Icona Pop: Swedish Power-Pop Duo Is Music’s Next Big Thing
Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt were the breakout stars of New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon. The duo sat down with Marlow Stern to chat about bad breakups, crazy parties, and their rise. PLUS: Watch our exclusive video short of the band.
I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs. I crashed my car into the bridge. I DON’T CARE, I LOVE IT!
The girl-power anthem comes courtesy of Icona Pop—a Swedish duo comprised of foxy 20-something gal-pals Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt who, after performing seven high-octane shows during New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon, have been crowned music’s next big thing.
“It feels so strange to be doing what we’re doing, being two girls who were sitting on a couch in Stockholm three years ago writing our first song, and now people are telling us we’re the next coolest thing,” says Jawo, with a laugh.
Natives of southern Stockholm, Icona Pop are a part of the second wave of Swedish music acts that have crossed over into U.S. consciousness, including Lykke Li, The Knife, Miike Snow, and Robyn, with her recent comeback album. Unlike Robyn—and her Lena Dunham-approved tune “Dancing On My Own”—the gals in Icona Pop subscribe more to The Beatles’ mantra of I get by with a little help from my friends.
“We caught each other when we were down, and picked each other back up,” says Hjelt.
The genesis of Icona Pop was three ago at a house party thrown by Hjelt in Stockholm. Jawo had recently been dumped by what she says was “her big first love” and had been just lying in bed for weeks on end, not eating. Since the two DJ’ed around Stockholm and ran in similar circles, a mutual friend finally convinced Jawo to attend Hjelt’s house party, and the women met for the first time.
“I was really in love with this man—this boy—and one day he just called and said, ‘I’m not in love with you anymore,’” says Jawo. “It actually really hurt. I thought, I’m going to die now. But I’m very happy he did because I don’t think we would have met. [Caroline] was the light in my life when I met her and taught me how to laugh again.” (Jawo later got her revenge, however, getting back together with—and then dumping—her ex).
“I was very frustrated with my situation as well,” says Hjelt. “I was trying so hard with music but it didn’t feel right and I just felt empty and numb. I tried to fill that emptiness with clubbing and partying. But she came to my party and it instantly felt like we had something special.”
The very next day, Jawo rang Hjelt and came over with a bottle of wine and a computer, and they wrote their first song together—hangover be damned. The duo booked their first live gig two days after that, and one month later performed the sold-out show, attended by mostly family and local friends.
After throwing an epic going-away party—which included 50 people dressed like animals being bused to a local club, including Jawo as a puma and Hjelt in Bjork’s infamous swan costume—the two moved to London and took a shine to the DJ scene there.
“Manners” was the first song to gain notice. The influential French electronic music label Kitsuné found the track on MySpace and asked to remix it, and then the rising rap group Chiddy Bang used it for the hook in their song “Mind Your Manners,” which charted on the Billboard Hot 100.
But Icona Pop really began to gain traction with the aforementioned “I Love It.” Written by U.K.-based artist Charli XCX, the song tells the tale of a woman left scorned by an awful break-up. Interestingly enough, both Jawo and Hjelt were going through a similar circumstance at the time.
“We were going through the thing of dating an older man and having difficulties with the age thing, so we were like, ‘That’s exactly what we’re going through!” says Hjelt. “We want to adopt that song.”
“We wanted it to have that ‘fuck it!’ feeling,” adds Jawo.
The two also are receiving high marks for their unique fashion choices, augmented by their contrasting physical appearances—Jawo is very slender and olive-skinned with short cropped black hair, while Hjelt is curvier and pale with a flowing red mane.
“We love to express ourselves through clothes, even though we aren’t the best at following trends,” says Hjelt. “We love using sheer fabrics onstage—clothes that extend our movements, or empower us and complement the things we’re singing about.”
While Icona Pop is getting boatloads of buzz—including co-signs by Rolling Stone and The New York Times—the real test will be next year, when their debut album will be released on Big Beat Records (a subsidiary of Atlantic).
“We’ve been recording this album for three and a half years now—since the day we met—and have been through a lot of different music periods in our lives,” says Jawo. “You can hear that we’ve been on a big adventure when it comes to music—up-tempo pop, some heartbreaking ballads.” She smiles. “A big mix.”
Right now, however, the duo is having a blast. Every onstage performance feels, to the viewer, like an explosive, ecstatic testament to the women’s lasting friendship.
“We’re soulmates,” says Jawo.
Adds Hjelt: “We have a band and we’re two best friends out in the world doing what we love. We’re very happy right now.”