Loreen is stressed. Our coffee chat has been rescheduled twice – the first due to my hangover, and the second to traffic. And then there’s a call from her brother, currently on tsunami alert in Bali – but he’s fine.
The singer is definitely not stressed about being knocked out of Melodifestivalen, however. Having got through to andra chansen with My Heart Is Refusing Me, she’s gone straight back to the studio to work on her upcoming album. And once the coffee is served (she pays, by way of apology for being late, making me feel instantly guilty), she reflects on the last few weeks of life in schlagerland.
“I was really surprised when Christer Björkman took my song,” she laughs. “I was like ‘OK… Are you sure about this?’ I’m going to hang up before you regret it. Click!
“I was in Idol six years ago, and that’s when I realised you need an identity,” Loreen continues. “You need more than just a voice – you need to know what you’re singing about. So I started working here in Stockholm, and also in New York and Florida, with different songwriters and producers, to develop a style.”
One of the main things that Loreen’s new fans like about her is that she’s difficult to put into one category or another – it’s not easy to describe her as one particular style. Does she agree?
“Well…” she starts, before pausing. “I don’t like limitations, so I like to mix a bit of everything in. So I’ll put some strings in with some influences from my culture – that’s what I’m about.
“I’m a Berber from the mountains of Morocco,” Loreen tells me. “The Berbers have their own culture and language that’s separate from others, and they sing in their own special way. People call me a gospel girl, or a soul chick, and I’m like, ‘I sing with my soul but I’m not a soul artist!” I’m not an R’n'B chick, either. People think I’m into that because of the way I dress, but I actually prefer to listen to opera when I’m at home.”
As Loreen performs a seriously impressive scale, she reveals that she can sing opera – would she like to follow in Malena Ernman’s footsteps?
“I loved La voix!” she exclaims. “It was something different and new. You can’t call that song schlager. Different is good. It’s a good idea to do opera, let’s think about it!”
The Melodifestivalen circus feels like it has been particularly intense this year, with the highly critical newspaper articles and other technical issues that have been magnified. But while some performers would crack under the pressure, Loreen has been taking it all in her stride.
“I could never lose myself in all this,” she says. “Idol was a big help to deal with all this. The intensity of standing on stage every Saturday to be judged was crazy at that point. The judges liked me, but having someone evaluating me as good or bad didn’t feel right. There’s no such thing, it’s all a matter of taste. I thought I sounded shit, to be honest! But as a result, I know how it all works with TV and everything else – and as a control freak, I know what to get out of it.”
Did she look at any of the press coverage?
“I wasn’t allowed to look at the newspapers,” she laughs. “I really wanted to read the reviews. But I don’t care about the press attention. I didn’t even want to shave my armpits when I was doing the song. My friend told me to do so immediately, but I just didn’t care! Of course, they took a huge picture of my hairy arms and printed it! But I don’t care.”
My Heart Is Refusing Me was written last summer, and sent to Christer Björkman just a couple of days later. But if it wasn’t for a certain singer and TV host, it may never have made it at all…
“At the beginning, people didn’t believe in doing this,” recalls Loreen. “I had my crew – the producer and the guy I wrote the song with. It took us half a day to write it, and then Måns Zelmerlöw started working with us. Melodifestivalen was his idea – he said we should just send it, and if it happened, it happened. So it was his idea from the beginning. At first, I was reluctant. I thought they’d try to change the song and performance to something I didn’t want to do. But he was like, no, you can do whatever the fuck you want! And when they said yes, I was ready for it. We’ve been working our asses off on this. We started this last summer – it was sent two days after we wrote it, so it wasn’t even finished when they heard it.”
Of course, recording a song is one thing. Bringing it to Melodifestivalen is another matter entirely. Did Loreen have any problems in bringing her vision to the stage?
“No, not really,” she replies. “People told me that the dancers look so angry, and I looked really sad. But I told them that this is a sad song. I can’t smile singing about that! It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? My heart is refusing me, so I’ll smile? No.
“Performing is like standing naked in front of millions of people,” Loreen adds. “I was so freaking nervous, and lost my focus at times. Especially when people weren’t always believing in what I was doing. But I had to show that I knew what I was doing myself. I gathered round my dancers, who were much younger than me, and really nervous, so I had to support them.”
And then there’s THAT frock. Where on earth did it come from?
“Some people have been annoyed by that dress!” Loreen smiles. “So I tell them it doesn’t matter. It’s a creation, and it was designed by Bea Szenfeld. She’s done dresses for Björk. I asked her to do something freaky, and that’s what she produced. I love all that, I love strange. Anything that isn’t Jantelagen! I hate that. Just be who you want to be!”
And after the frock, there were the results…
“I didn’t think I’d win, especially being up with Christian Walz,” says Loreen. “If I’d had a phone right then, I’d have voted for him! I was freaking shocked when they announced I was in andra chansen. It was like, ‘Told you! I told you! See?’ But there were people who were saying that the Swedish people don’t know anything about music, yadda, yadda. Who are these Swedish people they’re talking about? I’m the Swedish people! Don’t judge me!”
We know that Jenny Silver has been pretty angry about the voting problems in andra chansen – which also affected Loreen – but the singer is pragmatic about the outcome.
“Andra chansen was cool,” she says. “Göteborg was hard, because it was my first time in the competion, but Sundsvall was cool. That’s a bad omen, though – when it’s cool, it goes to hell. And it did! A lot of people have been angry, which is nice, actually. It shows they care. And I was number one, too. That’s all great.”
Firmly out of the schlager bubble now, Loreen is back in the studio, “working my ass off!”, as she says.
“We’re doing a scary video for My Heart Is Refusing Me,” she reveals. “It’s going to be quite dark. I’m also thinking about collaborations. I’d love to work with Swedish House Mafia. And there are so many people all over the world I’d like to work with. There are two singles to come, but I can’t decide if I’m going to release Sober or If She’s The One next. Let’s see. I’m always bitter in my songs, though. And screaming! So you know what to expect!”
Loreen throws her head back in laughter. And so do I.
Loreen’s next single is out next month.