“We wake up, we get coffee, and we start talking about world domination,” Icona Pop’s Caroline Hjelt said of the duo’s usual routine. COVID-19, however, has put a damper on some of their plans. After taking the charts by storm with 2012’s “I Love It,” Hjelt and Aino Jawo produced banger after banger, garnered critical acclaim, and performed on sold-out tours for megastars like Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus.
Now, the pair have returned with “Feels in My Body,” a buzzing pop anthem that practically begs for a dance floor. Back in Stockholm, Hjelt and Aino Jawo have been promoting their new music from home and haven’t set foot in a club in months. It’s a far cry from what they’ve come to know as normal, but that’s precisely why they released this song. “It feels like people need it even more,” Hjelt says.
While they’re enjoying their time at home and feeling more creative than ever, quarantine wasn’t always so kind to them. A couple of months ago, Jawo was knocked off of her feet (quite literally) by COVID-19 and faced disorienting symptoms.
I recently caught up with the duo to chat all about Icona Pop’s brand new music, Jawo’s recovery, and how the pandemic has strengthened their decade-long friendship.
How has all this isolation impacted you creatively? Is fueling you or driving you crazy? Maybe both?
JAWO: In the beginning it was very stressful, more because no one knew what was going to happen. And you’re like, ‘Oh, I have to start this thing. I have to communicate with everyone on Instagram constantly’, and all the live sessions and all of that. But after a while, I think we actually got pretty inspired because we never had this much time to just do nothing. For us, it’s been a pretty cool time to also, not take it easy because we’ve been working a lot, but it’s almost like going back to the early days of Icona Pop.
HJELT: I mean, we always have a choice. We can lay down and feel sorry for ourselves. Of course, we miss touring, we miss meeting our fans, we miss our daily routines, but we could have it so much worse. And also, I think, longing for playing live again has just made us creative because sometimes you take it for granted a little bit when you do it all the time. You’re just like, ‘Yeah, tomorrow we’re going to go to that city.’ And like when you can’t do it, we’re like, ‘We have to make music that will be epic to play live.’ I’ve been writing so much music in the studio, which has been great.
Aino, I know that you actually had COVID a little while back. How was that experience, if you’re comfortable sharing?
JAWO: Absolutely. I mean, I was very lucky. Because I’m never sick. I can be a little bit off my game, but this time I got super sick. The first thing was that I was feeling so tired and had headaches and I didn’t know what was up. So I stayed home. And then it kept on getting a little bit worse. I think that if it wouldn’t have been for the restrictions, I would have gone to the studio, but I didn’t.
My daily routine was basically cooking food and watching Netflix. But then a couple of days after I felt that I was doing really good. And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I’m gonna go to work tomorrow.’ And it just suddenly hit me again and I got really sick for two days. I was in bed, and my body was aching. And afterwards, I was just trying to go on super slow walks and stuff like that. And my lungs were just cramping you know, it was like I was standing on a treadmill and running the fastest that I could.
And then, every time I stood up, everything started to spin. That was just horrible. I went to the doctor and they told me that it was basically an inflammation from laying down so much. And the only cure for that was to move, so I had to go for walks. And I looked like a drunk person from Icona Pop because I couldn’t walk [laughs]. That was the scariest part, but I was blessed with not [having to go] to the hospital.
Swedish culture, particularly Swedish pop music, is so much about togetherness and dancing and really enjoying music together. Right now, that aspect has been completely taken away from how people listen to music. How has this affected you both?
HJELT: Of course, it’s been a big change. Especially now during the summer, we usually play live almost every day. We travel everywhere. It’s all connected to live music, big crowds, or traveling which you can’t really do right now either. So it has changed a lot, but that was also why we wanted to release “Feels in My Body”. We were like ‘This is perfect for like the club or dancing,’ or like ‘We want to hear this at a party.’ We can’t do that right now, but we still wanted to stick to the plan and release it because it feels like people need it even more.
I think that’s why I love “Feels in My Body so much”. When you hear it, you just immediately want to grab your friends and dance; exactly what you were saying. It really gives this energy of togetherness that we all really miss.
HJELT: I’m so happy you heard that in the song.
Absolutely. In terms of upcoming music, I know you guys are really focused right now and writing a lot. Are there plans for a bigger project coming up? Or any other releases we can look forward to?
JAWO: We’re gonna release something very soon with Sofi Tukker. We wrote a song together just before we left LA, and we love them. They’re amazing. So definitely keep your eyes and ears open for a release.
I know that both of you are really passionate about fashion. I’m curious as to how your fashion sense has changed in quarantine because so many people are just wearing loungewear all the time. How has this time affected you in terms of your personal style?
HJELT: It’s a big change because we haven’t been shopping. So we’ve been using so much old stuff, and we’ve even been switching [clothes] with each other like. And also, we’ve been dressing up. Some days when we’ve been hanging out in our sweatpants for like two weeks, we’re like, ‘You know what? We’re going to put on nice clothes tomorrow. We’re going to put on a little bit of makeup’ and just make it feel like we’re gonna have a show or go to a party or something, just because we wanted to feel the vibe.
JAWO: Totally. And also like, you do it for yourself and not for anyone else, which has been awesome. Because otherwise, I mean, when you’re in the studio, you like to walk around with comfy clothes. We’ve been having a couple of those days.
Yeah, for sure. I saw something like on Instagram that was like, ‘This quarantine was really showing me who I actually wear makeup for’. But sometimes you just want to put some on even if you’re not leaving the house, you just want to feel a little bit fancier.
JAWO: Absolutely. Maybe something’s gonna happen.
Yeah like, maybe you’ll see the mailman or something.
Going back to your songwriting process a bit. So much of your music is inspired by heartbreak or tumultuous relationships. When you’re in a long-term relationship, how does that change the way that you think about your music? Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re not actively going through something?
HJELT: It’s pretty easy to tap into. I mean, it’s almost like scars that live inside your body. And if you’re connected with your body, it’s pretty easy to go and feel that feeling if you just rethink the whole scenario and talk about it. That’s why sometimes in the studio can be so draining. When you walk home, you’re like, ‘Oh, it was like reading an old diary.’ And you remember how it felt. Or sometimes you talk to someone close to you that’s been through something that made you want to write about it. It triggered something creative like, ‘Oh, this is so beautiful,’ or ‘This is sad’ or any kind of emotion.
JAWO: And also, this past year, we’ve been writing songs about love in a positive way and not only like the dark and horrible times. We’ve had a couple of love songs and we’re like, ‘Okay, this is creepy’ [laughs]. I think you need those as well. So, I think it’s a good balance.
You’ve spoken a lot about your relationship and how when you met it was just sort of like you instantly connected and you jumped right into writing together. Because you’ve been working together for so long now, is there anything specific that you have noticed has grown or developed in your relationship? Especially now that you’re spending all this time together, like you did in the beginning?
JAWO: I think the coolest part of this whole thing is that we realized that we haven’t been hanging out as friends that much. So it’s been quite weird when we met up for a coffee and decided not to talk about music or plans for the future. We were like, ‘Let’s just hang out as friends.’ It was very refreshing.
HJELT: Yeah, otherwise we wake up, we have coffee and we start talking about world domination. But it’s been so nice to see that even when we’re home in Stockholm, the first one I call is Aino. And I’m like, ‘You want to come and take a swim with me?’ And it’s been really nice. And also, I think now, after all these years together, we’ve been learning about how different we are from each other. We know what we need more, which makes everything easier. I mean, now, if someone is like, having a breakdown, or starting to do something weird, we can laugh about it, even before it happens. Because we’ve been living with each other for such a long time. It’s pretty cool to see that it’s growing.
From everything I’ve read and seen it seems like you have such a great balance in your relationship. And I think that’s why you’re able to go away for a little while and then come back and put out really great music. I think it’s really just an admirable thing, that you guys have maintained such a strong relationship over such a long time. It’s just really cool to see.
HJELT: A lot of people ask us, ‘Do you fight?’ because we’re women. And it’s the opposite. I feel so empowered by Aino and she has my back. I mean, I could not imagine doing this alone. I really have my support system when I’m with Aino.
Also, like, no one would ever ask two men that question.
JAWO: No, never.
HJELT: Never. It’s crazy. It’s so stupid.
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photos / Yoye Lapogian
story / Catherine Santino