Swedish artist Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, known by her stage name Tove Lo, may be one of the most appropriate artists to headline Los Angeles Pride. Sure, her songs are catchy, fun and emotional, but more important, she's an artist who has advocated for LGBT inclusion and female empowerment both on- and offstage. Identifying as bisexual herself, she's ready to celebrate with her people on Sunday, June 10, as the second female headliner of this year's L.A. Pride Festival (Kehlani headlines Saturday night).
"I think for me, [Pride is] just really something I love to be a part of — I think it's one of the festivals that really stands for things that I love to stand for, which is freedom and love," says Tove Lo, who also headlines New York Pride at the end of the month alongside Kylie Minogue. "I think that [Pride] is a way to stand up for [being] ourselves, [loving whomever] we want, [using] whatever bathroom [we want] without anyone telling us we can't just because of how they think."
Indeed, Tove Lo has been making art about freedom and love since she broke into the mainstream pop landscape with her top-3 mega-hit, "Habits (Stay High)," in 2013. After graduating from a music high school in Stockholm, where she gained admission based on academic merit and an audition, she was the "typical struggling, lost artist for a few years" before landing a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell. She found considerable success writing songs for other artists, including "Love Me Like You Do" for Ellie Goulding.
"I wanted something out there that was just my own, so I [wrote and recorded some music] as my little passion project on the side. I released 'Habits' and then it just took off, and from there it's been nonstop," Tove Lo says.
Since the song's debut, Tove Lo has been vocal about feminism and sexuality. In 2014, for example, she tweeted, “Gay/Bi/Straight don’t matter.” In 2015, her music video for the song "Timebomb" off her debut album, Queen of the Clouds, featured couples of all different races, ages and sexual orientations. Her last two albums, which go together as a two-piece concept album, were called Lady Wood and Blue Lips. She's also been known to flash the audience while onstage.
"I thought it was kind of funny to do a play on male [slang], like you've got balls," Tove Lo says about her last two album titles. "There's so many phrases that you could own and be like I'm a sexual being for men, but there's not as many for women when it's not like slut or something like that. … If you're a woman who's sexual and shows it, it doesn't mean that your opinion should be in any way less valued or that you're not as smart as someone who doesn't show her tits onstage. As soon as someone is sexual, you stop taking them seriously with women, [but] not with men the same way, and I feel like it doesn't make sense to me."
In today's political climate, despite headlines about the Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys, Tove Lo has still received some criticism about how boldly she presents her sexuality.
"With #MeToo, I've gotten a few interesting questions, like, don’t you feel that right now is not really the time to be as sexual as you are? I'm like no, this is definitely the time to be that, because otherwise you're just responding to it [from the perspective of] women [having] to change again for this to go away," Tove Lo says. "I tend to not try and get too affected by what people say but I thought it was really funny that so many were just so shocked over the dirtiness of the lyrics. [People] have said: 'Lady Wood, [do] you mean female hard-on? Oh my God, you're so dirty,' like this never happens in pop. This happens all the time in pop, I don't know why this is such a big deal."
Despite this pushback the "Talking Body" singer has gotten from some people, she insists that she would never change her art to suit anyone.
"It's always been second nature for me, and honestly, it wasn’t until spending more time outside of Sweden that I realized here [sex is] more of a political statement that's very radical," Tove Lo says. "For me, showing me making out with girls and guys in my video or showing gay couples and mixed couples, I never thought that would be seen as controversial. I always want to do that. I would never try to push it the other way to make some people who I don’t even agree with more comfortable. [Those] aren't people I'm going to care about or try to win over to my [fan base]. If they don't agree with those thoughts and those values, we probably shouldn’t be talking [and] they're not going to like my music anyway."
It's precisely this fearlessness and boldness about her sexuality and womanhood that has allowed Tove Lo to amass a huge gay following.
"I'm obviously very open about me and my sexuality and see it as something to be proud of and excited about and not something that's changeable," she says. "I grew up with a very liberal family in a very liberal country, where to me there was never anything shameful or bad about being gay or not following the norm of heterosexuality. But if you've grown up in like a small town where maybe it's less common and less accepted, there is a level of shame that you feel before you've accepted yourself. I think just getting rid of that shame around sexuality in general is very freeing. The openness and comfort in that is something that my gay fans see."
And there's no better place for the LGBT community to be open and comfortable about their sexuality than at Pride. "I think that Pride really celebrates our choices to be ourselves and embrace [others] who maybe have struggled with it in the past but now have found a way to accept themselves and love themselves," Tove Lo says. "I just think that's a beautiful thing." So what can fans expect from her set at L.A. Pride?
"They can expect the usual emotional rave party with a hint of nudity and some surprises," Tove Lo says. "I go through every emotion onstage and … I'm pretty loose up there. It's not very thought out, it's very impulsive, everything I do. I like to just go with the flow in the moment and not plan too much."
Tove Lo also revealed that she's doing a new version of "Bitches" from her latest album with a bunch of other female artists, which will be released right before Pride. "[It's] a song with a lot of humor about how I'll be better at eating pussy out than this guy who brags about knowing it perfectly. I know it better because I know my body and I've eaten more pussy than [him]," she says.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Tove Lo also said that after Pride, she'll be back in the studio writing a bunch of new music as well as shooting a short film for the Blue Lips album. In the meantime, she's ready to play songs from the album for her LGBT fans and their allies at Pride.
"The whole record is just about emotions and feelings and the roller coaster of finding yourself, feeling lost and trying to escape your thoughts," she says. "[It's about] not sticking to the norm or following the rules, [about] discovering [yourself], loving who [you] want and [sleeping] with who you want." And isn't that what Pride is all about?
Tove Lo headlines L.A. Pride on Sunday, June 10. Get more information here.
Editor's note: Leaders from L.A. Pride helped curate content showcasing the local LGBT community for the June 8-14 issue of L.A. Weekly.