Karen Marie Ørsted doesn’t want to grow up. The debut single from her upcoming album – titled ‘Forever Neverland’ – is called ‘Nostalgia’. It’s been four and a half years since her last record, 2014’s ‘No Mythologies to Follow’, so she’s done some considerable growing up since then – but the fear is still there.
In that time, she’s also collaborated with Major Lazer, Justin Bieber, Snakehips and Charli XCX, cut all of her hair off, played some of her biggest shows ever, including a support slot on Sia’s (conveniently titled ‘Nostalgic for the Present’) Australian stadium tour, and released an EP and numerous solo singles.
With a history like that, there’s no wonder Karen can’t stop reminiscing about the past. But let it be known, she’s always thinking about the future too.
“Notoriously all my life I’ve been scared of getting older,” she says. “I don’t know why. Probably because I feel so immature in my brain. And sometimes I see that that’s a really good thing because it’s good to have a childish optimism and a carefree feel, but at the same time, it’s… I don’t know.”
‘Forever Neverland’ may be an obvious nod to J. M. Barrie’s classic, but just to clarify: “I myself identify with, you know when you say people are Peter Panning? They don’t wanna grow up, they just like move to LA and they pretend they’re young forever.
“I think ‘No Mythologies to Follow’ was so much me in the beginning of my 20s, feeling a bit lost and rootless, and that I felt like the environment I was in was in that no one really had any clue as to what path we were supposed to take. We didn’t feel like there was any guidance, and I feel like with this one, it’s the same but it’s the end of my 20s, and I’m shit scared of what’s next.”
Approaching your 30s as a pop star can be a terrifying time. Unless you’re in the big, big leagues – Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Beyoncé, et al. – it can feel like pop stars have an expiry date. New ones cropping up every day, or hitting the big time before they’ve reached the end of their teens. The thing with MØ, is that she’s never gone fully stratospheric. Sure, she wrote and sang the most streamed song of all time (‘Lean On’), and hit that milestone before Ed Sheeran and Drake (who now occupy the Top 3 most streamed songs ever slots), but she retains some anonymity, and it works in her favour.
“I feel like we live in a generation where – it’s probably been like this always, but – I feel like we glorify youth and being young. I think a lot of people, and a lot of my friends, even if we don’t say it out loud, sometimes there’s this weird unsaid understanding that once you reach the end of your 20s and you get into the 30s that life stops, you know? And it’s so wrong, but it’s this weird anxiety that I feel for it all over social media, so it was on my mind when I wrote this record.”
And where do you go to record an album about wanting to stay young forever? The land of eternal youth, Los Angeles, of course. “I’ve been a lot in LA, and I love Los Angeles so much, but at the same time I feel so alienated, and it’s again, me talking about this whole thing of being scared of becoming an adult because I feel so hopelessly immature, on a personal level it became my own sort of neverland a little bit.
“But it’s like, it’s so bright and right on the outside, but actually the question is whether it’s good for you, and that’s for you to find out. It has a bit of a double meaning to me, personally.”
It’s a widely-believed notion that in order to ‘make it’, creatives should move to LA, or London, or New York (one of ‘those’ places) but, ever the rulebreaker, Karen rejects that notion.
“I never actually bought a place or rented a place because at this time I was also travelling all the time, but I feel like LA was a place where I came back, and I stayed for a long period because I was writing and all these things.
“Everyone that I work with, almost all of them live in LA. I also wanted to move there because I felt like I have to move there and everyone says that I should move there, why am I not moving there? And I kept on pushing it, and again this relates to my fear of taking grown-up decisions sometimes, because I’ve always just postponed it.
“It’s weird because there are parts of me that also would love to move for my own personal adventure. I fucking love LA, and I have lots of friends there, but I guess, to be honest, I’m so scared to lose my identity if I move there. It’s so stupid because it’s my responsibility to not lose my identity, but I think when I wrote the album, this is something I was thinking about a lot and I wanted to hold onto myself a lot.”
The carefully crafted identity of MØ has become muddled in recent years. When she released her debut in 2014, she was heralded as a pop warrior; making electropop with a punk spirit. She grew up with parents who were a teacher and a psychologist, and her brother became a doctor – so instead she got involved with the Danish punk scene and released an EP called ‘Pussy In Your Face’.
If you’d have been told that this was the artist who’d later be picked up by Diplo and end up doing vocals for a bunch of club anthems (‘Cold Water’ with Major Lazer and Justin Bieber, ‘Beg For It’ with Iggy Azalea, ‘Don’t Leave’ with Snakehips), you’d be surprised. But it’s almost second nature for Karen to surprise us, and in the years that followed, a lot changed. As she became increasingly involved in features, most notably ‘Lean On’ with Major Lazer and DJ Snake, it started to feel like we’d never be getting a second solo record.
It seems that one of the most crucial elements of creating ‘Finding Neverland’ was Karen finding herself again. “It took me a couple of years after the success of ‘Lean On’ to find my voice again and find the sound and find the team of people that I wanted to work with and find my identity.
“We go through life, and we change all the time, and obviously a lot of things happened that changed me a little bit as a person, so just finding your sound again and finding your style and finding everything again, you know.”
This isn’t to say she regrets anything that happened in the years between records; things just got a little complicated.
“I think already before I had the song with Major Lazer that became a big international hit, I was at a point where I was starting to experiment with a new sound, and again just trying to find myself. Because you know, obviously music is my biggest passion in life and it’s so dear to me, and it’s such a personal thing for me, so I really wanted the next album to be right.
“I was already having a crisis at the beginning of 2015, only a year after the first album because I wanted it to elevate. But then with ‘Lean On’ happening, that was a dream come true, and all of these producers I wanted to work with, all of a sudden there was an interest. But then you know, in an ocean of opportunities, when you’re already a little bit in doubt about what your sound is going to be, sometimes all these opportunities don’t help.”
What happens after you’ve been part of one of the only songs to ever hit 1 billion streams? Surely it ups the pressure to deliver an absolute smash of an album? Surely the expectation is there to capitalise on that one hit and push a record out as soon as possible?
“Definitely in 2015 and 2016, and even halfway through 2017, I did feel a lot of pressure but not only from the world, even more so myself. Music means so much to me so having an identity in the music does mean a lot, but I’m just so happy that the album’s done and I’m myself on this record, and I love the sound of it.
“No one knows how it’s gonna go. Maybe it’ll go well, maybe it’ll flop completely, like who knows? But the fact is that I’m just so happy that it’s done and I feel good about it. So pressure or no pressure, there’s always pressure in this industry, you’re always under pressure, but I’m kind of used to that now. Not that I’m saying it doesn’t matter, but I’m just like well whatever, I chose this business myself.”
This is an excerpt of the cover feature from October 2018’s edition of Dork. Order a copy below to read more. MØ’s new album ‘Forever Neverland’ is released on 19th October.
Words: Abigail Firth