-Image by KNOTORYUS-
I meet Karen Marie Ørsted (MØ) backstage in Brussels, getting up from a worn-out fake leather couch to shake my hand and smile at me. It's an honest, open smile underneath a restless pair of eyes.
MØ is touring her debut album 'No Mythologies To Follow' all over the globe: SXSW in Texas was only last week and since then she's played Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. ("What I do on the tourbus? I write and make music. Sleep. I don't even watch like, series or anything. I really like to sleep.") It's the first time she's headlining her own shows and she's determined to make it count. Before this tour you might have seen her opening for Major Lazer, where she made the connect with Diplo, who produced her breakout track XXX88 in 2013. ("He's so great. He is such a f*cking talent. It's just cool to make music with him.")
At this particular moment in time, sitting across from me on that old couch, MØ is the essence of the term 'emerging artist': she's new, she's young, everything she does gets blogged about and for the first time, she's selling out venues in the big cities and receiving fan art on a daily basis. The energy of what's happening in her life is barely contained by MØ's physical form. Our conversation is heavily spiced with "Oh My God"'s and "Uuuurgh"'s and "Aaaah"'s and "It's like waaaaaa"'s. The longer her answers are, the more her words accelerate, often finishing with hyper-fast flourishes of 'I dunno. Something like that. You know?'
-Image by KNOTORYUS-
"Wait, I want to show you this!" Karen delves into a black bag next to the couch and produces an envelope with stickers of pink bows and a tiny, careful drawing of a 'thumbs up' 'I like this' hand next to her artist's name. A labour of genuine love: you can tell from the pencil lines the sender has drawn across the paper to make sure all the letters are lined up neatly.
MØ: "It's so cute! I get so touched, I almost can't take it. I get so happy that I can touch people like that because that's how I felt when I was little and a fan of the Spice Girls. If I would have been able to give them a letter and .. I'd be so happy, like 'aaaargh!'"
KNOTORYUS: I recently saw a documentary about Björk and she said music is so important to people because it connects what's inside with what's outside and helps them makes sense of it all.
MØ: I love Björk so much! I couldn't have said it better myself. (laughs) I totally get that, because it's about trying to translate what's inside to something else. When I started making music, I was only seven or eight years old and I was just trying to copy the sound of The Spice Girls. But then I discovered that I could write about things I was feeling and things I was thinking about and so I became addicted to letting off steam that way. It became my platform of expression instead of a fan thing.
KNOTORYUS: Do you remember the exact moment you realised this?
MØ: I do, actually. I was nine and I was sitting at my parents' piano. They didn't play music, though. They just inherited it. They had forced me and my brother to take lessons, you know, really simple boring stuff like this: (*plays a one-fingered air piano version of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'*) 'Tingting Tingting Ting Ting Ting'. But then I tried to make a song and it felt so... right. I'm not the type to say to herself: "Oh, you're so good, Karen!", but I remember thinking: 'This is good. I know this is good." And then I played it for my best friend, who was really popular. I was the sidekick. She was the queen. And she got totally angry and dismissed it like: 'That was not too bad." That's when I knew it was good.
- Fan letter to Karen -
KNOTORYUS: Your name refers to being a young girl (MØ = maiden). Your Twitter name is @MOMOMOYouth. Being young seems like something you think about a lot.
MØ: I guess a lot of my songs are about that, yeah. You used to be a teenager from 15 to 25 or something, now you become a teenager much earlier, like when you're ten. And then it goes on much longer, too. You're still searching until you're like, 35. Being a teenager is about experiencing and about 'Me Me Me' and we're all like that now. We all want to discover what we are.
KNOTORYUS: Do you think that's a bad thing?
MØ: I think it's bad if it's egocentric. If it's all about what you want to be. If it's all about trying for perfection and projecting yourself in the most perfect way on social media. These days it seems like you have to be perfect: you have to have the perfect boyfriend and be sociable and you have to be fit and and you have to have a good job and you have to look good... It just gives people serious lifestyle diseases because they can't live up to these crazy ideals.
*Stops to think for one nanosecond*
MØ: But yeah, I guess it 's not necessarily a bad thing. It's good to keep searching for answers your entire life and not be like 'Uuurgh! *Makes a face* 'I'm finsihed!' But when it becomes an obsession that's not good. I guess a lot of my sogs are about being young and restless and not knowing what's happening while at the same time the world is opening up to you and you're discovering all these wonderful things.
KNOTORYUS: I have the feeling there is much more pressure to be perfect from the start: there's no time to make mistakes and find your way. Do you feel that way as a young artist, too? It seems to me there's more pressure to have a perfect first album and a massive amount of followers and YouTube views.
MØ: If I would think about that too much I would make myself sick. I don't want to be a perfectionist. The only thing you can do is not try to be something you're not.
- Karen in her 'first band' of Spice Girls hopefuls. She's the one in the middle -
KNOTORYUS: Listening to your album does capture some of that feeling of being young and on the edge of new things and wanting to dive in head first and experiencing it all.
MØ: That's great. I'm very happy to hear that!
KNOTORYUS: It reminded me of a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Being young is like sitting in front of a big bowl of candy..."
MØ: Yeah! (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: "... And when you get older you think you want to return to the pure state you were in before you ate the whole bowl. But what you really want is to eat all the candy again." But nowadays, it seems to me like some people want to skip eating the candy and get to the part where you've already had everything.
MØ: That's right! Exactly! They want everything now. They're so busy! I can totally relate to it, but I hate it, too. People should f*cking chill, you know? People can get so tied up in their own ambitions. Everything has to be perfect before they reach their goals immediately. I try to distance myself from it, but of course I can't say I'm not ambitious.
KNOTORYUS: You're on a big label, with an official drop and marketing and you did a Spotify session ... Doesn't that side of it add to the pressure of being perfect?
MØ: It does, but on the other hand I try to remind myself not to try to be something I'm not. And my fans want all of this because of what I am. As long as I can do what I do without compromising, I'm OK with that side of it.
KNOTORYUS: No one is saying to you: "On the next album, we're going to need three Diplo beats instead of one."
MØ: No, actually. Of course I know people would love it of I collabrated with him some more. I would be happy to make some more music with him, too! I haven't been pushed into situations where I didn't ... I did have some sessions with people where it didn't work, but then I just don't release it because it's not something I love. You know, in the end it's just really great to meet people and work with them.
-The video for 'Glass' with the refrain "Oh, why does everyone have to grow old?'-
KNOTORYUS: And have you met some of your heroes yet?
MØ: I did a session with SOHN recently. He's still 'rising' but I'm a huuuuuuge fan. I was totally starstruck. He'll be so big. He's so amazing. I love him! Sorry, I'm being a fangirl, I know. (laughs) I also met Jungle. I had a lot of fun with them.
KNOTORYUS: And what about your other heroes, like Sonic Youth?
MØ: Oh my god, if I would meet Kim Gordon, I would get a heart attack.
KNOTORYUS: It's silly, but last year we had a friendly nod from Raymond Pettibon on Twitter and it really meant a lot to me.
MØ: What?!!! No way!!? Seriously, he's my favourite artist. He also did the Goo cover. I wish he would do my cover art.
KNOTORYUS: You should just ask him.
MØ: Yeah, OK. I will. *makes a face* No, it's true, I should.
KNOTORYUS: Do you know where you were when you heard Sonic Youth split up?
MØ: I read it in a Danish music magazine. Yeah. I was in Denmark, then. I was sad because it just seemed ... Like it was possible, you know? To be the coolest band and the coolest guy and girl to be together.... It just sucks.
KNOTORYUS: For me, it's been weird because when I was 16, Sonic Youth seemed part of something that was beyond gossip. But now... To hear people say 'Team Kim' or 'Team Thurston', it's... strange to see someone from that culture and that generation enter the gossip stream.
MØ: Yeah, I guess people had been holding it back and then when it happened they were like: 'Nooooo!' and they just had to talk about it. Oh well, I heard it's not the end of Sonic Youth, so... let's hope.
KNOTORYUS: Do you read the stuff people say about you?
MØ: No. Of course, I go on Twitter to reply but... people write so much, good and bad. I get touched when I get a letter like the one I showed you.
KNOTORYUS: You don't read 50 good things, 1 bad thing and then end up focusing on the bad thing?
MØ: I was in many bands before this where people where like: 'Ha!' or 'Ugh, that's bad.' So I'm used to that. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: But now that you're blowing up, does it get weirder?
MØ: Oh yeah, there's a lot of personal, weird stuff.
KNOTORYUS: Like what?
MØ: Like, uhm... *For the first time her eyes shift to the label rep in the room* Just... *starts giggling* sexual stuff. Like... Bleurgh!
KNOTORYUS: Oh, ok, let's move on from that, then.
MØ: Yeah. *cracks up*
KNOTORYUS: Do you think you would rather have been young in the nineties or eighties when stuff like that just wasn't around that much? What period of time do you wish you could have lived in?
MØ: Hmmmm. That's a good question. I guess it depends on where you grow up, if you could be young in New York in the nineties or eighties. I am very happy to live in these times, though. Now, even if you don't have the courage to go out and meet people and go to a studio and be cool and be in a band, you can make stuff in your own bedroom and build up your self-esteem and courage that way. That's good, because then it's not necerssarily the people with the most self-esteem that get through.
KNOTORYUS: Also, you couldn't get a tweet from Raymond Pettibon in the nineties.
MØ: (laughs) That's true. You know what? I did get a Tweet from Melanie C from The Spice Girls a while ago and even though I'm not a Spice Girls fan anymore, it was still amazing. If I had known that would happen when I was nine, I would have died.