Karen Marie Ørsted knew she’d be spending 2020 in relative isolation. She just didn’t realise the rest of the world would be doing the same. 2019 had concluded with the singer - better known as MØ - ready for some serious downtime after a whirlwind seven years that ended with two highly-acclaimed LPs and a clutch of high-profile collaborations with Major Lazer (including ‘Lean On’ with DJ Snake and ‘Cold Water’ with Justin Bieber) that, between them, have been streamed nearly two billion times. It’s not a bad result for somebody who was writing songs in her bedroom less than a decade ago, and yet that’s precisely where she spent a good chunk of the past year.
“I’ve just been writing new music and chilling,” the affable singer says over the phone from her native Denmark. “It’s been a very big life change, going from travelling, and playing shows, and being surrounded by people all the time, to being kind of cut off from the rest of the world back here, just spending time with friends and family. It’s felt like coming back to my old life in a way - which is great, but super strange. I’ve had this crazy life for seven years, and now I’m a grown-up all of a sudden.”
MØ wrestled with the transition to adulthood on her second album, 2018’s ‘Forever Neverland’ - the title of which was a nod to Peter Pan syndrome. Now in her early thirties, she appears to have cleared that particular hurdle, only for another reckoning to arrive: this time, she’s been wrestling with the aftermath of a breakneck seven years of recording and touring that, at times, saw self-care fall by the wayside in favour of a continuing sense of momentum.
“That’s really what most of these new songs are about,” she explains. “During all these years of running and running and running, I never really questioned whether or not I could keep going. When I finally decided to take this break at the end of 2019, I was really burned out. I realised that you need to take time to restore and rebuild yourself or you’ll just end up looping around on the hamster wheel forever. That was something I’d neglected.”
“[The new music is] about both the sadness and the joy of making changes in your life.”
Themes of rebirth and replenishment run through ‘Motordrome’, her upcoming third album, due for release later in 2021 (she’s reluctant to set a date until she knows she can keep it, after ‘Forever Neverland’ was delayed multiple times). Lead single ‘Live to Survive’ has already given listeners a taste of what to expect: defiant euphoria, on a track she describes as “an empowerment song, the message is, ‘I’ve had some scratches, but I’m back’.” Meanwhile, a couple of as-yet-unreleased cuts hint at stylistic wanderlust; ‘Kindness’ lays a slick synthpop template over a handsome string section, whilst the melodic electronica of ‘New Moon’ is built around a killer hook.
For her own part, MØ characterises ‘Motordrome’ as “dark disco”. “I’ve always loved that - pop music that has some darkness and heaviness to its themes, but with an uplifting pop spirit. I’m obviously experimenting with different elements and genres, because I’m an artist who jumps around a little bit, but the message is quite cohesive I think, which is that it’s about both the sadness and the joy of making changes in your life.”
She’s switched up her musical approach, too; in the popular imagination, the stratospheric success of those Major Lazer hookups, as well as past work with Elliphant, Iggy Azalea and Diplo, might mean that casual observers think her stage name is actually ‘feat. MØ’. On ‘Motordrome’, though, there are no features (‘Forever Neverland’ boasted turns from Charli XCX and Empress Of) and she’s worked solely with Danish producers. For MØ, it was a case of forging her own path, and reclaiming her identity.
“I love collaborating, and you can definitely put a lot of your own point of view into it, but I think I lost a little bit of myself over the years without really knowing it had happened. I’ve learned a lot about how I want things to sound, and once I figured out what I wanted to get out of ‘Motordrome’ sonically, and once the thematics began to fall into place in my mind, then it became easier to direct the producers - ‘This is what I’m looking for, this is what I want to reference’. I don’t need people to guide me the same way I did when I was starting out.”
The kind of record that she HAS made with ‘Motordrome’, however, is very much a MØ one, in that it sounds at once contemporary and also not quite like anything else around. “I just wanted to write something that would help me set my own boundaries, and keep me out of toxic situations, and I think I’ve done that,” she muses. “The pop landscape moves really quickly now, and I feel like I’ve just been here in Denmark, in isolation, working on these songs and kind of not paying attention to everything else that’s been going on.”
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