Begin Again

Since their breakthrough single ‘I Love It’ in 2012, Icona Pop has dominated the electro-pop scene. Ahead of their first album in ten years, Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt talk about moving on in their professional and personal lives.

It took the world coming to a halt for Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt to slow down. Since 2009 the best friends have been known as Icona Pop. In 2012 the release of the breakthrough hit ‘I Love It’ would mean nothing would ever be the same. The anthem changed both the trajectory of pop music and their own careers, leaving little room for a personal life.

But as America was shutting down the country’s borders in 2020 they packed their bags in a hurry. Thinking the visit would only last for a month they left their house in Los Angeles for Sweden. As the pandemic hit, the new album had already begun to take shape, but back in Sweden Icona Pop found themselves back in the studio they first recorded in. This is when the previous decade really started to sink in – those years had been a whirlwind of work and touring, with no room for vacations let alone processing it all.

“Before that, we had at most two weeks of vacation here and there. We travelled constantly. During the year when ‘I Love It’ was released we had 320 flight days. So, when we couldn’t tour anymore, all these existential questions came up. ‘Who are we without this?’ You realize you’re addicted to the highs of this lifestyle. When everything was quiet and calm, we finally had the time to talk”, Hjelt remembers. “It’s not often we sit down and talk about stuff on that very deep level,” Jawo adds. “A lot has happened during the touring years, but we haven’t had the time to deal with it. Writing this album was like being in therapy.”

Icona Pop had been trying to write a new album, the follow-up to their 2013 debut This Is…Icona Pop, but the opportunity to write a complete body of work only came about in 2020. During the intervening years they even scrapped a whole album, deciding it was not good enough. Reflecting during the pandemic on their decade-long career resulted in the album Club Romantech – their clubbiest but also most emotionally honest music yet. Amid the production of the album the two of them found out they were each pregnant, something that would make its own mark on the process. These years became truly transitive for the duo, who had to realign their roles as creators.

“We didn’t feel like it was time to call it quits” says Hjelt. “Instead, our vision was clearer and stronger than ever. You would think that we could have used this time for rest, but no.” She laughs self-deprecatingly. “This creative force completely took over,” Jawo explains. “We wrote the record super-hormonal and with no filter. It was very beautiful. Sometimes we came into the studio and just cried. There was a lot happening, both in our bodies and minds. The process felt very naked. We started seeing things differently and went from always putting ourselves first to having to prioritize someone else. In turn that has made us let go of the pressure, and that’s why we were able to create our best music yet.

Even though they were pregnant, Jawo and Hjelt were determined to keep working on the album, not only for their art but also to prove it could be done. This is not surprising, as the duo are known to make bold statements against sexism in the music industry. Being mothers, they claim, has even made them more efficient in their work and made them re-evaluate their work-life balance.

“Having a kid is the best thing that has happened to me, and we got to share that with our best friend”, Hjelt says. Jawo agrees and adds: “It feels very cool being a woman, having a child and still getting to do this. Other artists have thanked us for being so open and have said it has made the idea of having kids while still working in music seem more doable.” It was different in the past, Hjelt says: “Ten years ago, artists would disappear and then come back with a six-pack and you didn’t talk about it.”

Icona Pop was quickly placed in the pop genre after their debut, as radio stations had a hard time fitting their music into a box. With their love for electronica and dance music, pop is not a label they have ever felt at home.

“This time we decided there were no rules, and the music kept getting more clubby because we dreamt about being able to tour again. We let go of the classic format of a pop song. But we are still suckers for good pop melodies. It’s quite funny that we wrote our clubbiest album during the quietest time of our lives”, says Hjelt. “And while being heavily pregnant, adds Jawo. “The categories of genres are starting to be erased, so it’s an interesting time for creating music.”

As if all these life changes weren’t enough, Icona Pop decided it was time to start their own record label. A decision that was easy to make after the transitive period crossed over into their most grounded selves.

“This is truly a different time for us, where all the planning and decisions are made by us. After this many years in the industry we feel that we are ready, now that we have tried the major labels as well as the indie ones. But we still collaborate with other record labels – you’re never stronger than your team. In the future we would like to sign other artists and producers,” says Hjelt.

Having stayed together for 14 years, they reflect on how they have been able to stay by each other’s side. “The basis has always been our friendship and our passion. If that isn’t there one day, there will be no band. But we are stronger than ever now, and that is pretty cool. I’m so glad I didn’t have to do all this by myself, but there is also no one else I could have done it with” says Hjelt.

“We are two very different people, we complete each other,” says Jawo. “Our differences could be a problem, but in our case it has worked out beautifully. Caroline is more of a creative chaos, she can do a million things at once.” Hjelt agrees: “Aino is more thoughtful, she has a tendency to fixate on one thing at a time. It’s a good combo and we have learned from each other. Now we are like a married couple and can read each other very easily.”

They are eager to set up a second home in the US, but it is still undecided where Icona Pop will end up. Although one thing is clear, wherever that may be, that Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt will be there together. The duo promises we won’t have to wait another ten years for the next album. With a new-found excitement, the best is still ahead of Icona Pop.

Talents: Icona Pop
Caroline Hjelt & Aino Neneh Jawo

Team Credits:

Photography by Pelle Lannefors
Styling by Amanda Hörlin
Words by Emma Thimgren
Hair stylist: Sofia Geideby
Hair assistant: Freja Östman
Make-up artist: Jasmine Lundmark
Make-up assistant: Tereza Luyirika

Fashion Credits:
1) Caroline wears top by Humana Second Hand. Skirt by Stand Studio. Boots by Steve Madden. Earrings by Freya Douglas Ferguson;
Aino wears coat by Deadwood. Top by Khéla. Skirt by Stand Studio. Ring by Agoston Balazs. Necklace stylist’s own
3) Aino wears top by Stand Studio. Skirt by Deadwood. Stockings by Swedish Stockings. Necklace by Freya Douglas Ferguson
5) Caroline wears top by A. Roege Hove. Pants by Christiana Hadjipapa. Shoes by Stand Studio. Rings by Horisaki and Matilda Little. Earrings by Mara Peralta
6) Caroline wears dress by Hodakova. Boots by Stand Studio.Earrings by Freya Douglas Ferguson
7) Caroline and Aino both wear Tasha Goodhew;
Caroline wears earrings by Freya Douglas Ferguson;
Aino wears rings by Murky
9) Caroline wears dress by Keta Gutmane. Jeans by Diesel
10) Caroline wears blazer and skirt by Adnym Atelier. Lace top by Soda Lingerie. Rings by Matilda Little
11) Aino wears dress by Deadwood. Shoes by Filippa K. Earrings by All Blues
12) Aino wears leather jacket by Deadwood. Lace top by Soda Lingerie. Trousers by Khéla. Shoes by Stand Studio. Ring by Agoston Balazs
13) Aino wears body by Christiana Hadjipapa. Maxi skirt by Deadwood
14) Caroline wears dress by Hodakova. Boots by Stand Studio. Earrings by Freya Douglas Ferguson
15) Aino wears body by Christiana Hadjipapa. Maxi skirt by Deadwood