Mø: from punk activist to pop star

Danish singer Mø has ditched her DIY days for a whole new sound – but that doesn't mean she's selling out. She talks about rightwing politics, the fear of missing out and youth malaise

sounds oddly like Jeremy Kyle. "In Denmark we're so privileged," she says. "You get money to study, you get money if you're sick and you get money if your hand hurts. It's hard to be critical of people who are sick getting money, but in Denmark everyone gets money thrown at them and it makes them lazy."

What makes it so odd is that earlier she showed me her latest tattoo: a cartoon face clad in a balaclava, a tribute to the dissident Russian band Pussy Riot, and a reminder of 25-year-old Karen Marie Ørsted's punk activist past in the duo Mor. Still, she presses on: "They get so many lifestyle problems, such as depression, because there's nothing to fight for. It's better to have something to get up and live for. People don't know what to do with themselves – they get given every single opportunity in the world and can't make a decision."

But then Mø isn't a punk activist any more. She's now a solo performer, being prepared to be a pop star. And her new sound, which reflects the continued influence of hip-hop on mainstream pop, combined with a dramatic, emotional voice similar to Lana Del Rey's, is a long way from Mor. These days she counts Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake as labelmates, and not everyone from her former life was delighted with the change. "Some people say: 'Urgh, major label,' that sort of thing," she admits.

Mø became politically active as a teenager after changing schools and becoming friends with a new group of kids who listened to the 80s US hardcore punk band Black Flag and were already engaged with politics – they would attend rallies, and she started to join them. "I remember my first protest," she says. "In Denmark we have a rightwing party called Dansk Folkeparti [Danish People's Party] and they had some very radical views about Islamic women, very racist things in my opinion. We staged a huge protest in a small town where they were holding their annual meeting. I was 16 and it was just so crazy."

At 18, she formed Mor. "Our music was very trashy and we toured a lot in Europe and New York," she says. "Every week we'd turn up at a new squat in the middle of nowhere and play. We got to meet so many interesting people. We were both activists, campaigning about things such as racism, fascism and women's rights."

MØ - Glass (Live) on MUZU.TV.

Reading on mobile? See MØ performing Glass here.

So how does Mø square the punk past and the pop present? "In my head I justify the pop thing with the fact that before I started listening to Black Flag, I fucking loved pop music. The Spice Girls [Sporty Spice was her favourite and still is], Cher, I loved them all. It was such a big thing for me. It makes sense to make a big song people can relate to. I still have the same critical eye towards society, though. I just don't play squats any more."

Mø started branching out towards a more clean-cut career in the latter days of Mor, when she sent an a cappella vocal track to the producer Ronni Vindahl, who has worked on her forthcoming debut album, No Mythologies to Follow. It's a classy, confident effort that maintains an alternative heart without compromising its mainstream aspirations. The new single Don't Wanna Dance has a minimal electronic beat that soon gives way to a huge chorus; Never Wanna Know is pure Phil Spector retroism, Mø chastising an ex-boyfriend over the timeless Be My Baby beat.

One of the standouts, Glass, is an ode to nostalgia and longing for the ease of youth. "I think everyone grew up thinking that by their mid-20s they'd have everything sorted out, but I know I don't. There is this unidentifiable problem of wanting more from life and never being satisfied," she say, before adding bleakly: "The days are slipping away and you're one step closer to death. Life was so easy as a child, maybe you fall over and you cry but you get back up again."

I ask if Mø spends too much time online. She admits to "Fomo": the fear of missing out. "I try not to spend too much time online but at the same time if I didn't, I'd be isolated. You hear about a party and think I have to go, I don't want to miss out, and then you go and you just feel like: 'Urgh, what am I doing here?'"

But then again, sometimes being online does stop you missing out. Diplo, for example, produced Mø's song XXX 88 after the pair hooked up via Twitter. "I was asked in an interview who I would most like to work with and I said Major Lazer. A guy on Twitter read the interview and tweeted Diplo, saying: 'Make this happen.' He saw it and said he was a fan, so we met up in Amsterdam and began working together."

Ørsted's choice of subjects is unusual for a budding pop star, tackling issues such as youth malaise and Denmark's benefits culture, which is how the whole Danish-pop-star-does-Jeremy-Kyle thing came up in the first place. And if it is strange to hear a young person with a history in protest and activism suddenly start talking as though she's on a late-night radio phone-in, Mø is the first to admit she does not have the answers. "I feel young and confused. The album is discussing issues, but I don't have the answer. It is definitely left open-ended."


David Renshaw

The GuardianTramp

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