Beatrix Kiddo is the strong female protagonist in Quentin Tarantino’s martial arts film Kill Bill, a character that Swedish Electropop musician Tove Styrke not only relates to, in terms of feminist traits and elevated empowerment, but also has inspired the name of the 22-year-old’s second album Kiddo. A moniker that also used to haunt her as a belittling phrase, now represents her superhero power.
Regarding one of the lead singles from the album, “Borderline“, on her YouTube channel, Styrke rationalizes the song as, “smashing the patriarchal chains of society” and “about breaking free from this standard normative way of thinking“. A strong concept from a musician that is also attempting to shrug off the curse of the talent show contestant label – she finished third in Swedish Idol 2009 – is a wise move indeed. It’s a little shame though that her choice of lyrics (confusing slang, vague, repetitive) and songwriting structure fail to drill this passion convincingly.
That being said, you can imagine a Tarantino revenge sequence with a flock of flying bullets when listening to one of triumphs of the LP, “Decay“. Although in a metaphorical sense, she’s an emotional warrior. Free of a bloodbath but with just as much impact, with lyrics such as, “they will search my bag, find the bullets not the gun. What if they knew that my AK’s made of glue and good wishes“. Furthermore, “Samurai Boy” can be matched with the oriental combat and training scenes of Kill Bill, with that culture also showcased in the music video for “Ego” – set in Japan’s capital Tokyo – and the oriental chords on “Borderline”. The aforementioned track comments on male arrogance as sometimes being a transformative state rather than an installed part of a guy’s personality.
The infectious “Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You“, is armored with fighting spirit and a solid shield of confidence. The style of rapping is reminiscent of something chanted by soldiers engaging in rain-drenched obstacle course fitness. “I think I hit a nerve when I burst solitude“, could point towards female independence but as a whole, it touches upon a reoccurring theme of egotism and narcissism in the stereotypical man with lines such as, “you got a true mad deep big crush on yourself” and “I think you’re stuck in that me, myself and I romance“.
Another example is the “poor you, you thought you could dictate the rules” (“Number One”), which is delivered sarcastically and also mentions one of her muses Britney Spears – Styrke said in an article for Pigeons & Planes that she draws motivation from other idols Grimes and Lorde for their outspokenness. The aforementioned sarcasm is likewise displayed on “Walking A Line”: “Hijack the idea that a girl obeys. Oh my, laugh it in (the) face“. She shows emotional strength in the form of anger on “Snaren“, in which she threatens to retaliate in a suffocating situation: “Boy you really need to step aside. I swear it’s time“.
“Borderline” contains reflections that fit the same mold, whilst simultaneously sounding understandably perplexed. Which is a good thing because it shows the learning process of a 20-something growing her character, world realizations and her satisfaction levels, rather than embracing a successful competition in her mission for equality happiness. “I live my life in shackles, but I’m borderline free. I used to be blind and I still can’t see“.
In an interview on Youtube, Tove Styrke stated that she “wants to take big issues and complicated problems and translate them into a pop song, (making it) easier to grasp personally“.This explains the use of informal speech and Americanized colloquialisms such as: “mofo“, “imma“, “spit fire“, “bullsh*t“, “boo-hoo” and “ouches“.
Whilst they aim for a clear demographic of this generation’s youth, they end up alienating the rest of the potential audience interested in her suffragist views. Not because new words are terrifying but because sometimes it sounds lazy and incomprehensible at times, as a consequence, the sentences become counterproductive. Many songs are also a little hollow with repetition used frequently to fill up what is already a short track length. Maybe it’s a product of the pop genre, as folk songwriting tend to have deeper more mesmerizing poetry that glues the listener into its thoughts and refuses to let go.
Being a Swedish album, it isn’t entirely surprising that the production is perfectly polished yet detailed and adventurous. “Samurai Boy” is sonically spacious with her voice sounding like it’s in an empty warehouse and builds with sniffing snares. Scandophiles familiar with compatriots The Knife will also notice the identical swirling electronic progression of “A Tooth and An Eye“, however Styrke’s sparkly coating gives it more mainstream appeal.
The skipping-rope playground composition of “Even If…” is complimented by a selective and specific set of instrumentation consisting of subtle organ-like keyboard, bridges of electro bursts and a clappy drum beat. “Borderline” improvises with coughing at the track’s genesis (she also laughs on “Walking A Line”), tin knocking, shepherd tone direction, high frequency squeaks and slightly opens the doorway of EDM euphoria before thankfully slamming it shut. “Ego” has the most potential to be a hit for it’s digestibility, however it’s more intriguing in the verse with it’s Caribbean rhythm and borrowing MØ’s idiosyncratic “hah”.
The best tracks musically are awarded to the slow-building 80’s Berlin-like new wave of “Who’s Got News” (which also features 8-bit gaming, stuttering synths and tribal non-lexical vocables), the french speech-sampling and psuedo-Fatima Al Qadiri aura of “Working Song” and the palindromic “Decay“. Set in a chirping environment, it travels through the territories of David Bowie, Prince (although more so on the edgy “Ain’t Got No…“) and The Beatles’ “Let It Be” with the inclusion of the Hammond organ, vibraslap and guitar tremolo before a mad electro bridge, that permits an exciting rave in live shows.
Also noteworthy is “Burn”, which begins like Purity Ring tampering with reggae. The thread between these tracks is a reoccurring futuristic elevator sound that could symbolize positivity. Disappointingly, “Number One” is perhaps too sickly sweet for hipsters or the majority of taste-makers, as it chillingly sounds like it belongs on the Disney channel with Lily Allen teaching kids mathematics.
For the most part, Tove Styrke’s voice is eclectic from track to track, making it difficult to pinpoint an audience that will love all of it’s personalities. The spectrum of her vocal range, go from Iggy Izelea (“Number One”), Rihanna (“Burn”, “Brag”) and Lorde (“Snaren”) to M.I.A (“Borderline”), Lykke Li (“Working Song”, “Samurai Boy”, “Decay”) and LCMDF (“Walking A Line”), but on too little occasions, does it have it’s own unique identity like on “Ain’t Go No…” and “Ego”. The two year hiatus has improved her sound and morphed her self-assured personality. Fingers crossed that hopefully next time her admirable message isn’t clouded in market-targeting and juxtaposing jargon. Tove Styrke’s Kiddo is out now via Sony Music, purchase it here.
Words by Matt Hobbs
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