Tove Lo is not your average pop star.
The Swedish singer-songwriter shot to the top of the charts with her 2014 international hit “Habits.” The lead single of her debut LP “Queen of the Clouds” found Lo turning to marijuana, strip clubs, and sloppy sex to stay high and forget about her lost love. “Habits” was followed by hits like “Timebomb” and “Moments.”
Lo’s music is hyperpersonal—she sings her experiences exactly as they happened with no sugarcoating nor embellishment. She is not afraid to sing about the ones that have hurt her, and she is not afraid to wear her mistakes for the world to see.
Tove Lo’s latest release, “Lady Wood,” is no exception. Entertainment Weekly’s Madison Vain praised the album’s musical and lyrical content, saying “while Lo's lyrics are stark and intensely personal, the music sounds engineered for the masses.”
What may set Lo apart from other pop starlets of her generation most, however, may not be her brutal honesty, but rather her dedication to telling a story through an album that cohesively ties together into an entire plot. “Queen of the Clouds” was a story of passion, romance, and heartache, and was broken up into three chapters: “The Sex,” “The Love,” and “The Pain.”
“Lady Wood” tells the story of, yes, sex, love, and pain, but is tied together by two major themes: the rush of the high, explored in “Fairy Dust (Chapter 1)”, and the crash, explored in “Fire Fade (Chapter 2).”
I’ve already fallen in love with the album and each of its songs, and I (may) have been able to put together the story Lo is attempting to convey with this emotionally-heavy dance-techno album. The story begins with the sprinkle of fairy dust in the air…
1. Fairy Dust (Chapter I)
"Nobody knows me."
This instrumental track begins with the sound of a match being lit that fades into a slowed-down, atmospheric techno melody that symbolizes the agent by which a high occurs, whether that agent is a controlled substance, adrenaline, or passion. This is where Tove Lo’s high begins.
"Don't trust every word I say... I say..."
In “Influence,” Lo meets the man that will soon become the object of her affection. They are far from sober, but that does not stop them from letting loose and having fun. In the chorus, Lo warns him—and the listener—not to trust anything she says, establishing her as an unreliable narrator in her story… trust her at your own risk.
3. Lady Wood
"I know what people say about you; they say the same about me."
Lo has sobered up, and now she’s looking at her man with clear eyes. The fast-paced song finds Lo acknowledging that the man has a bad reputation, but she doesn’t care—people say the same about her, and she wants him by her side. The title of the song refers to female arousal—he turns her on, and she’s not afraid to tell him.
4. True Disaster
"I fool in love; roll up beside me, and you're just as bad."
“Lady Wood” crossfades right into “True Disaster,” and things are starting to get serious between Lo and her lover. She learns more about him, and it’s clear that things are only going to end with heartache on her end. She knows this, but she entices him to “play her heartstrings faster and faster,” only living in the pleasure of the moment.
5. Cool Girl
"Ice-cold, I roll my eyes at you, boy."
Just as she had anticipated, there is a catch to the dynamic between Lo and her lover; she wants love while he wants no commitment whatsoever. She tries to play it off as no big deal, acting like the “cool girl” that’s into sleeping around and sharing lovers with anyone and everyone. Deep down, she knows that no matter how much she tries to pretend, her feelings are for him and him alone.
6. Vibes (feat. Joe Janiak)
"Feeling so high falling into you..."
It’s too much trying to be the Cool Girl, so Lo gives up and lets herself fall into the man, enjoying the rush that comes with doing so. Here, the listener gets the perspective of the man for the first and only time in the album with Joe Janiak’s verse—he promises to be her “brand new disaster.” Everything feels right, but only for a minute…
7. Fire Fade (Chapter II)
This video contains explicit language and some graphic content.
The second instrumental track finds Lo desperately trying to find her lover. He’s gone, and she can’t find him no matter how hard she looks. She’s lost without him, and she doesn’t know what to do with his disappearance. Here begins Lo’s crash; the high is fading, and she’ll begin spiraling to the ground.
8. Don’t Talk About It
"Don't talk about it -- sweep it under the rug like we do, do."
Tove Lo finds herself back in the same settings as the ones from “Habits,” but this time, she’s not puking in her bathtub—she’s having fun. She’s brought someone else into the mix (a potential lover, a friend, it’s not quite clear) to party with plenty of drinks and money to go around. They can hang with her crowd under one condition: “don’t talk about it…” Don’t mention the pain of “Fairy Dust,” and they’re cool to stay in the clique.
9. Imaginary Friend
"I don't know... I guess it's kinda like a voice in my heart... reminding me that there's nothing to fear in the things I'm afraid of..."
Lo lightens the mood just a little bit by describing how she makes it through the pain of reality: she has a voice in her heart telling her that everything is going to be okay. She begs her imaginary friend to stay with her until it’s all over, and the production of the song leaves the listener almost feeling hopeful for the best.
10. Keep It Simple
"I - ain't - ready... I - ain't - ready..."
Lo is trying to move on from the one that broke her heart in “Fairy Dust,” but she finds it impossible to take a relationship with this new person past sex. She’s haunted by the ghost of the one that left her behind, and it makes it impossible for her to give her heart to someone new. She keeps it simple and tells her new lover that she’s simply not ready.
"What about you?"
Here, Lo struggles with fame and attention. She gets high far too often, and when she comes crashing down, she’s faced her actions are immortalized in photos taken by the paparazzi and posted for the world to see. She sees the camera flashes as enemies, fiends that only want to see her fail, but she battles even more with regret and embarrassment for having done those things in the first place.
12. WTF Love Is
"All the cards with all the love cliches; I wouldn't have it any other way."
In the story’s conclusion, Lo speaks directly to the listener, admitting that she’s far from perfect and way more than anyone bargains for in a relationship, and that she allows her warped view of sex and love to inspire her songwriting. You can hear her frustration hidden behind an otherwise singsong melody, and the album ends with her screaming out, “ugh, f***! I need another,” as she downs a shot of alcohol.
Of course, the only one that can truly tell the story and the meaning behind “Lady Wood” is Tove Lo herself, but it’s still so much fun to go through and try and decode story behind it all on my own.
“Lady Wood” is the first half of a two-part album series, and will be followed by two more chapters in 2017: “Light Beams” and “Pitch Black.” Stay tuned for my analysis of the sequel coming soon!