Icona Pop on ‘I Love It’, motherhood & Club Romantech: “I’m impressed that we still have fans!”

It’s been a decade since powerhouse Swedes Icona Pop released their debut album, This Is Icona Pop. But Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt have just released their hugely anticipated follow-up, their sophomore record Club Romantech. The multi-platinum duo were catapulted into success with their Charli XCX-featuring single I Love It in 2013, taking them from underground DJ sets to the top of the charts. The dance-pop duo talk to Headliner about meeting in Stockholm, the creation process behind the new record while they were both pregnant in the studio, and the critical messages behind these new bangers.

Jawo and Hjelt attended the same Stockholm music school, but they fittingly met at a party in their city in 2009, forming a close bond and subsequently their musical partnership. They began DJing as a duo across Europe while writing songs together, before the first Icona Pop single debuted in the form of Manners, in 2010, receiving big praise from the UK press.

In their pivotal year of 2012, Icona Pop were working with Swedish producer Patrik Berger (who has helped craft hits with everyone from Robyn to Taylor Swift), who presented them with an early version of I Love It with Charli XCX. Seeing huge potential in the song that the British singer had decided to pass on, Jawo and Hjelt had the idea to take the “cute” sounding demo and give it a rougher, punkier edge.

And the rest is history; riding the heady wave of 2010s EDM, Icona Pop and Charli XCX’s combined attitude-laden chorus, “I crashed my car into the bridge/I don't care, I love it” immediately connected with people across the world, with 10 million sales and one billion global streams to date. The release of their debut album prompted Pitchfork to remark “Like most great party music, the Swedish duo’s euphoria is mixed with a twinge of apocalypse.”

we’ve always said the best songs are the ones you can both dance and cry to.

They’re based in Stockholm again after the pandemic saw them both decide to leave Los Angeles and return to Sweden. They readily concede that their second full-length LP has been a long wait.

“I’m impressed that we still have fans,” Jawo says, as they share a knowing laugh which reveals how close they are. “But when the pandemic hit, we couldn’t go on tour, both of us were pregnant and stuck in Sweden. We realised we had enough music to release two albums.”

Hjelt adds that, “At that time we were so addicted to touring, travelling and doing new things. So we really needed that pause. When we started writing again, we realised that this is where the magic happens. It was very healthy for us, and we’ve already started our next album so we promise it won’t be another ten-year wait!”

You’ll almost certainly have heard musicians metaphorically describing the process of making and releasing an album as ‘conception’ and ‘giving birth’. In contrast, Icona Pop were going through this both figuratively and literally as the duo were attending their studio sessions pregnant.

“You’re more in touch with your emotions,” Jawo says. “It’s a new episode in your life, we even talked about if we would continue to do music afterwards. Of course, we both decided to keep going. But I think it made the whole thing more alive.”

Hjelt went through it as well, adding “We wondered if we would be able to tour again afterwards, everything felt so uncertain. It meant that we just had to focus on what we were doing in that moment. We started to dream of being back at the club with our friends, and that was how the idea for Club Romantech came about. It was such a moment of freedom for us because we also started our own label.”

we meet in the park on Saturdays with our children and the next weekend we might be playing at a nightclub in Ibiza at 3am.

What a way to announce your return to the feted world of album releases with Club Romantech’s opening two tracks; Fall In Love forcibly grabs the listener with its dark electronica as the duo sing ‘Fall in la-la-la-love’ repeatedly in the bassiest voices they can.

Sophomore track Desire, a collaboration with Joel Corry, carries on this guttural opening to the album, with Jawo and Hjelt again almost turning their voices into sub-bass synths in the chorus as the excellent production swirls around them.

It’s an album with a sound that’s markedly more akin to Fabric at two o’clock in the morning, rather than the poppier-EDM stylings when we first found Icona Pop over a decade ago. Stockholm At Night couldn’t be better evidence of this.

On this song that revisits the messy nights back when they were both such active clubbers, Jawo says, “Now, we always meet each other in the park on Saturdays with our children and a coffee. And then, the next weekend we might be playing at a nightclub in Ibiza at three a.m. I think that’s the luxury for us, that we keep getting to do this.”

I’m impressed that we still have fans!

“We’re club kids from the beginning,” Hjelt adds. “And we’ve always said the best songs are the ones you can both dance and cry to. I think we’ll continue making this type of music for as long as we do this because that’s what we are. Dance music is so important for us — it helps us release our emotions and feel what we’re feeling even more. The feeling that, even if you’ve had a really hard day, just go to the club and dance it out. That’s the best therapy! That’s what we wanted to give our fans with this album.”

Ending on their surreal feeling of being back in album promotion mode after all this time, Hjelt says, “We’re going away on a US tour next until December, and then we’ll keep working on our third album. We’ve been working on a new live set that goes hand in hand with the more electronic sound of our new record. The feedback has been amazing. We have the best fans which makes us so happy.”