With her second record Lady Wood, Tove Lo uses a stunning technicolour pop soundtrack to tackle the preposterous idea that women are here to be objectified by men and passive when it comes to sex.
Lo has always been an astonishingly candid writer. The opening line of "Habits (Stay High)" her breakthrough from debut album Queen of the Clouds, “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs watching freaky people getting it on”, was sung in such a matter of fact manner it was as if to say, ‘women enjoy sex too, what’s the big deal?’.
In Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the lead female character Amy wrote about the way a certain breed of men saw women as second class citizens. “Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl. Men actually think this girl exists.” Lo used that as the inspiration for the song “cool girl” which turns the tables with the line “Ice cold, I roll my eyes at you, boy”. Lorde said it was the song of the summer, but it’s actually one of the pop anthems of the entire year, so infectious is the chorus.
Nonetheless, the fact that this week a man running for the presidency of the United States was outed for uttering abhorrent misogynistic words about grabbing women by their genitals as a come on beggars belief. This is just one of the many reasons Lo is such an important artist, leading the fight against such sexism, she tweeted “My fuel for tonight's gig was #trump rage. Grab em by the pussy I'll kick you in the face. And balls.”
The title of Lady Wood refers to a female hard on and Lo has spoken out about the fact that references to genitalia in language are inherently derogatory to women - to be brave is to have balls, but to be cowardly is to be a pussy. The title track turns that thinking on its head, the line “You give me wood, give me lady wood.” is sexual expression writ large, that women have the same physical response to attraction as men do.
Lady Wood doesn’t just deal with redressing the imbalance of the sexes however. Like Queen of the Clouds, it charts the ups and downs of relationships and is split into chapters; Fairy Dust describes the initial euphoria of lust and Fire Fade is about when the excitement wears off.
The songs of Fairy Dust ripple with excitement. The sensuous “Influence” crackles with light touch electronica, “Boy meets girl meets girl, this is the best place in the world.” Yet even within the rush of attraction there are warning signs. The albums highlight “True Disaster” - which has such gloriously lush synths it could have been produced by Giorgio Moroder - sees Lo singing “Give zero fucks about it, I know I'm gonna get hurt.”
Fire Fade begins with Lo saying "I’m lost; I don’t know where I am” as reality kicks in. “Don’t Talk About It” is a story of unspoken tensions that are brilliantly mirrored by the staccato drum beats. The loneliness of “Imaginary Friend” is the desire to escape heartbreak. It finishes with “WTF Love” where Lo again debunks the cool girl myth, “I know I’m hard to handle, but you know what you signed up for”. As the song stops Lo shouts “Oh, fuck! I need another”, once the rush is gone, it’s time to move on to another.
The narratives of Lady Wood are universal; desire, love, sex, the thrill of the chase, the ups and downs of love and a demand for equality. It’s pop music of the highest calibre, music for the head, heart, feet and everywhere in between. In the battle against chauvinists at least we have artists like Lo writing brilliant pop songs that are endlessly inventive, intelligent and relatable.