It’s only once I’m on the bus, and it’s speeding through Soho in the pouring rain, that I start questioning what I’m about to do. I’d agreed to do karaoke, with the Danish musician MØ, but only in the abstract sort of way you book a hairdresser's appointment for the distant future. I hadn’t really thought about it properly. I hadn’t thought about how she’s a world renowned popstar who has collabed with everyone from Justin Bieber to Charli XCX and Ariana Grande. And now I was going to be singing with her – drowning out her lovely voice with my horrible one – both of us having never met each other, probably relatively sober, on a Monday night at 6PM.
First, a little bit about MØ: the singer, songwriter and producer – real name Karen Marie Ørsted – has been around for a few years. She started off playing in this thrash-punk band called Mor as a teen (their freaky DIY vids are still on YouTube), before making a segue into electro-pop; her debut album No Mythologies To Follow became a staple of the genre in 2014. In the years since, though, she’s become much more well-known. “Lean On” – the track she co-wrote with Major Lazer – is one of the best-selling and most streamed singles of all time, and “Cold Water”, with Major Lazer and Justin Bieber, reached number 1 in 20 countries on the first week of release.
But it’s her second album that I’m personally most excited about. Forever Neverland came out last Friday 19 October (we meet a few days beforehand) and it’s easily one of the best pop records of the year, imo. MØ has always been especially good at writing earworm hooks and combining them with weird alt-pop beats and emotive vocals – but on this album, she leans even closer to that signature sound. Songs like “Blur” and “Beautiful Wreck” and “Hollywood” soak you in pure colour, their vivid lyrics about new crushes and soured romance and Californian dreams delivered in a voice that goes from syrupy soft to ferocious in the length of a line. Like Lana and Lorde before her, MØ has made a fully-formed collection; something that deserves being absorbed from beginning to end.
Anyway, back to the karaoke. I needn’t have worried about it. Before I arrive, I receive an email from her publicist saying she’s been really looking forward to this and can we please sing “Teenage Dirtbag” to which I reply “yes.” When I get there, she greets me with an enthusiastic hug and sort of bounces up and down like a pogo stick. Her energy is infectious. Suddenly I, too, feel excited to spend the evening screaming a bunch of pop punk and grunge tracks with someone I’ve known for five minutes. We order drinks to get in the karaoke vibe (her: Heineken, me: Jack Daniels) and deliberate over which songs to sing before fully giving them our all in the booth.
Over the course of one hour, we plough through Wheatus, Green Day, No Doubt, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, RHCP and multiple songs by Blur. At one point, during “Under the Bridge”, MØ starts harmonizing with my off-tune droning during the line “And I don’t ever wanna feeeel, like I did that day / take me to the place I looove, take me all the way” and I am looking at her, and she is looking at me, and I am thinking to myself that this "duet" is possibly the most therapeutic activity I have done all year. Fuck paying £50 to speak to a stranger about your problems. Just spend the same amount of money on a karaoke booth instead, and emerge feeling revitalised, unencumbered, free, light (I mean, professional therapy is prob better, but you get what I mean.)
Eventually we both run out of steam and decide to sit beneath one of the disco balls in the booth and have a proper chat. At this point we’re probably quite tipsy so our conversation is a little meandering.
Noisey: So, you said there aren’t many karaoke places like this in Denmark, what the hell!
MØ: No! To this day, I don’t think there’s much karaoke over there – even in Copenhagen. Honestly, I sometimes suggest to my friends to find a karaoke place and they’re like “ummm…”. A booth like this is my favourite, in bars I’ll sometimes overthink it.
Totally. If there’s a lot of people I find it nerve-wracking.
Yeah I feel pressure to entertain. Not even singing-wise, but you have to be funny.
Are there any songs that we didn’t sing just now that you wanted to?
I do always like to sing Lana Del Rey, just because I know all her songs. But people at karaoke always want something up-tempo. Sometimes the energy level will change from ‘party’ to ‘emotional’, which I think is great but some people don’t.
I sang Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” once and completely emptied the dancefloor. Anyway, we’re on a ‘first date’. What is the most awkward date you’ve ever been on?
I think it was actually the first date I ever went on. I must have been about 13 or 14. It was this guy that I’d never spoken to – we’d only texted. But we went to the cinema to watch The Matrix 2, and we met before the movie started and we were both sweating and didn’t dare speak to each other. Then we went into the cinema and didn’t say a word. Afterwards, we just said goodbye and never spoke again. I remember thinking, “what was that?”
Karaoke’s a better date option, right? It was funny doing this with you because you sing and perform for a living. Have you ever done it with another pop star?
I’ve done it with Charli XCX – she’s very into it. We were both supporting Sia in Australia and Charli knew this karaoke place in Melbourne and it was super fun. But that was one of those bars where there were loads of people. It felt like a show.
You two must have performed together in the past as well, how did you change to the mindset of it being karaoke?
Oh, we didn’t do it at the same time. She did one, then I did one, and we were all super drunk.
I would have loved to have seen that. So I’ve been rinsing your new album, how you feeling about it?
Oh, thank you so much. I’m so excited, but it’s so nerve-wracking because it’s coming out in a few days so I’m starting to freak out. I’ve been longing for this for long. But I’m also like, “fuck!” I get very emotional about this kind of thing. It took me a long time to get to a place where it felt right.
I guess your last album was four and a half years ago. So much has changed since then.
Yeah, I think when “Lean On” with Major Lazer became a big hit it opened so many doors – which was a good thing, of course – but I think that’s why it took me a little longer. I had to find my own voice again. Not in a bad way, but it was a new world for me.
How did you adjust to that new world?
I guess the first album was a little more indie-pop, electronic. But nonetheless, I was a much smaller artist back then. Not that I’m bigger now, but it’s a different time. And then all of a sudden this EDM thing was mainstream. I think around 2015 and 2016 I ended up in an identity crisis, artistically. I didn’t know what direction I was going in. I’m a perfectionist and I want to be truthful to my beliefs, if you know what I mean.
What are those beliefs?
I want to be sure I’m being myself. I don’t want to follow something because someone’s like “do this, it’s popular.” Not that it’s bad to do that, but I feel like I personally needed to find my voice again. Then at the end of 2016 and 2017, things started to make sense again. After “Lean On” I wanted to follow up with a single that could do well, but I needed to be myself, not just something for that purpose.
Yeah, I think authenticity makes things more timeless as well, in any medium.
Definitely. The best pop songs are the ones that show that person’s personality. It’s harder to do those singles because the stars, moon and sun have to align and the audience have to be ready, but it’s worth waiting for it.
You’re like an alt-pop wizard. What is the secret ingredient? What’s the recipe for making the perfect pop song?
It has to be quite simple and accessible, but then it has to have a modern ‘know how’, but then you have to take something from the past and then you have to inject your personality, and then a weird twist. Basically those five things: simple, the past, now, personality, weird twist.
I can't believe you just gave away your secret recipe so easily! Nah, but that makes sense when I listen to your songs. They’re full of these classic pop themes, but they also sound futuristic, they also sound like you.
I’m really glad you think they sound like me. In the beginning, I was so afraid of losing myself. I was scared of getting a song that could be anyone’s song. It took me a while to believe that it’s okay to be like “no! I want it to be like this!” We all know we should stand our ground, but sometimes we forget it.
Did you find yourself having to navigate that process?
Yeah, I did. Which was weird because all throughout my formative years I was like, ‘I know it’s important to stand by who I am’ and not let myself feel like I’m not good enough because I don’t fit into a certain box. But then all of a sudden – and it wasn’t anyone’s fault – I started doubting myself. Maybe because of all the opportunities and things going really fast. But it was so nice relearning that stuff and thinking, “fuck, of course.” But, don’t get me wrong, it’s also good to listen, and try to evolve, but stand your ground.
What star sign are you?
Leo. But then I have a Cancer ascendant. I think my moon is in Scorpio, but I’m not sure about that.
That’s an interesting mix. Cancers are so emotional and about their home, but then you’ve got this Leo, performer side.
Exactly, they kind of contradict themselves. I think a lot of my inspiration comes from that weird contrast inside of me. I always did identify a lot with being a Leo to be honest, but then I was also like, what about all this other stuff. What are you?
Oh, that is so nice! I love that. Not to be all cheesy, but a lot of my close friends are Libras.
Us Libras do make good mates! I find it interesting that you say there’s this dichotomy within you, because on your album one of the lyrics is like “I’ve never been a socialite”. But then it seems like there’s this side of you that is so connected, you work with so many people...
I am very open I guess, but if I go to a party, I’ll feel super-anxious. If I go into a room and I don’t know anyone, I get terrified for some reason, that’s my biggest fear. I’m scared that no one will like me, or something. If I go a fancy event I’ll be like, “I totally don’t belong here, I don’t know what to do with myself.”
Do you party much?
I used to party a lot. Not heavily, but I used to really love it. I still do, but I’ve just turned 30 and I can feel it in my body that I can’t party like I used to. I’ll get hangovers, which sucks so much. I love to not overthink things. I’m a person that can live a lot inside my head, and I that’s why I like drinking and going out.
I completely relate to that. It can be a relief to let yourself go.
So much. We start drinking quite early in Denmark, and I remember just being like, “now I can finally just *scream*” I wish there was a way to feel like that without needing to do anything. I feel like that sometimes on stage, that freedom is the best feeling. I think the reason why I’m longing to feel free – the reason we’re all longing to feel free – is because we want to connect with each other, right?
Yeah, without all that other stuff. Without all those qualms...
Exactly. And I feel like I can do that on stage, which is my favourite rush in the world. But that’s different to having conversations.
What’s the best party you’ve ever been to?
I think some of the best parties I’ve been to were when I was around 20, in my little hometown. I came from an activist environment, and we were into punk and hip hop. We had this big building that we could just do what we wanted, like a squat, and we had all these parties and concerts. I used to paint as well. It felt really free. My friend was staying in a camping wagon and we’d just make music and drink.
That sounds sick. You mentioned earlier that you’d just turned 30. One of the things that I find weird about getting older is that you feel the same, but you also don’t. There’s a realisation that’s like, “oh so that’s how it feels to get older.”
It’s weird you say that because I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I’ve been trying to describe it to myself, when I sit and daydream. I do really fucking feel exactly like myself – all the stages that I’ve been through – but then it’s true, there’s something different…
How do you think it’s different to how you thought it would be?
I’ve always thought, ‘In five years, I’ll be much wiser and educated about blah blah blah.’ But then the weird thing is, you are actually. But instead of actually feeling what’s going on, you look ahead, you’re like, ‘I could be better.’
It’s a really strange thing to try and describe, isn’t it? But I know exactly what you mean.
While I remember, I saw on your Instagram that you found that book, that black book, what’s the name of the author?
Haha! The Age of Reason? Jean-Paul Sartre.
The philosopher from France, right? It’s so weird because just the other day I heard someone talk about him and his philosophy. Isn’t it all about how there’s never going to be a final “this is it” moment? Everything is just chaos and along the way you experience glimpses of happiness, or beautiful coincidences. And I think that is such an awesome philosophy. I haven’t got that book, but I am intrigued.
Reader, someone please send MØ a copy of The Age of Reason .
Although, honestly, I’m not a good reader. I’m very slow. The way I’ve gotten to know about stuff is through people telling me about these situations. I have an older brother who is super brainy and he’ll read things and tell me about them.
I saw on your Instagram that you were in a room full of clowns earlier. What was that all about?
It was a piece of artwork, it was a German artist, but I’ve forgotten his name. It was so weird. I loved that all the clowns were napping and resting. And it was cool because it was like all these performers having their downtime… I felt like I could relate.
What are you going to do after this interview? You’re in Soho, the night is young…
It sounds sooo boring, but I’ll probably just go back to my hotel room and reply to emails.
You know what, I’ll probably do the same – minus the hotel – so that makes two of us. Thanks for hanging, MØ it's been real.
'Forever Neverland' is out now via Chess Club/RCA Victor