The Dark Side of Icona Pop

'Sometimes we have a message in the song that might be kind of angry or sad, but the song sounds happy,' says Caroline Hjelt

Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt of Icona Pop.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel
September 20, 2013 2:15 PM ET

For the last year and a half, the thumping, revelatory anthem "I Love It" by Swedish duo Icona Pop has been featured in Girls, Glee and dance-floors everywhere. It's landed them on Top 40 radio and a spot performing live on the America's Got Talent finale. But the song's good-times, party vibe actually comes from a place that's not that sunny at all. "So many people, when we play live, are just jumping around in euphoric happiness," says Icona Pop's Caroline Hjelt. "But, if you listen to the message of the song there's a lot of anger going on." Does Icona Pop have a dark side?

Where Does Icona Pop's 'I Love It' Rank on Our 50 Best Songs of 2012 List?

Their origins suggest so. Icona Pop's formation dates back to 2009, when one night Hjelt threw a party that her eventual partner, Aino Jawo, came to. They both were in bad spots: Hjelt was irritated with the direction her life was headed and Jawo was in the aftermath of a heavy breakup. At the party, the pair met and everything clicked. "When we met, we just felt so empowered and felt that we could do anything," Hjelt says. "The problems that we had were just gone. The next day we wrote our first song together."

On the band's debut, This Is . . . Icona Pop, several themes run through the duo's music. At the forefront is a driving drum beat and pulsating bass; it's equal parts electro-house and modern dance-pop. But underneath the club-friendly songs are lyrics that deal with terror, aggravation and defeat. "I Love It" boasts "I threw your shit in a bag and pushed it down the stairs / I crashed my car into the bridge." Likewise, on "Girlfriend," they call out, "Talking about the lights, the dirt, the shit that hurts . . . all I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend." "Girlfriend" begins with devastation but ends with the two toasting victory through a combination of chutzpah, modern girl power and body moving. "We like when you can listen to a song when you are happy and you can listen to it when you are sad," Hjelt says. "Sometimes we have a message in the song that might be kind of angry or sad, but the song sounds happy."

And in a fitting bout of irony, Icona Pop have in fact crossed paths with the guys who did them wrong to begin with. “Let's put it this way," Hjelt says bluntly. "Those guys know who they are. You can see it in their eyes. And when we pass them in the street, we say 'Hi!' so they know that we're singing about them."

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