Award-winning performer and Grammy-nominated songwriter Tove Lo crafts raw, confessional pop shaped by her love of grunge and the pristine sounds of her Swedish homeland. The way her 2013 single “Habits (Stay High)” swung between joy and despair and frankly depicted drug use and sex made it a distinctive, relatable, multi-platinum hit and a fitting introduction to her uncensored style. She followed it with more uninhibited, confessional music: Her 2014 debut album, Queen of the Clouds, and 2017′s BLUE LIPS upheld her reputation for confronting the darker side of love and relationships with thoughtful, provocative, and catchy songwriting. On 2019′s Sunshine Kitty, she took a slightly more lighthearted approach without losing any of her edge, while 2022′s Dirt Femme lended nuance to her concept of femininity. An in-demand collaborator, Lo worked with the likes of Coldplay, Charli XCX, and Nick Jonas; as a songwriter, her credits include songs for Lorde and Icona Pop, as well as Ellie Goulding’s 2015 Grammy-nominated hit “Love Me Like You Do.”
Tove Lo was born Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson on October 29, 1987, in a suburb of Stockholm. When she was three, her godmother gave her the nickname Tove Lo after a lynx the young Nilsson loved at the local zoo (“lo” is Swedish for lynx). She began writing poetry and short stories at a young age, and had written her first songs by the time she was 11. While growing up, she was fascinated by the rawness of Courtney Love’s and Kurt Cobain’s music and by their relationship, and also found inspiration in the work of Robyn, Lykke Li, Jeff Buckley, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. She went on to study at the famous Rytmus Musikergymnasiet — a music-oriented high school comparable to the U.K.’s BRIT School — where she befriended Caroline Hjelt, a future member of the duo Icona Pop. After graduation in 2006, Lo began making music with other Rytmus alumni in the math rock band Tremblebee. When the quintet broke up in 2009, Lo decided to focus on her own songs, spending six months in her shed studio recording her demo while working as a session singer.
At a party celebrating Icona Pop’s first record deal, she used the opportunity to give her demo to a staff member at their label, leading to a publishing deal with Warner Chappell and a trip to L.A. to work with fellow Swede and pop songwriting/production supremo Max Martin, who became a mentor and frequent collaborator. In October 2012, Lo self-released her debut single, “Love Ballad,” a catchy, beat-driven pop track that showcased her powerful voice. It was followed in 2013 by “Habits (Stay High),” a dark breakup anthem that generated such Internet buzz that it led to a deal with Universal. “Habits” and its follow-up, “Out of Mind,” which was in much the same vein, appeared on her debut EP for the label, Truth Serum, in 2014. The EP reached number 13 on the Swedish Albums Chart, while “Habits” peaked at 13 on the Swedish Singles Chart and hit number six in the U.K. During this time, Lo also established herself as a songwriter, collaborating on tracks for Icona Pop and Victoria Justice.
In September 2014 her debut album, Queen of the Clouds, arrived, featuring “Habits” — which reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 — as well as other raw, confessional songs about love and heartache. The record was a Top Ten hit in Sweden and a Top 20 hit in the U.S. and U.K., and the subsequent single “Talking Body” was a similar success. Lo’s 2014 collaboration with Alesso, “Heroes (We Could Be),” was another hit, reaching the top of the U.S. dance chart and becoming a Top Ten hit in Sweden and the U.K. In late 2014, she contributed a song to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1. She also was part of Martin’s Wolf Cousins songwriting collective and co-wrote songs for Cher Lloyd, Lea Michele, and the Saturdays.
In January 2015, Lo underwent surgery for cysts on her vocal cords and couldn’t sing for two months while she recovered. That month also saw the release of Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do,” a song Lo co-wrote with Martin and others for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. It became a number one hit in the U.K. and a Top Ten hit in the U.S., and later earned a nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media at the 58th Grammy Awards. Lo also won a pair of her homeland’s Grammis in 2015, Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Habits (Stay High).” Following the release of a deluxe version of Queen of the Clouds, she embarked on her first headlining tour. Late that year, she lent her vocals to Coldplay’s seventh album, A Head Full of Dreams.
Lo’s busy 2016 included collaborations with Broods and Flume, while her single with Nick Jonas, “Close,” became a Top 20 hit in Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S, where it was certified platinum. She also co-wrote another song for Goulding, “Still Falling for You,” from the soundtrack to Bridget Jones' Baby, and contributed the song “Scars” to The Divergent Series: Allegiant soundtrack. In October 2016, Lo returned with her second album, Lady Wood, which delivered more of her signature mix of cool synth pop and frank lyrics. Buoyed by the singles “Cool Girl” and “True Disaster,” the set hit number one in Sweden, and landed at number 11 on the U.S. Billboard 200.
In 2017, Lo contributed the song “Lies in the Dark” to the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack and co-wrote the Lorde song “Homemade Dynamite.” That November, she released her third album, BLUE LIPS, a companion piece to Lady Wood that featured the single “Disco Tits.” The album reached number 138 on the Billboard 200 and number 15 in Sweden. Lo created two short films featuring songs from BLUE LIPS, Fire Fade and Fairy Dust. In December, she appeared on “Out of My Head,” a track from Charli XCX’s mixtape Pop 2. In June 2018, Lo returned the favor, releasing a remix of BLUE LIPS’ “bitches” that featured XCX along with Icona Pop, Alma, and Elliphant.
Lo’s fourth album, Sunshine Kitty, arrived in September 2019. Featuring collaborations with Kylie Minogue and Jax Jones, its songs reflected Lo’s happier, more confident frame of mind. A top 20 hit in Sweden, the album reached number 61 in the U.S. and 59 in the U.K. The video for the Sunshine Kitty single “Glad He’s Gone” was nominated in the Best Music Video category of the 62nd Grammy Awards. A string of stand-alone singles followed, including “Bikini Porn” and an English cover of the song “Jag kommer” that became a top 40 hit in Sweden; these songs, along with previously unreleased material, appeared on May 2020′s deluxe Paw Prints edition of Sunshine Kitty. She also paired with Sean Paul on the clubby single “Calling On Me.”
While working on her next album, Lo appeared in the film adaptation of Vilhelm Moberg’s 1949 novel The Emigrants and collaborated with Martin Garrix on the 2021 single “Pressure.” The first taste of her fifth album arrived in early 2022 with “How Long,” which appeared on the soundtrack Euphoria: Music from the HBO Original Series. That August, Lo executive produced Pussy Riot’s debut mixtape, while her own album Dirt Femme was released in October. Her first album on her own Pretty Swede label, it found her reclaiming the softer side of her femininity and harked back to the danceable sounds of her earlier releases with contributions from SG Lewis, First Aid Kit, and Channel Tres. ~ Heather Phares & John D. Buchanan