Tove Lo’s music is undeniably sexy — her lyrics never shy away from the explicit — but during her live show at Outside Lands, her presence lent these lyrics a different meaning.
When Tove Lo’s Lady Wood plays on a car radio, her easy sexuality makes her seem somehow attainable — she offers sultry invitations in second-person: “Moonshine, good time; babe, you’re in luck / ‘Cause I will do whatever comes to mind, yeah, go insane.” Her butter-smooth voice spouts lyrics that assign authority to the listener, allowing them to fantasize themselves within the song’s autobiographical truth. Tove Lo’s performance stripped that accessibility from her music.
On the stage, bathed in lukewarm San Francisco sunshine, Tove Lo replaced her soft, liquid radio presence with an angular self-assurance. When she performed “True Disaster,” she was not the girl doughy in the gaze of a bad boy. She danced emphatically as she crooned the lines about woozily yielding to Moonshine sex in “Influence.” In loose silver pants and sneakers, she bounced across the stage in contrast to the seductive sexuality of her lyrics.
Her presentation of her music changes the way an audience hears it. Her sexuality is not, in truth, up for grabs by her fans — it’s for herself in the name of self-expression. In that sense, Tove Lo’s live performance Friday had the sex appeal of someone far out of your league, a Rihanna-esque sexiness that’s simultaneously overt and self-aware.
But not every fan at Outside Lands took it this way. In the middle of performing “Talking Body” from her 2015 album Queen of the Clouds, Tove Lo lifted her crop top, shimmying as she flashed the crowd — a common thing in her performances. Two days later, a few older men stifled grins as they talked about it on the bus leaving the festival grounds, giddily commenting on what Tove Lo “gave them.”
But really Tove Lo didn’t give them anything. In fact, her comfort with her body is absolute. And for an artist who has stated that her sexuality and her music are intertwined, flashing the crowd is an insistence of her right to be publicly sexual — which is why it’s clear that Tove Lo performed her music the way she did not because she wanted to please her fans, but because it made her feel good. Making the audience feel good, it seems, was just a side effect.
Olivia Jerram covers music. Contact her at [email protected].