So we once again find ourselves in the world of Scandinavian pop with a lady who’s far better than most on commercial radio but still not getting played. Tove Styrke sits somewhere between the polished synth-pop of Robyn and the attitude-driven dancehall of Elliphant. She released her debut self-titled album in Scandinavia in 2010 but Kiddo is her major-label debut around the rest of the world.
It’s a good thing too that we’re being introduced to the artist at this stage because she’s discovered her identity and adopted her own personal attitude which separates Kiddo from every other pop album. At its heart Kiddo is an album about relationships but instead mourning for lost love and going gaga over new love, she rather sings about freedom. For the most part of the album she’s putting a guy down a peg or two and strutting away, flames burning behind her. “I've been watching you as of lately/Walking around like you're something to talk about,” she sings on Ego, a line that probably defines the general notions of the record.
Appropriately, the album is partially named after Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill. Styrke told Idolator that she’s one of her favourite movie characters because “she’s empowering and cool.” Funny that, because those are the two adjective that best describe Kiddo - the album.
In pop terms, this type of confidence has been, in the past, confined to the Kelly Clarkson’s and Katy Perry’s of the pop-rock world. Never has it been delivered in such a cool, sonically interesting atmosphere which manages to sparkle bringing heartbreak tales of egotistical men to the dancefloor.
Sonically, Kiddo takes many cues from the ‘80s. There are bassy, programmed drums, attitude-filled guitars and dense synths. On album opener Ain’t Got No she sings hand-in-hand with the pulsating beat as if she’s putting on her shades and winding-down the windows. It’s a turn-up-your collar type song and perfectly re-introduces Styrke as a singer with intention and ambition.
When she’s not trading in ‘80s drums, she’s appropriating the dancehall genre. It’s a softer approach than the one that Elliphant has taken but it works with the same sweetness as Robyn’s Dancehall Queen. Snaren is where it works best. She sits right back in the beat and drenches the track in personality as she references Beyonce’s Irreplaceable singing, “to the left, to the left.” The chorus has an airy effortless about it but the heavy beat keeps the track firmly on its feet. The Jamaican vibes return once again on Borderline, this time channeling reggae with a hazy, drawling vocal.
Styrke spoken-voice is just as effective as her singing on Kiddo. It’s the most successful element on the record in the way that it makes her stand-out in an overcrowded world of synth-pop. On Even If I’m Not Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You she brings punk to the pop world and on Walking A Line she laughs and then half-raps “highjack the idea of the girl that obeys.”
While the album follows that general idea for most of its twelve songs, it softens up enough so that it never feels obnoxious and relentless. One of the album’s most beautiful moments is when she enters into Lykke Li territory with the organic-sounding Decay. On such a big sounding pop album, it’s somewhat surprising how much restraint she has on each song, but particularly here. This chorus she could’ve gone bigger but she doesn’t, she pulls it all in and it’s all the more better off for it. It’s the most melancholic chorus on the album (“there’s no one here to save me”) but it’s also the song that’s the easiest to connect to.
The most successful song on the record, however, is the one that combines all the sonic elements that are divided amongst the songs. On Number One we get her attitude coupled with the ‘80s instrumental and her spoken-voice to create a big moment of pop-euphoria. Where other pop albums start to drag after the sixth songs, Styrke holds back her most explicit pop-moment until the second half of the album and reignites a spark that holds you until track 12.
There are so many songs that, if given the chance, would compete effortlessly with bigger pop acts on Australian radio. She treads a careful line between more alternative pop-styles and a mainstream aesthetic. It’s a pocket of the pop world that Robyn has nailed in the past. Kiddo makes a strong statement that says “I’ve arrived.” It’s confident without being cocky and never trades in self-pity like so many heartbreak records tend to.
Empowering and cool - that’s Beatrix Kiddo and Tove Styrke’s Kiddo.