Swede on indie pop

Swede on indie pop

Icona Pop talks about how they knew they’d made it when DJs began comparing other bands’ sounds to theirs


Icona pop cover_L
Photo: Fredrik Etoall/Warner Music
Swedish electropop duo Icona Pop has become so popular these days that music similar to their style is being named after the group.

"They have this thing in Sweden now when the radio plays something similar to what we do, they call it the Icona Pop-ish sound," says Aino Jawo, half of Icona Pop.

The duo thought their music was overtly mainstream, as it was frequently played by commercial radio stations. But when they reached the United States, they were still surprised.

"[We] get to all of these top-40 things, which we love. But still, [we] kind of realise that [we]'re still pretty indie," Jawo said during a Young Post interview when the duo were in town for the Mnet Asian Music Awards.

But they don't mind if they're being treated as rather mainstream. After all, they're winning international acclaim for their upbeat indie dance tracks with a Swedish touch.

Formed by Jawo and Caroline Hjelt in 2009, Icona Pop first came to international attention last summer with the catchy hit I Love It. The track was used as the theme song of one of Samsung's TV adverts earlier this year.

But their breakthrough at home came much earlier than that, and Jawo says they dominated Stockholm's club music scene before moving to Britain. In 2011, they released Manners, which was picked up by Chiddy Bang, a Philadelphia-based duo.

Hjelt still remembers being invited to see the boys in London, who played a remixed version of Icona Pop's song Mind Your Manners. "We ran across the street, trying to make it to their show. And when we got in, they were playing Manners, our song," says Hjelt.

"We said: 'This is our song!' and everyone said: 'Who are you?'"

The duo attributes their success to being deeply influenced by both Swedish traditional and pop music.

"We can hear if something is written by a Swedish artist or not by the melodies, as they sound like our folk music - very bittersweet," Jawo says. "There is a certain depth."

Swedish pop, Jawo explains, usually features simple lyrics that belie the strong emotions of the song. And unlike with Asian pop, the vocals are usually not the focus, and it's OK to sometimes go a bit offbeat.

There are other reasons for the duo's indie success. "Sweden is a small country [9.5 million people], and the biggest genre is indie music," says Jawo. It's hardly a coincidence the duo's favourite artists include The Smiths, Pink Floyd and PJ Harvey.

Since they write lyrics in English, which is not their first language, quirks do pop up. "I remember when we started working with a lot of producers ... They said: 'That's an interesting way of writing lyrics in English.' And we said: 'What do you mean?'" Jawo recalls. "Because we wrote it totally wrong, so it became cool, as there are no rules when it comes to writing lyrics."

The underlying feminist messages in their songs further make them stand out; after all, they are two young women striving in a male-dominated industry.

But the two self-confessed control freaks, admit they rely on each other to make great music, and doubt they could be as successful if they broke up.

The friends dare to dream of Icona Pop's future - something the radio stations at home in Sweden have already labelled. And the pair love that. Says Jawo: "We'd like to create a genre actually called IP pop."

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