Loreen was my favorite interview ever. (I don’t say that lightly.) In person, she’s colorful, articulate and wise — radiating the same kind of primal energy that made her a star all over Europe. For the uninitiated, the Swedish pop chanteuse was rocketed to global stardom in 2012 with her Eurovision-winning single “Euphoria” (for my money, the best song of the year, buoyed by a series of witchy, mystical performances that feel supernatural in their intensity), then dropped the great, underrated, why-wasn’t-this-released-in-America LP Heal.
She’s since followed it up with the new single “We Got The Power,” penned by Ester Dean, but that Rihanna pedigree is misleading — in Loreen’s hands,with production from Patrik Berger (Robyn‘s “Dancing On My Own,” among others), it’s transformed into a political anthem, a rallying cry, a call to action that’s bold and triumphant. (Incidentally, she was on her way to Afghanistan to do human rights work when we spoke; she’s internationally notable for her progressivism.)
I met Loreen at a hotel in downtown Stockholm to talk about, well, everything: Her journey since Eurovision, where she’s headed on her next album and — to my surprise — why she was elated that “Euphoria” never caught on in the United States.
Heal is a surprisingly moody record, given how straightforward pop Eurovision winners tend to be; the closest touchstone I can think of is Kleerup‘s self-titled album from 2008, vaguely spaced-out, ambient electropop with downtempo vibes. Loreen told me that it didn’t happen that way by accident: “That period of my life, when I wrote the songs on that album, was a phase where everything I did, everything I touched — I was just drawn to melancholy,” she said. “I couldn’t sing a happy song.”
As for her Eurovision debut? That, on the other hand, was entirely planned: “I didn’t know about Eurovision,” she laughed. “I didn’t know about Melodifestivalen [the Swedish competition]. I didn’t know shit about it. I didn’t have a television. So it was actually through a friend who knew the producer.”
When “Euphoria” became a global smash in the wake of her Eurovision success, she says, there was pressure for her to launch the song in America — since it wasbut as it turns out, that wasn’t something that she wanted it at all.
“I was happy about that,” she said about the fact that “Euphoria” wasn’t released in the United States. “I didn’t want it to be released in the States. This is going to sound strange, but I see it as a European song. I don’t want Euphoria to be my first introduction to the States. And I don’t know why. It’s just a feeling that I have. They asked me, ‘Do you want it to be released?’ And I was praying to God — I can’t let it be this song.”
If her next record is likelier to take her stateside, she didn’t sound worried about cultural barriers. “Music is like different languages we speak,” she said. “If you want to speak to people, I feel you have to find things we have in common. Common ground. To me, music is about being connected. It’s about language. It’s a language that most of us have.”
But her signature sound — a kind of tribal dance-pop that’s soaked in sadness — might not carry over to her sophomore set. “I’m in a more hopeful place now,” she said. “I guess that’s natural.”
As she begins working with a new crop of producers, she explained that the formula is bound to change. “The sound is different,” she said. “I would say it’s much dirtier. It’s not so perfect. Some people when they record, they want it all to be perfect, but I’m actually looking for the primitive part. When you sing from the heart, you don’t really think. You just tell the truth about yourself. How would you sound if you were actually sad? I’m experimenting with that.”
She smiled. “I’m just trying to tell the truth better than the album before.”