Next month, Tove Lo will open for Katy Perry on her tour of Australia. But she’s already setting herself apart from the headliner. “At a shoot yesterday, a stylist asked me, ‘What are you planning to wear on the Katy tour?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God, fuck, I haven’t even thought about what I’m going to wear!’” she recently told Billboard. “I can’t wear what I usually wear [onstage] — I’m usually barefoot with, like, a T-shirt and jean shorts. I need to up my game.” It’s not exactly Soundgarden opening for Guns N’ Roses in 1991, but Tove Lo is consciously presenting herself as a de-glammed, every-woman alternative alongside an established behemoth.
This aesthetic — hyper-disciplined pop delivered with a “raw” and “honest” persona — might seem like a credibility grab or a capitulation to rockist biases. I prefer to think of it as counterprogramming, or perhaps the next changeover. Pop artists have always been magpies, lifting sounds and fashions from unlikely places and reinventing them. It’s a constant search for the new. And the new “new” might be something a little less perfect. If the spirit of grunge is going to make a comeback, it obviously can’t return in the familiar form of Sabbath-size riffs and Kevin Kerslake–directed music videos. It makes sense that it would reappear in the guise of women subverting the system from the inside, one hopelessly sad earworm at a time.