The year is 2012, and Swedish artist Loreen has just secured a triumphant Eurovision win with the inimitable “Euphoria”. The arm-heavy choreography, the radio mic, the soaring chorus – call it a cultural reset or whatever, but it sticks in the mind: When I told friends that I was going to interview Loreen, everyone jumped in with their own memories of her performance, and how staggering it is to see her compete in Eurovision again, 11 years after her initial win.
Loreen is instantly open and warm when we meet. We’re at Gymbox Farringdon for a Muay Thai masterclass – her suggestion, not mine – run by the formidable trainer Paul Bossman. I am slightly hungover (of the three-beer kind, rather than the seven-shots kind) but it just about feels acceptable. Last night, I was at her show at London’s Heaven, where crowds of delirious queers, myself included, screamed every word of the now-iconic track to the club rafters.
Before we practice our left hook, we find a quiet-ish corner just far enough away from the fist-pumping beat of house music to really unpack the decision to return to Eurovision with “Tattoo”, another slice of thunderous Scandi pop. The 39-year-old singer grew up in Stockholm – the daughter of two Moroccan Berber immigrants – before moving to Västerås, appearing on a Swedish talent competition called Idol in 2004, and continuing to make a name for herself as an artist while working in various arms of the TV industry.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Loreen’s decision to return to the contest had been in the works for a while, but it turns out that her single “Tattoo” was the catalyst – and it was her instinctual connection with the track that came first, with the offer to re-compete coming second.
In person, the bookies’ favourite to win laughs often and is calmer than you’d expect from someone about to sing in front of 180m people. Talking with her feels like chatting with a long-distance friend who just happens to be in your city. And once we take off the boxing gloves – me drenched in sweat, Loreen not so much – I know that if her performance in the ring is anything to go by, her Eurovision showing will be a knockout.
VICE: How was the experience of playing at Heaven?
Loreen: That was amazing, you know! I heard about this club so I was very excited, but it went beyond my expectations, darling!
There was a lot of palpable queer joy in the room! How does it feel to perform to a UK crowd?
I longed to perform here. I knew intuitively it was my vibe – people are open here and they like to have fun, and they love diversity. Yesterday proved my intuition, like, ‘I knew it!’
It felt completely correct, even from the audience. My mates and I were screaming from the balcony!
They were singing the songs, man!
I was going to ask you, do you have any pre-show rituals?
I have two that I do – pretty easy! One is to be completely alone, totally silent with my in-ear [headphones] on, which sets me into this meditative state. I need to be completely in my own body before I go out. And there are certain spiritual songs I listen to because I’m a nomad from the Atlas Mountains [in Morocco] and we have songs called gnawa. I listen to the same song over and over again… You should ask my team! They’re like, “How long is she going to listen to this song for?” I listen for like 45 minutes.
Does it have a vocal?
Yes! It’s like chanting. It goes around the same road, and at one point you’re just in it. You’re out of whatever is going on around you, and you’re in that space.
Performing is such an energy-giving, emotional and draining thing – to have those ways of grounding yourself pre-show must be so important.
It’s so interesting that you say “draining” because it sounds so negative, but life is like that: You give and take all the time. The problem is if we are just giving and we don’t have anywhere to take it; then we’re like, “Oh, I feel tired now”. On stage, the crazy thing is like, “yeah I am giving, but I’m also receiving.” This is very spiritual – you can feel when the audience is not vibing with you. That’s when you’re just giving.
That’s when you need a nap!
Most definitely, it goes around like that. I feel stuff like that!
We are about to go on a Thai boxing date, is this something you’ve done before?
I actually have!
I’m worried too, I saw the guy that is going to train us and I was like, “He’s gonna kick my ass.” It’s your fault, aha! I’ve done aikido and regular boxing as well as Thai boxing – the moves are very beautiful.
What’s your ideal first date?
If you’re going on a date with me, we are probably going to talk a lot and will have connected on some level. On the first real date, I appreciate small details where the person has listened to what I have said, so it could be anything! I had one date way back – I don’t have any dates anymore, my sex life is over, now I'm a monk! – but I was talking about the forest and how I love nature so much. Our first date was this beautiful spot in the middle of fucking nowhere. It was just so beautiful and very simple. He had some wine with him, and everything was all about these details we had spoken about!
I love that so much! Do you live close to nature?
I do, very very close. Now and then there’s a storm and I can’t go anywhere, and I have to take care of the house – I'm really up in the forest. The house has its own warming system and you have to take care of it. It's a really old house, and might have one or two ghosts!
I think in general people are becoming more connected to nature, especially when living in a big city.
I think it's something collectively that’s happening. You can tell after COVID there was a longing for nature. Nature is like one big gift of energy, you take one walk and you restore your batteries.
How do you remain connected to nature when you’re touring and travelling?
I’m a purpose-driven person, and the way I see my job and my creativity is also organic in nature. In my work, I come in with that kind of energy and I connect with people because that’s what we are supposed to do: connecting! You’re not supposed to be all alone in the forest.
When I feel drained, I take myself away for a few days, because otherwise, every meeting that I have is not authentic. I do it out of respect for myself and the people I'm meeting. Apart from being creative, the meeting people and sharing part is the bit that I love! It's something collective – as a human race, it empowers us and gives us the energy to take care of each other.
Movement and theatrics are such an important part of your live show. Is this something we are going to see as part of your return to Eurovision performance this year?
Yeah, you will, because it’s not only the song, it's the whole experience! That’s what I am all about! If you want to have a positive constructive impact, it has to be all the senses. Something you see, something you hear, something you smell, something you feel… all of that!
How has all the prep been? Are you excited to be creating something that is on such a wild scale again?
I really am! When I was performing the song, I knew what it was going to look like. When I presented the idea to my people, they were like, “What are you doing, what the fuck is this, it’s just pictures of nature?” I was like “Exactly: sunsets, and sunrises… This is what I’m going to create.” The performance is a reminder of nature: My nails are made out of stone, I'm laying in a sand bed; there’s the sky, the mist and the wind... When you look at it it's very abstract, if you look closer you’re like “I’ve seen this somewhere”.
I love the nails, they are incredibly iconic.
There’s a lot of energy that comes from the hands. When I’m playing around with my hands, I’m playing with energy!
It’s been 11 years since you won Eurovision. If you could give your 2012 self any advice, what would it be?
“It’s gonna happen again” – aha! I would say: “You are in the right place and you always will be, even though it doesn’t feel like that. The things that are happening right now, are meant to happen. Accept the ride – it’s going to help you later on.”
We always try and rush ourselves, so I think that’s excellent advice.
Today I’m looking at some of the struggles I’ve had, and I’m like, if I hadn’t had those struggles, I wouldn’t be able to cope with what I’m doing now, which is fucking crazy!
How did the song “Tattoo” come to be?
I have some friends I write with – the people who wrote “Euphoria” – and every now and then they send me audios of the melody, the verse, or just a sound. I remember clearly – this was last year and it was late at night – an email come through and I was like, “What’s that?” I listened to it for 30 seconds. I had to shut down the song because it was so overwhelming!
I sensed something that was very familiar. I was like “I've felt this energy before”. This is the spiritual part of me – and it scared me, because I now know that what I felt was that I was going to do something with this song. Certain things happen when you have a connection. You listen to the song two or three times and it’s yours – the process of recording the song is almost one take.
We have this idea that a creative process is supposed to be a struggle, but it’s the other way around. You’re not in the right space if you’re struggling with creativity. When I have people coming into the studio like “we are going to make a hit”, the vibe is killed! When it’s the right thing, it just flows. If you look up the biggest hits, the majority of them were written really fast.
What about the future excites you the most?
There are so many different ways to create – for some people, it's intimate and personal and that’s how they share. But my favourite space to be in is creating something – a connection between me and other people. This is what I love the most! I create because I want a connection. I look forward to creating these beautiful spaces and energy that connects me to you and connects us to nature.
I don't think you can be constructive and make a change when you’re in a space of fear. Creativity is so important because it's so hard to be negative in a creative space! That’s one of the reasons I said yes to doing Eurovision. My initial reaction when they asked me to consider competing was: “No, why!?” It took me a couple of weeks to realise what I was going to do.
It speaks volumes to your character to not just do Eurovision for the sake of it.
I’m doing it because it feels important. I love the idea of families and friends gathering, [to be like] “I believe in her” or “I hate her”. Those conversations have a playful energy – it creates this beautiful energy for all of us to be a part of something.
People are getting so excited! I’m going to have a little watching party!
It’s gonna be so much fun! [laughs] I’m so nervous, aha!
I can give you some pub recommendations!
Are you sure you want to give me pub recommendations before I go on stage – I’ll be like “There was this journalist who told me to come here”, aha!
I’m imagining afterwards, ha.
Oh for sure, there will be a pub afterwards. Since November, I’ve been practicing [the performance] and have been focusing mind, body and soul – no kidding, every detail! If you’re all over the place, the energy is distorted. It demands focus. You’re out there affecting so many people, and you know in your heart you have to use it in the right way. There's power in that!
Thanks Loreen. Good luck with Eurovision!