Effortlessly cool is the only accurate way to describe MØ. The Danish-born singer is fiercly herself, and her message is bringing the true essence of girl power back into focus. The 26-year-old, whose full name is Karen Marie Ørsted, had very early dreams of becoming a musician that started when she got her first Spice Girls CD in the '90s. Since then, she’s played in an all girls punk band, tried out a solo crunk-rap project, sang the chorus on Iggy Azalea's "Beg For It", and performed on Saturday Night Live, but she’s finally found her place with a more honest approach to songwriting. Her latest release, No Mythologies To Follow, is a true testament to that notion.
MØ doesn’t care a bit about keeping up appearances. She hates choreographed dance moves, prefers not to wear much makeup, and can’t stand perfection. We caught up with MØ about her signature dance moves, her activist punk days, and the making of "Lean On," her breakout collaboration with Major Lazer and DJ Snake.
We’re in the middle of festival season now, and you’ve been on the road so much lately. How’s it treating you?
We actually just arrived at the Seattle airport, and we’re on our way out to Sasquatch right now! I absolutely love touring. Really, it has become one of my favorite things to do. We’ve done a lot of the American festivals lately, like Boston Calling the other day, Coachella, Sasquatch tomorrow, and Bonnaroo coming up. Before that, we did some shows around Europe, so I’m out on the road all the time. Now, it seems like I feel more at home when I’m on tour than when I’m home. I just love it.
You’re becoming known for your ability to really let everything go onstage. What do you think is most important during live shows? What do you strive to do?
My stage persona or my way of performing has just developed naturally I guess. To begin with, I started playing in bands, when I was very young. I was always so nervous and awkward back then. I joined a punk band when I was a teenager, and we were just developing our own thing at that time. There’s this strange thing about being on stage and just totally letting go. I guess it was my way of coping with the awkwardness and all the nerves back then. I didn’t know how to be graceful or charismatic, so going crazy just became my way of performing. Plus, when I go to a concert, I want to see the artist really going mad. I want to see that they’re real people, and they just love what they’re doing. I like when things aren’t staged; I really hate choreography. So I just try to let go!
Is it true that you learned to stage dive from the band Reptile Youth?
Yeah, that’s true! Actually he’s my boyfriend now, but before he was my boyfriend he was the one who was encouraging me and said, 'Hey, you have to do it!’ I was telling him that I really wanted to stage dive like he did, because it’s just so cool. It’s the ultimate way of letting go when you’re performing, to just throw yourself out there and not really know what’s going to happen. I was super impressed by that when I saw him do it. Now I’m doing it all the time!
Do you have a specific method for diving, or do you just jump and hope for the best?
I’m always waiting for the climax in the show, because that’s the best time to stage dive. I’ll kind of look around to find a good place, and I usually just hope the people standing there are up for it! Sometimes I try to prepare them a little, and sometimes I just totally surprise them. I’ve never actually crashed yet.
I have to bring up the Spice Girls, because they really influenced almost every girl from the '90s. Can you tell us about their influence on you and how they were your first gateway into music?
Yes, that’s so true. The Spice Girls weren’t my first meeting with music of course, but they were my very first huge band crush. You know when you have a band you absolutely love, and you go out and buy all the merchandise you can get your hands on? I was a proper fan girl. I was only about 7 or 8 at the time, and I didn’t know who to be or what to do with my life. Of course, no one does then. So I became completely obsessed with the Spice Girls, and I just wanted to be like them. They were the reason I first sat down and started writing songs.
Music has an ability to speak to people, and it’s a great way to inspire youth in particular. With your songs, you write things that people can really relate to on some level. Is that your aim in writing music?
Oh, I hope I can do that. Honestly, that would be so amazing to be able to do that for others. Obviously it wasn’t just the Spice Girls who inspired me throughout my whole life; there have been so many! But they started the whole thing for me. As you grow older and get new idols, you can still go back and listen to those songs that first inspired you. Those are the things that first gave you hope, because within music, you can find this mutual feeling and understanding. When you do find that, you feel like you’re not alone. If I’m ever able to do that for others, that will be so amazing. Really, that’s my biggest aim as an artist.
Who do you think are some of the most inspirational women in music right now?
I’ve become a big fan of Grimes. I think she’s really an unusual and unique woman in music who’s so inspiring. I also think that I can maybe see myself in her at times. I think she also has this awkwardness in her, but she’s always just pulling through. It’s so admirable. I also adore big pop stars like Rihanna. I don’t know if she writes her own songs, but she’s very good at translating the songs and expressing the feelings behind the lyrics. She’s just cool.
You collaborated with Major Lazer and DJ Snake for the hit "Lean On," which had to have been so much fun. What was that experience like?
That whole collaboration was great. It was so open and creative, and I love all of the people involved. The coolest thing was that it was so much fun to do. Actually, I got the first scratches for the beat back in early 2013, and it was just a slow reggae feel then. I started writing down the first ideas for lyrics and melody, and the song just developed. Major Lazer would send beats back and forth, and I’d send vocals back and forth. Then the beat changed, and DJ Snake came into the picture. We went into the studio after that in Las Vegas, and it was just all over the place. It wasn’t like one of those times you go into the studio and have eight hours to make a big record. Like – oh, you’ve got to make a huge hit, because all of these people are big songwriters and producers. It wasn’t like that at all. Everyone was just making music and doing their thing.
You went through a “punk” stage and a “crunk-rap” stage, but you’ve really transitioned to more of an electro-pop vibe for your album No Mythologies to Follow. Where did you find most of your song writing inspiration for those tracks?
I’ve been writing music since I was really small, and I’ve obviously been through a lot of different periods of time and phases in my life. With the punk band, I was an activist for awhile and was involved in that political punk environment for many years. I was doing that, and then I just felt like I wanted to write something more human or more real. A producer who had first heard my punk stuff heard the new songs, and he finally wanted to work with me. He thought the punk stuff was too fucked up! But when he heard the more personal stuff, he really liked it. I guess it’s always easier to hide behind something big and crazy than to just be yourself. Being you is the hardest thing to do, but when I finally decided to be vulnerable, people started to find a connection with my music.
You’re really a great role model yourself, because you’re so open about fighting against perfection and being exactly who you are. What would you say to girls who are now seeing you in the spotlight and thinking, I want to be a musician like her?
I’d say it all goes back to the essence of what we’ve been talking about. If anyone ever felt that way about my music, I would love that so much. There’s always such a fine balance. Music is about being personal and just putting everything on the table, but it’s mostly all about being true to yourself. You have to be who you are to communicate your thoughts and your feelings. Just be a real motherfucker, you know? Just be real instead of trying to do things that you think people will like, or trying to do the things that people will think are cool.
I was doing this solo rap project once, and I remember being so focused on what was popular at the time and what other people would like. I was into making music that everyone was into on the internet, and I was just trying to copy that stuff. I failed so miserably! Every time in my life that I’ve tried to copy something, or tried to be cool, or tried to be perfect, I’ve always failed so horribly. When you start to just be yourself, that’s when things really get interesting. When I stopped trying to be someone other than who I am, that’s when people started to listen.