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July 29 2014

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Lykke Li Is Creating a Character, Not a Fashion Statement

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lykkeblogLykke Li’s “got the look,” and if it was her thing, she could very well be the face of more than just her music. After all, the Swedish chanteuse did recently perform at the New Museum’s Annual Spring Gala wearing a head-to-toe black head-turner while sporting on-trend beauty statements: meticulously bushy eyebrows, her brunette locks worn in a middle part and slicked back (with subtle wet-hair vibes) behind her ears.

Currently on tour to promote her forthcoming lovelorn-heavy album, I Never Learn (out tomorrow on iTunes), Lykke called us from Berlin, and made clear that she’s not in it for the fashion connections or the free clothes—though, when asked who her favorite luxe designers were, she took a pause before mentioning Valentino, Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent from “back in the day.”

The stylist-free 29-year-old has never fit the pop starlet norm—you won’t be finding her swinging from a wrecking ball anytime soon—and she’s actually never considered herself one. She does, however, consider I Never Learn to be “very undanceable.” Her style icons, including Joan Didion and Frida Kahlo, aren’t Vogue cover stars; her music videos are “probably more anti-fashion”; and, if she were to attend the Met ball, her prerequisite for her designer date would be “good dinner table conversation.” Read on for our conversation with the real-as-they-come musician.

There are a slew of blog posts dedicated to fashion in music videos, from “getting the look” to shot-by-shots detailing every last designer ring to nail art stud…Does fashion play an important role in your videos? Do you care about designers?
The videos I do, it’s all about creating a character and keeping it very cinematic and not have something that distracts from the story. So I almost never wear something contemporary—it’s only something that I draw and that I create with a tailor, or vintage or something I get from a costume house. It’s more about creating a character than a fashion statement. My videos are probably more anti-fashion. Especially in my last one ["No Rest for the Wicked"]—I would never dress like that as an artist, but it was about that character.

Would you say you’re a visual person?
Hyper-visual. I daydream all the time. And I very much sense things—like, today I wanna feel like this, and then I’ll create how I feel. It’s never like a fashion thing, it’s more of a lifestyle or a choice. I wanna feel like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown or Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, you know?

Are you the type of artist who records a song and then is immediately like, “I need to make a video for this song!”
If I could, I would do a music video for every single song—that is my dream.

Well, Bey did it!
Yeah, she has some dollars! [Film director] Tarik Saleh and I do everything, but every single thought I have goes into the actual video, so it takes forever. It’s like starting an indie film every time. But I love it. For me, it means the world, and we have such a deep connection, me and him, so it’s wonderful. It’s the best thing.

Would you say you’re a perfectionist?
Oh, yeah. Completely. I try to work against it because there’s always some stuff you have to compromise on.

It seems the press has a thing for putting all of the stylish Swedish female pop singers in one big bubble. Do you even identify as a pop singer? Your lyrics read as poetry, your stage presence isn’t contrived or cute, it’s chilling and downright hypnotic…
I’ve never really identified myself as a pop singer, either. My new music especially is very undanceable. I’ve always seen myself as more of a poet. The outside world always has another plan for you, especially if you’re a young woman.

Does it freak you out when you’re booked to play society-friendly events compared to your fans? How was it playing the New Museum 2014 Spring Gala?
It’s different. The Gala was really an interesting thing for me because there were so many different creatives involved. I had interesting conversations with different artists, art dealers, gallerists. I mean, sometimes I’m like a hooker, you know? I pay for all of my videos, and sometimes you need hard cash to make the video, and then I’ll agree to do certain things.

How do you prep before a gig?
You gotta just take the punch and be in the moment. It’s almost like you’re surfing—you just ride the wave. I don’t “prepare” before, but I just try to be completely in the moment. And I drink quite a lot of whiskey!

Are you reading the album reviews this time around? Do you care about them? [They're really good.]
The thing is, this album is special to me. It’s wonderful if people love this, but I did it just to survive. I’m happy that I’m finished and that I made it and that I can let go of that. So I can’t expect anything more.

The album is probably your most intense—there’s not too much happy on it. Do you find it difficult performing these songs every night on tour?
It’s really emotional, but I can handle it. It’s almost like you’re dealing with gold—it’s raw material. It’s pretty interesting. It’s very real for me—I live it every night when I’m singing it.

You’re not gyrating with dancers onstage and crowd-surfing…So how does Lykke Li let loose?
I gather all of my friends and make a big meal and drink, like, ten big bottles of wine and have a big dance party.

Photo: Josh Olins

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