Danish superstar MØ divulges life after a mega-hit and celebrating the release of her new album, 'Motordrone'.
Do you recall, not long ago, a Danish artist named MØ was taking the world by storm, with an absolute mammoth Major Lazer collab hit called “Lean On”? It’s been seven years since then, in which she’s toured the world a few times over, and released her own solo material to global success. And yet, riding that wave relentlessly came at a price. In 2019, MØ returned home to Denmark to recalibrate and recover from the whirlwind that had been her life as a global superstar. And now, three years on from that break, she’s ready to step back into the limelight with a new era and of course, a new album.
She’s just finishing up some errands and rushing back to her apartment when we speak over Zoom, underscoring the normal life that belies the mega stardom. It’s good for her, having found a new, healthier balance between MØ as a person, and MØ the artist; the business. “After many years of going full speed, I just needed a break,” she reveals. “It was super strange, though. Because COVID happened just as I was planning to go on a break myself, but then all of a sudden, the whole world was being put on a collective forced break.”
Looking back, the signs of impending exhaustion were already there when she was finishing up her album ‘Finding Neverland’ in 2018. “I wrote it during a time where I was constantly on the road, and for many years hadn’t really had any time to properly rest and check in with myself. It was very much an album that sort of happened, you know? After the whole success with ‘Lean On’ and getting into a bit more of an electronic dance world, even though I came from indie pop and stuff like that.” On top of it being a completely different world, the sudden onslaught of opportunities made it difficult to prioritize for MØ. “At least for a person like me, because I have a very chaotic brain, it’s just more difficult to focus because I go, ‘Oh my God, so many good ideas, what should we do? I don’t know.’ It’s good for me sometimes to have limitations, because otherwise, I’ll just be overwhelmed. Navigating that is something that also takes time and energy.” She grins as she tries to find the right words, “I felt like a headless chicken.” Still, she’s very clear about the fact that despite the challenges, she wouldn’t have changed anything about her experiences. “No shade or anything. It was great, but I had to figure out how that world worked. I very much felt like I was in uncharted territory. But it was super, super fun.”
Her last album was written on the road, which MØ says was “manageable, but just takes longer.” Nevertheless, the process for new record ‘Motordrome’ has been entirely different. “This time around with this album, it was nothing like that [earlier process]. I was not on the road, I was just at home and had the time to really think about what I like and what elements I like, and just check in with myself, like who I am now as a person,” she shares.
In a way, the pandemic ensured MØ was actually able to take the time she wanted to take. “It gave me time to do all of it – writing the songs, creating the visual universe, but also, probably more importantly, for me to actually reflect on the stuff that I had been through. Where I was going, who I am now and you know, seeing my old friends.” She smiles, “It was like cleaning up, both in my business but in my internal world as well. There were so many things that I’ve been neglecting over the years because I put work first for so many years. Which, I don’t regret it, cause it was all good. But there were many things that I needed to – rebuild, let’s say.”
Through that process of rebuilding, new ideas started to take shape of how MØ wanted to move forward with her career – and what type of music she wanted to create. “Most of these songs were written at the end of 2019, and 2020. I don’t know, actually – it was very spread out, but it all feels like one very big pool instead. Even though it’s already been going on three years now, or is it two?” She questions briefly, emphasising just how time has both stood still and passed us by so quickly these past years. “I gotta say, though, it’s been amazing to go back to the songwriting that I came from. Where it’s me just writing songs and taking the time to really work with these different people to make it all come together, instead of having to constantly be on a tour bus and sending notes and doing everything at the same time. It’s nice to just be able to focus on one thing.”
“Goosebumps” was one of the first songs that MØ sat down to write for this album. It’s one of the project’s more vulnerable moments, relying heavily on acoustics, in which she sings: “don’t let the fear eat up your mind”. When discussing the track, MØ agrees that its creation was definitely a cathartic and very personal experience that rebooted her passion for music. “I wrote that song in the autumn of 2019. The beginning of the year was when I experienced this burnout in the form of panic attacks and stuff. I’d never had anything like that happen before,” she explains. “My world, and all the ways that I’d been doing things and the ways that I’d seen the world all of a sudden changed. I was just feeling defeated and scared, and I needed to find that – well I don’t know what I needed, but I hadn’t really been writing any songs for a long time. So when I started writing [‘Goosebumps’], it was the first time I tried to record what I was actually feeling. And for me, songwriting has always been very therapeutic. But this was the first time in a long time that I just felt the light running through me again – that creative urge to express something.”
In fact, it’s not just that song, but the entire album that is a testament to the journey that MØ has gone through when it comes to self-care and mental health. It was a conversation with her mother that inspired the album title. “I was speaking to her a lot about everything that I was going through, and she mentioned this word “dødsdrom”, which means dome of death. It was just such a good metaphor, I think, for the life that I’ve been living. Just running around in this hamster wheel, and thinking that if I stopped, it was all gonna crash or I’d lose what I have, or whatever. It’s just this feeling of, I have to keep going, you know? Even though it’s irrational, and it’s much better to take some breaks and recharge, instead of just keep going and giving more than you actually have the energy to give.” She takes a moment, as if considering how to best explain what she means. “It’s that thing of like, when you are in some sort of stress loop, you start to micromanage and you think it’s the most important thing in the world. But then once you step out of it, you realize, oh it’s not so difficult and I can totally take this time to figure it out and get the things right. But when you’re trapped in it, it’s so difficult to see it from an outside point of view, you know?”
She’s quick to stress that she doesn’t want to come off as if she’s complaining. “I realise that I’m still such a lucky, privileged person, you know? It’s not to sound like I’m whining, because I know I have it so, so good. But it was still important for me to talk about what I was going through, and process.”
There’s two reasons for wanting to instil that importance of normalising mental health, which have to do with the industry itself, and of course, her fans. Especially in creative industries, there’s a lot of pressure on creators to just constantly perform and always be ‘on’. It leads to unhealthy and unrealistic, impossible standards that can do a lot of harm. “In many creative industries where it’s hard to make it, and it’s so passion driven, it’s hard to be like, ‘yeah, but when do I take a break?’ If you’re doing your dream job, you don’t feel like you can, should or deserve a break. So it’s really hard finding that balance.”
It’s a conversation she wishes someone would’ve had with her younger self, but she’s happy to see that things are slowly changing within the industry. “We talk much more about mental health now, and also gender equality, for example. We live in a time where we have much more open conversation about these things.” If she were to give advice to young people coming into this industry, she’d say “your voice has value, and your rights and balance are important. I think you’ll just last longer if you make sure to take those breaks, and to really check in with yourself and have yourself on board for the whole ride, instead of just following what somebody with power says you should do, you know?”
For her listeners, the themes in the music can provide some solace, and a feeling of belonging and being seen. It’s the human experience – while the circumstances might be different, those feelings remain the same. MØ recognises the importance of music as a source of healing. “For me, when I’m listening to music that touches on the things I’ve been going through, I cling to that music. It’s so important for me – I listened so much, for instance, to Girl in Red. Again, super different circumstances, but still – there’s some things that she sings about and I’ll be like – I totally know that feeling. That’s the power of music.”
It’s her dream that her fans will have a similar experience listening to her songs, whether or not they relate to the specific experience that inspired the song. “I just love that – the fact that someone listens to a song that helps them go through something they’re dealing with – it’s the greatest compliment that I can get – it makes me the most happy.” Smiling, she adds, “I know that feeling of listening to a song and thinking, actually I’m not understanding the message right, but I’m making my own kind of story from it, because it helps me. And you know, then the song has still fulfilled its purpose.”
When it comes to the songs on her album, MØ hopes there’ll be a song for everyone on the record that they’ll gravitate towards – be it the subject matter or the sonic elements. “This album’s got some more rock and alternative/indie vibes, and then there are some songs that are more dance-pop as well. I love it, you know? I guess, when making music – I don’t even do it intentionally, it just kind of happens, but I’ve always liked bending genres and trying out different things.”
Still, as she thoughtfully considers her tracklisting, MØ adds that there are certain ways of structuring the album narrative that she likes. “I love an album having some anthemic, danceable songs that push a theme in a very direct, hard-hitting way. Like ‘New Moon’ does, and it’s good to have those anchors to give the album the pop spark.” MØ huffs out a breath, struggling to come up with an answer when I ask her if there’s a track she reckons will be more of a sleeper hit or a fan-favourite, as opposed to a commercial single. “I really don’t know! Usually – and I’m super thankful about this – with my songs, it varies a lot. Usually the fan love is pretty spread out, so I hope it’ll be like that on this one as well.”
Coincidentally, the one track that she has a soft spot for herself, is one that celebrates this reciprocal love and appreciation between her and her fans. Opening track “Kindness” features a beautiful string section, that forms the centrepiece of the song. “It’s my favourite thing, I love it. It was one of the earliest tracks for the album, that I created with the most frequent production collaborator on this album Yangze. It was him who made this loop feed instrumental thing – synthetic, MIDI strings – that he sent to me. And I was just immediately like, this sounds so cool! So I wrote the whole song over this synth theme, and once it was kind of done we brought in Ariel Rechtshaid, who then recorded the real strings and made it into the song you hear on the album.”
Not all songs came together that easily, though. “Brad Pitt” was a track that took ages to come together production-wise. “It took three years to get both the melodies and the lyrics right!” However, it’s SG Lewis-produced single “Live to Survive” that took the biggest toll emotionally speaking. “It was the first song where I was trying to really talk about forgiving yourself for pushing yourself too hard, or for being blind for too long. So it was hard to write that song.” After a pause, she can’t help but add that at the same time, “it was also a euphoric feeling to have written about it at the same time, because it was so scary, but so right to finally get all the emotions out – liberating.” It’s another lesson that she hopes her fans will pick up on – to “let it go and forgive yourself. Don’t let people run around corners with you anymore.”
Most of her collaborators on ‘Motordrome’ are friends MØ had worked with before and hail from Scandinavian countries, although the latter wasn’t intentional. “It’s funny – there is this idea of Scandipop, but I’m so bad at defining what this genre is. But it is a thing, and I know my music sounds like it. I always tend to think it might be the epic, dark-ish pop thing. But then again, a lot of the Scandipop is very different,” she trails off. “I do think it was really fun to just work with Scandinavians for the most part on this album. For many years, I’ve been so much to LA and in all these sessions – I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love working with people outside of Scandinavia – but it’s just seemed right this time around to crunch together with a Scandi pen team – especially with COVID happening,” MØ adds. There’s a sense of home, of a shared culture that sometimes makes it easier, she explains – a different kind of connection, forged by the fact you’re coming from the same background.
It can make it easier to address certain themes in music as well. For example, Scandinavian culture is known for its progressive take on gender in society as well, which filters through to MØ’s music on this record. “It’s something I’m thinking about a lot – not just in music collaborations, but also in other areas of my business. But, I’m not perfect,” she stresses. “I mean, I don’t walk a perfect line. It’s something I have in the back of my mind, and I try to incorporate it more in everything I do as an artist, just by being more mindful. I’m thinking a lot about how can you inspire more women to join the industry that’s so male-dominated? Or how can you inspire men to give more space for women and non-binary people – it doesn’t have to be gender-specific, just opening up the space from being guys only. I realise it’s something that will take many years, until you’ll have a more representative environment. I just think it’s so important to be mindful of it, and I always feel like I can do better. I know I can do better, but that awareness is the start.”
One song that addresses this head on is “New Moon”, which she can’t wait to also get to perform live. To MØ, it is one of the best things there is. “Going out and performing for an audience live, to meet the fans and see the reaction in people’s faces, and hopefully having them sing along and just have that connection” she gushes. “It’s when it all becomes real, when for me the album becomes a reality.”
With a renewed joyous sparkle in her eyes, MØ leans towards the camera and confides that, “sometimes I understand the songs much better once I see people react to them at a live session. It’s something I’m both excited and nervous about, but that’s usually the best excitement, when there’s something on the line.”