It’s so hard; I’ve been in this leftist environment for so many years, and I think sometimes the word ‘feminism’ can be very misunderstood. There are a lot of people who think when you say you’re a feminist that you believe you’re better than men or you think men are evil. And that’s so not the case. Men and women are equal. We are different in nature of course, that’s why there are males and females, but I don’t tend to call myself a feminist.”
She is, however, fed up with the current situation for young women. “I think you should preach some good things to the new generation of girls. For instance, I think it’s wrong to say that you should be good in school, look fabulous, be good at sports, be good in social matters and you should be good with kids and animals: It’s too much. Being perfect is about embracing what you’re good at, and what’s ‘you’, embracing your flaws and making them beautiful because you believe in yourself.” She laughs at herself. “I know this sounds very cheesy; a lot of girls, myself included, want to look good, but not just for the male, for yourself as well.”
And she does look good. Really good. But it’s not the typical look for a female pop star. It’s trainers and sports jackets and gold chains. It’s laid back. It’s very, very Danish. And it works because it’s believable. “People are tired of all this fakeness in the music industry. When I was growing up I wanted to fit in and look good and be perfect, but I realised very early that I cannot be something that I’m not. That would be horrible. And if I were to attempt to be the great looking doll with loads of make up and big high heels and miniskirts, it would just look horrible. People wouldn’t like looking at me because it would be so wrong. From the start of all this I’ve tried to embrace what I feel comfortable doing and wearing. Otherwise I would fail miserably.”
Despite having a wealthy music scene in Denmark and Scandinavia, breaking into the UK scene is tough, and it’s something MØ, despite having a name not one Englishman can pronounce, has done. However, she’s determined to not abandon her roots in the Danish music scene, and quick to declare it as something she’s proud to be a part of. “I think it’s really cool. I think something great is going on in the Danish scene. It’s really cool because Denmark is a small country; you know each other and you help each other out. The Danish music scene is very good at making great underground music. But it also seems as though there are a lot of people making music with a lot of change over, it can be very underground, but can have this pop thing going, and be popular whilst it’s still edgy.”
We finish up by talking about the difference between English and Danish crowds, and Karen uses aural descriptors to show the distinction. Apparently, Denmark is more like “hmmm” whereas the UK is more like “ooh ah whoa!” As with everything that has come out of Karen’s mouth during the interview, it’s cripplingly endearing. MØ is multi-faceted. She’s edgy and tough, sweet and honest, and incredibly intelligent. It’s not only her talent that’s led to her success in the past year, which doesn’t look set to diminish anytime soon with the release of No Mythologies to Follow next week. This girl crush comes with real girl power.
MØ’s debut album, No Mythologies to Follow, will be released on the 10th of March, on RCA Records.