When she was just 16, Tove Styrke starred on Swedish Idol, her country’s version of America’s long-running TV talent show, and eventually finished third. “I don’t really remember much,” Styrke, now 22, says on the phone from Stockholm. “I don’t think my brain knew how to deal with that—it was so hectic, such an overwhelming thing.” The madness didn’t stop when the season ended. Styrke was snapped up by a major record label, and soon released a debut album full of the kind of pulsating dance songs one might expect from a young Swedish singer coming off of reality stardom. It was likable, but forgettable.
Styrke’s sophomore album, Kiddo (June 9, RCA/Sony Sweden), which finally arrives after a few years away trying to define her comfort zone as an artist, is different. The songs are still catchy, they still shimmer in the way that Swedish pop does, but there is a distinctive voice full of attitude anchoring them now. “It’s almost like me talking,” Styrke explains. “I think it came from touring so much. When I recorded this album, I really knew what felt comfortable for me to sing.” In the process of locating her voice, she tried on a variety of styles, and the album reflects that inclusiveness. When she released the track “Borderline” last fall, its reggaeton swagger—and Styrke’s aggressive, come-at-me vocals—caught the ears of music bloggers all over again. Even the album title, “Kiddo,” is a reclamation of her identity as an artist. “I’ve always liked the way that word feels and sounds,” Styrke explains. “I’ve had it as a working title for so many songs. I also have a love-hate relationship with that word. Because you can use it in a demeaning way, especially with a younger woman. But that’s what I love about words—you can change their meaning.”
Hair by Shingo Shibata at The Wall Group, makeup by Kanako Takase using M.A.C. Photo assistant: David Schecter. Special thanks to Shio Studio.