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Icona Pop Are Here to Show They're More Than Just a Hit Single

We talked to the Swedish pop duo about coming down from "I Love It," recording their second album, and touring North America with One Direction.
July 31, 2015, 1:16pm

It took a hot minute for the glitter dust to settle after Icona Pop’s massive hit “I Love It” first blew up in 2012. The Swedish duo’s bratty burst of electro-pop became an anthem for the collective "fuck you" of millenial feminists at the time, especially after Lena Dunham’s character famously danced around to it in a scene on "Girls." The success of that particular track alone catapulted unknown songwriters Caroline Hject and Aino Jawo from obscurity to Sweden’s highest selling band of all time. To make it so far so quickly, surpassing the likes of Robyn and ABBA no less, takes some serious pop acumen.

However, it’s an all too familiar story when a single of that magnitude becomes bigger than the band itself. The only real way to keep that from happening is to evolve beyond it. But if the first single to drop from their forthcoming sophomore album is any indication, Icona Pop have done just that. If you were expecting another “I Love It,” don’t. Instead, "Emergency" is a sleek and jazzed-up avant-banger that goes down like a dry martini as opposed to Icona's round-of-shots debut record Manners.

We caught up with Caroline Hjelt, one half of Icona Pop, to discuss the new album, coming down from “I Love It,” and what it’s like to open for the most beloved pop band in the world, One Direction.

Noisey: Hi Caroline! So how's it feel to be one half of the biggest selling band in Sweden? Did you ever see this coming?
Caroline Hjelt: I mean, when you put it like that it feels very good. [Laughs] Me and Ina met a couple of years ago now—almost seven years ago and it’s insane when you think about we started our band a day after we met. And we had our first show three weeks after we met. We really, we were dreaming so big and we always set out goals very high, but still we had to pinch ourselves in the arms a lot of times daily because we’re like wow, we’re performing in front of all of these people these people are listening to our music and we feel very very honored for that.

I’m sure. How did it feel to see “I Love It” blow up like that?
CH: That was insane. It was crazy. We didn’t get it until very late.

What do you mean?
CH: I mean, for example, we went to Australia, we were supposed to perform at a festival and the people with the golf carts that were supposed to take us to the stage. But they took us to the wrong stage and there was no one there. We were like, “Welp. Okay.” You know, you have to start somewhere, right? We were just about to go on stage and someone grabbed us and were like, “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the other stage” And they drive us to the main stage and people are singing “I Love It” and it’s so many thousands of people. We were like, “Wow we’re in Australia. People listen to our music here?” It was so hard to catch up because everything happened to fast.

Do you feel pressure to write another smash hit of that level? What was it like when the hype came down a little bit and it was time for the second album?
CH: I think it was very needed because we were going nonstop. We were working, working, working, working and it was needed that it come down a little bit so we have time to write new music. Because we were just touring around. And “I Love It” opened so many doors for us, so I don’t think we feel the pressure because we don’t want to make another “I Love It” of course. We want to keep on going as artists and we want to make new music that doesn’t sound the same so I think we’re more inspired and now when we release something we’ll know that people listen. Or we would have made more albums and no one would have listened because they didn’t know we existed.

Right. You guys definitely hit the scene in a big way very quickly. On a different note, your new song “Emergency” is very different from “I Love It." Can you give us any hints about who you’re working with or what direction you’ll be going in?
CH: It’s just amazing to write on the new album. I wish we could say everything now because we’re very proud of what we have so far. We’ve been working a lot with Wallpaper. We’ve been trying to be in the studio with people we love and just have fun and try to not feel and pressure, really take our time. And it’s hard because I mean our schedule is crazy but the studio is the only time we shut our phones off go in there and write the songs, so it feels very good. And hopefully we will be done pretty soon. I wish I could tell you more but I can’t.

That’s OK. Do you think people will sense a stylistic evolution between your first and second albums?
CH: I definitely think there’s a couple songs people will find very new, and fresh, and “Ooo! What’s this?” You know? And it’s funny because we always write on tour, but then we finish the songs in the studio because it’s very hard to finish songs on tour. And the journey to listen through everything we’ve been writing when we’ve just been touring about the world and we’re like “Oh! I forgot, I remember that was in Paris. Ah! That was in New York that night we were..” It’s like little stories coming together.

How fun. Speaking of tour, what’s it been like to tour with One Direction?
CH: It’s been amazing. It’s been so much fun. The guys are such sweethearts and they made us feel very welcome all the way from the beginning and their fans, they’ve all just been very welcoming and we couldn’t be happier. It’s really really fun.

Were you guys big One Direction fans before this?
CH: I mean I did not know all the songs that I know now. And we have a lot of mutual friends and the ones I knew I thought were pretty good but now I found some new songs that I’m really jamming.

What has been the most surprising thing about touring with them?
CH: How down to earth they are, I guess. Maybe that wasn’t really surprising but it’s always very refreshing. That they can be like that. They’re just awesome guys.

How does this tour feel different than when you traveled with Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus?
CH: It’s so hard to say because it’s so different, like, types of artists and people. But I guess it’s different in that way that maybe this crowd is a little bit like- it’s a little bit younger and they’ve been growing up with the guys. So that’s been an experience to get to know them and realize how devoted they are and stuff like that.

Ann Sophia Madson did your costumes on your last tour with Miley and now you’re working with the B Akerlund. The costumes are so robo-chic! What led you to her?
CH: We worked with her in our “Emergency” video and we just reached out to her because we love her. We think she’s awesome and we needed someone to help us. Because we love clothes and expressing ourselves, but it’s easy to fall into your comfort zone a little bit, so we needed someone to just push it. But these costumes were actually made in Sweden, because we were in Sweden rehearsing. And together with our stylist in Sweden. And yes he’s just amazing, his name is Cristoph Islander. And he’s the funniest, and punkiest dude you could ever find with tattoos all over and studs all over.

Her look is kind of steam-punk.
CH: Yeah, it’s been amazing working with other Swedes.

So you’ve got B Akerlund in one corner and you have One Direction in the other. I think we can expect big things from this album and tour.
CH: I do too!

Check out the remaining tour dates below to catch Icona Pop and One Direction.

07/21 – Commonwealth Stadium – Edmonton, AB
07/24 – Investors Group Field – Winnipeg, MB
07/26 – TCF Bank Stadium - Minneapolis, MN
07/28 – Arrowhead Stadium - Kansas City, MO
07/31 – Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, IN
08/02 – Heinz Field - Pittsburgh, PA
08/05 – MetLife Stadium - East Rutherford, NJ
08/08 – M&T Bank Stadium - Baltimore, MD
08/18 – Ohio Stadium - Columbus, OH
08/23 -– Soldier Field - Chicago, IL
08/25 – Miller Park - Milwaukee, WI
08/27 – FirstEnergy Stadium - Cleveland, OH
09/01 – Lincoln Financial Field - Philadelphia, PA
09/03 – Ralph Wilson Stadium - Buffalo, NY
09/05 – Olympic Stadium – Montreal, QC
09/08 – Canadian Tire Centre – Ottawa, ON
09/09 – Canadian Tire Centre – Ottawa, ON
09/12 – Gillette Stadium - Foxborough, MA