Cover feature: MØ: “You can do anything!”

MØ: “You can do anything!”

Karen Marie Ørsted’s story has been incredible so far. Now, with a summer of festivals - including a slot at Latitude - and a second album on the way, things are only set to get more ridiculous…

“Seriously!?” shouts MØ suddenly, reeling around in a swivel chair in a state of total disbelief. “That’s pretty fucking crazy.” She’s just been informed that when you tot up the total minutes people have spent listening to ‘Lean On’ worldwide, it leaves you enough time to get to Pluto and back. 138 times. The track – her storming team-up with Major Lazer and DJ Snake, and the most streamed song on Spotify, ever, (no biggy) – has a reach beyond all rational comprehension. Pretty fucking crazy stuff indeed.

“It’s super weird to think about…” she ponders, pausing to take stock. “Shit! Thank god for ‘Lean On’,” she concludes, with a comedy shrug.

Things have sped on at asteroid-quick speed for MØ since releasing debut album ‘No Mythologies to Follow’ two years ago, and it’s only now that it’s all started to properly sink in. Originally, she planned to start work on the follow-up back in her homemade recording booth - a makeshift den of blankets at her parents’ house back in Denmark - immediately after putting out her first work. A certain song flipped everything upside down, took previous plans by the scruff of their necks, and drop-kicked every expectation into another galaxy.

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“Shit! Thank god for ‘Lean On’.”

Karen Marie Ørsted

“I started working on it actually straight after finishing [‘No Mythologies To Follow’],” explains MØ, referring to her in-progress second record, “and that’s a while ago now. Due to the whole success of ‘Lean On’ things happened and so it took longer,” she adds. “It took me in different directions, and also opened up doors and all these things, so it’s been a long run.”

New avenues have opened, and then some, with all the speed of the Starship Enterprise’s corridors unfolding during a vessel-wide automatic door malfunction. From the thrilling, left-field pop banger ‘Kamikaze’ – a clear statement of LP2’s gigantic ambitions - to Diplo’s recent cat-out-the-bag revelation that she’s been working with Justin Bieber, everything’s coming up MØ-house.

‘Lean On’

“Maybe three years ago, or even more, DIY interviewed me and asked me about my dream collaboration, and I said Major Lazer,” she remembers, revisiting just how recent stratospheric events first began to unwind. “Someone on Twitter tweeted Diplo, and said ‘please make this happen, you should work with her’. He replied ‘we love her’,” she beams. “So then me and my manager were like, we need to fucking hunt him down and get a session set up.” Hunt him down, she did: cornering the producer in Amsterdam for a day of studio time. The outcome was ‘XXX 88’. “That was the beginning of our collaborations. So thanks, man!” she laughs.

Her recent record-smashing madness with Diplo is all the more surreal considering she didn’t exactly start out with chart domination on her mind. Instead, she first cut her teeth playing rough-and-ready shows in squat venues, her first creative ventures seeing her pen songs with grinningly brash, provocative – and overtly political - titles like ‘Fisse I Dit Fjæs’ (‘Pussy In Your Face’) in punk band MOR. That song remains “one of my favourite songs I ever wrote!”, she grins.

“For many years I was into being an activist.”

Karen Marie Ørsted

Firmly dedicated to the Spice Girls (Sporty Spice in particular) and subversive pop figures like Peaches in equal measure – while adamant that the two can go hand in hand - she spent much of her teens hanging out in Odense’s punk cafes, playing trashy, glittery-soaked electro-punk on Copenhagen’s activist music scene. It’s a far cry from your usual clean-cut pop star beginnings, but then again, there’s very little that’s predictable about MØ.

Every other sentence is flecked liberally with cuss-words like a sweary Jackson Pollock painting, for one. Upon rocking up today, she proudly points out her Sonic Youth t-shirt, bearing the cartoonish cover of their 1990 record ‘Goo’. She’s currently reading a bashed-up copy of Kim Gordon’s memoir, ‘Girl in a Band’, too. “Kim Gordon is a badass for sure!” she announces, loudly. “She was a tomboy, she was a badass! She was rough, unpolished, and so sexy, and such a role model,” she continues, entirely failing to keep her head static as final preparations are underway for her photoshoot. “So fashionable, such a front mover, a girl in the punk rock scene!” she gushes. “I was very not like the classic beautiful little girl, you know?” she asks.”I was a tomboy myself, and I could really relate to her. A great role model, when you’re a girl that is not one of the pretty dancing girls.”

MØ isn’t just inspired by the rebellious spirit and powerhouse force of Kim Gordon either. In fact, it turns out she’s a bit of a badass herself. Over the years she’s designed feminist t-shirts bearing the slogan “Kvinde Kend Din Kusse” (Danish for “Woman Know Your Vagina”), vocally aligned herself with left-wing politics, and interned with Le Tigre member and outspoken LGBT activist JD Samson in New York. She originally called herself MØ – ‘maiden’ or ‘virgin’ in Danish – to deliberately provoke a polarised reaction. Singing middle-finger flipping songs about fucking, fighting, going wild, and smearing herself with gravy (yep, really) in her early days under the moniker, things suddenly clicked for her when she started to write frankly about her own feelings, too. She soon realised that it’s punk to feel powerless sometimes.

‘Kamikaze’

All roads led to ‘No Mythologies to Follow’. As a debut, it’s a euphoric, immediately infectious collection of gaudy, sky-soaring pop, sure, but is also charged with a subtly political pulse. “Oh, what a world I was born into,” bemoans ‘Pilgrim,’ later declaring “all the time I just want to fuck it up,” over parping, sharp-edged horn-stabs. Elsewhere on the record, she’s a “bug in your eardrum,” raging and tired with endless photo-fit billboards, and a tenacious searcher intent on finding something that feels uncynical and real. Much of ‘No Mythologies…’ centres around the confusion of discovering yourself, and then taking on life’s dangerous business square on, win or lose. It’s a personal battle she’s raging, here.

“For many years I was into being an activist,” she says today. “When I look back on the whole thing, and my life before, and everything, it’s so hard to pinpoint. It was ten years of my life, and such a big part of my character-building as a person. It took me to so many places and situations, with different people, thinking about different things and politics. I was in MOR for five years,” she points out, referring to the band she formed aged 17. “All our songs would be extremely political. I also think, coming out after that, it was time for me to talk more about my feelings,” she admits. “My first album was very much to do with being a teenager, and finding yourself, and being lost in this weird life and society. I just think it’s important to talk about something that’s important to you.” she adds as a qualifier. “Don’t pretend to be radical” she says firmly. “It’s more radical to just be yourself.”

The way her second album seems to be shaping up – on the evidence of one-off tracks like ‘Kamikaze’ and ‘Final Song’, anyway – it’s a quest MØ is following with all the determination of Frodo heading for Mount Doom. Except in her case, she’s headed for somewhere altogether more sunny; a heady, branch-twisted rainforest packed to the tree-tops with pure pop.

“Now with the second [album], again, it’s a mix of me analysing myself, and the world, and life….” MØ drifts on, before laughing suddenly and stopping herself in her tracks. “We’ll see what it ends up like!”

If there’s one thing that’s starkly apparent about MØ, it’s that she owns everything she does - even her missteps and fuck-ups. Her and Major Lazer’s ‘Lean On’ video attracted controversy and rightful scrutiny for its flippant hawking of Indian cultural symbols; a criticism that could be levelled at many pop music videos filmed in token exotic locations. But while the likes of Coldplay still remain schtum about their own visual gap years through diluted takes on other cultures, MØ responded with a flat-out admission that she’d messed up. “I should have been more aware,” she told the Fader earlier this year.

‘Final Song’

“Fuck it if you fail! Failure makes you better.”

Karen Marie Ørsted

Looking back on her performance with Iggy Azalea on Saturday Night Live today prompts a knowing look, followed by an amused snort. MØ’s telly debut was a disaster, she freely agrees – a combination of malfunctioning ear monitors, and gyrating male dancers that made her look plain uncomfortable. She had never seemed more lost, and it could have been crushing. For her, it’s another stepping stone. “I learned something from it!” she says. “It’s a fucking TV show, you gotta do fucking in-ears, because otherwise…” she smiles, indicating towards herself. “Be prepared,” she hoots.

Having a crack at something and falling over in the process is, in her opinion, the only way to tread new ground. She’d much rather things be imperfect, and prone to mayhem. “The worst thing I can imagine is to be trapped in the same kind of thing and never move,” she states firmly. “I’d rather go and do something drastic, fail, and then get on top of the horse again, than to just stay safe for the rest of my life. Fuck it if you fail!” she announces. “Failure makes you better. Pull yourself up! Suck it in. Whatever you call it,” she adds. “It always sucks to make mistakes, but I’ve always seen it as a good kind of way to reflect and make a new fresh beginning or something.”

That said, failure isn’t likely to figure when it comes to MØ’s next steps. Despite a few difficulties settling back into an intense writing headspace after years of unrelenting touring, her sole goal now is to “just let go! You can’t think too much about it, you just have to do the music and have the love for making music, rather than thinking about it like ‘What is this?! This is my second album?!’ Blah blah blah…” she says, putting on a theatrical whingeing tone for a second. “I never thought that second album would be hard to do because the songs have always naturally just flowed from me. But the second album is hard! But I feel like I’m getting back into what it is, to the core of why.”

A no-fucks-given figure in the bonkers land of pop – who chucks a big old dose of holographic, iridescent roughness into everything she does - she’s been pondering music’s shift towards an exciting new realm with few boundaries herself. “It’s super exciting!” she says, on the subject of Grimes, Christine and The Queens, Charli XCX and countless other rulebreakers blowing the lid off convention’s usually-limited melting pot. “I feel when I was a teenager, it was like, either you’re into pop, or you’re into the underground,” she ponders. “Maybe this is a wrong observation, but it seems like now because everything is available and on the internet,” she enthuses, “it feels like underground is infiltrating pop music,” she says with a glint, “and getting mixed up. You can do anything, basically. Fuck!”

Insistent that Cher can be rock n’ roll and Moomins are punk, she’s undoubtedly onto something. Zooming to Pluto and back 138 times aboard the good ship ‘Lean On’ is only the start. The way her next steps are shaping up, MØ’s just about ready to crash through the borders of the entire solar system.

MØ plays Latitude Festival on Sunday 17th July.

Taken from DIY’s July 2016 issue, out now. Subscribe below.

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