Sometimes people are exactly the way you expect them to be. And MØ – born Karen Marie Aagard Ørsted Andersen – is every bit the sensitive, excitable, and goofy pop powerhouse I was hoping for.
The Danish singer, songwriter and producer is sitting in a coffee shop in Queens, just a few miles down the road from LaGuardia airport. In a couple of hours, she’ll hop on a flight to Montreal to kickoff a co-headlining international tour with her friend (and fellow Scandinavian) Cashmere Cat, but for the time being, Ørsted Andersen is just another millennial patron, inconspicuously taking a phone call in the café while working on her laptop. To my delight, this undercover pop star is as full of energy, joy, and lightning as her music – her speech pattern a wonderful blend of enthusiasm and onomatopoeia.
“I’m really excited to get the tour started – it’s always a bit nerve-racking right in the beginning of a tour, you know?” Ørsted Andersen says, the words crackling and popping before fading over the line.
Although MØ’s career has reached dizzying heights in the last four years on the back of her infectious electropop anthems – including “Lean On”, at one point the most streamed song in history – it’s apparent that she doesn’t take any of the success for granted, so much so that attention to details (and pre-tour jitters) still come into play.
“You’re like ‘ahhhhhhhhhh!’ – but then you get into it and settle down a bit more,” she adds, laughing after unleashing a faux-guttural scream.
“I’m looking forward to kicking off.”
MØ and Cashmere Cat are playing at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. on January 22 and January 23, as well as Brooklyn Steel on January 25 and January 26. Her latest EP When I was Young is out now on Chess Club/RCA Victor.
Brightest Young Things: I have to confess: I’ve followed your career for about four years now, and I’m so happy to be talking to you right now. I’m a big fan.
MØ: Oh, wow! That was just in the beginning!
BYT: You played a show at U Street Music Hall in May 2014 – I live right next to the venue – I was so bummed to miss it. So this will be my first time actually seeing you perform live.
MØ: Yeah yeah yeah! That was the first tour! It’s such a shame you missed it, but I’m glad you can make Monday. I’ll make sure to bring my A-game!
BYT: So, you’ve been doing music for a while now, and although you’re best known as a vocalist, you’ve been first and foremost a songwriter. “Lean On” became this massive, monster hit. Did you feel you had a hit on your hands when you were writing the song alongside your collaborators [DJ Snake, Diplo, and Philip Meckseper]?
MØ: Honestly, I don’t even know what it means to have a hit on my hands, if you know what I mean. The music, and the scenery, and the people and the world is changing so fast – it’s really hard to tell. The only thing you know is if you really like a song and it feels really good to you. But you never know if you have a hit.
Sometimes people have this idea that if a certain person wrote a song or a producer produced it, or if you have a specific combination then it’s bound to be a hit. And I’m sure that’s the truth sometimes, but I don’t know what a hit is. I just know what I like. And I liked “Lean On” but I did not expect it to be a hit because I didn’t even know what that would mean; what that would be.
BYT: What would you say is your guiding sensibility or philosophy when writing music? Do you write from a truly personal place – would you say these songs are somewhat autobiographical?
MØ: I want to feel excited and I want to feel like I can relate to the lyrics, and I want to push myself – because otherwise it’s not fun, you know? I want to make sure it’s fun and exciting and that I’m analyzing a bit on myself. It’s an emotional process; not a job where you just sit at a desk and throw words around. It needs to connect with something spiritual, and tap into something, for sure.
BYT: I recently watched the video for “9 (After Coachella)”, the song you and Cashmere Cat did together. I had heard the track before but the video was such a lovely and thoughtful narrative, telling the story of how you two first met and became friends. It was wonderful. How did the idea for the video come about?
MØ: It’s so cute. I agree – I really liked that video. Cashy approached me, and he was telling me that he was watching videos by this director he really liked, Jake Schreier [butchers last name] – and I’m sorry, I’m really bad at saying people’s last names. He was saying he wanted to make this video in a documentary style, and it was going to be about the two of us. I thought it was great, a wonderful idea for a video.
Cashy and Jake showed up to a show I played in LA, and I sat down and talked to them for like an hour. And we talked about our lives and our families and our pets, together, the three of us. It was so nice. Then the director went to Denmark and Norway and met our parents and went to all these places we had talked about. I thought it was such a lovely and different and cute, in a personal kind of way. I was all about it from the beginning.
BYT: It’s so endearing and heartfelt.
MØ: I think so too! He did a really good job.
BYT: It’s a reminder that there’s a lot of people behind the music – not just the two of you, but your families and your communities.
MØ: It’s true – you don’t see that a lot. We live in a time where we use Instagram stories and Snapchat to constantly show people what our “everyday” life is about, but there’s always a filter to it: it’s like “Yeah, look at my great life! Look at all the awesome shit I do! Woo woo!” [Laughs] But I like that this video showcases where we come from without trying to be cool. It’s pretty general, it’s like: “this is us!” [Laughs] And I like that about it.
BYT: I’m also glad that you both talked about your pets and we got to see your cat Cleopatra.
MØ: Yeah. She’s so cute, but she’s started to bite a lot when I get back home – she’ll bite me, and she never used to do that. That sucks.
BYT: My parents still have our family dog at home, and I only get back to the Dominican Republic about once a year. He’s always salty the first couple of interactions.
MØ: He’s probably like “Fuck you! Where have you been?”
BYT: And I presume he says it in an Australian accent, because he’s an Australian Shepherd.
MØ: Oh, that’s cute! That’s very cute.
BYT: Your cover of “Say You’ll Be There” by The Spice Girls was one of the first things of your songs I ever heard. You and I are around the same age, and grew up in the era where there were still so many big musical acts with a global reach.
Looking back on your childhood and early musical influences, do you remember the first three records you ever bought, or that really impacted you?
MØ: Oh yeah – I’m a big fan of the Spice Girls. I’m curious – what were your first three?
BYT: If I’m remembering correctly, the first three CDs I bought with my “own” money – pocket money – were that first record by The Spice Girls, Jamiroquai’s Travelling Without Moving, and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis. That must have been 1996 or so.
MØ: I totally remember getting my ghetto blaster when I turned eight or so – it was the best thing ever. And the first three albums I bought… it was also Spice – I think that’s what the first record was called – but the other one was by this Danish band called Aqua. You know them, right? “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie wooooorld.” I’m not sure what the third one was. I remember holding the those two CDs but I can’t recall the third one. At the time I was only listening to like super-duper Top 40 pop – like pure radio pop. The third was probably a Danish pop band or something like that.
BYT: Growing up abroad, Napster really changed things for me, and I really got into Scandinavian electronic pop: a lot of Röyksopp, Kings of Convenience, A-ha, Ace of Base.
MØ: Ace of Base! [Laughs]
BYT: Did you mostly grow up listening to European-centric music? Or were you exposed to American stuff as well?
MØ: I always divide it into when I was a kid and my teenage years. Those are just such different eras – the whole Spice Girls thing, I must have been maybe eight or nine years old. And most of the things I listened to were super pop. But I guess in Denmark we listen to a lot of British music as well as stuff from Europe.
As soon as I turned twelve or thirteen is when I starting moving into punk rock and alternative music, and a lot more stuff from America. A wider spectrum of music. In fact, when asked this question I say I grew up with American and British and European music, and music from around the world – but as a teenager, not as a kid.
BYT: Seeing as this tour is being billed as a co-headlining tour, what can we expect in terms of structure? Will you each do alternating sets and have a couple of overlapping songs, or will you do the entire show together?
MØ: Actually, I think Cashy and I are going to figure that out tonight, to be honest. I feel like you can’t really know what’s going to happen for sure until we’ve done a few shows together. His live show is so cool though. It’s a DJ set but it’s so different – it’s more mellow and approachable and it has kind of a different energy because he’s so different. It’s what I love about his music; I could listen to it in the club and dance so hard, but I could also listen to it before I fall asleep. It has this beautiful balance of energies and dynamics.
BYT: Both of you make really melodic electronic music that’s ultimately operating at two different levels – and that’s why I’m a huge fan of this collaboration, and this tour.
Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2018?
MØ: I’m really excited to put out my album. As you maybe know, it’s been on the way for quite a while. But now that it’s finally almost done – like completely done – I’m just so stoked to get it out into the world. And I expect that will be out sometime before the summer. So I guess that’s my number one “ayyyyy!” for this year. Besides the tour with Cashy, of course.