Lykke Li is Having a Quarter-Life Crisis Too

Features. Posted 3 years ago


Photography: Nick Hudson at 1+1 Management
Stylist: Katie Burnett at Atelier Management
Hair: Tony Chavez at using Rahua Beauty
Makeup: Osvaldo Salvatierra at Streeters
Photographer’s assistant: John Collazos
Special thanks to Melody Forghani at Bossy Music

You’re not the only one having a quarter life crisis. Lykke Li, the internationally renowned, gothic pop star, is talking to me on the phone from Germany, where she is two days into her first Europen tour for her new album, I Never Learn, which was released earlier this year. She’s already apologised to her fans on Instagram, for what she considers to have been a lacklustre performance: “I’M SORRY BERLIN, I WASN’T MY BEST, PLEASE FORGIVE ME”, she noted, underneath a snapshot of storming, swirling clouds. “I’ve got a cold, which is making things difficult”, she tells me, straight off the bat – a precursory apology perhaps. Later in our conversation she will declare that, as an incredibly shy person, she’s not sure she’s cut out for the performative side of her job. “I spend the two first days on tour crying… I guess, like, I’m a writer but I’m not sure I’m necessarily a stage artist, you know.”

This is just who Lykke Li is though – attuned – nay, drawn – towards honestly, which is just kind of a bummer, most of the time. This is particularly true of where she was at when sitting down to write her most honest, most bumming collection of songs to date, for I Never Learn. “I’m a pretty sensitive person, and I think I was having some type of severe crisis”, she explains. It’s 2012, and she has just finished an exhaustive tour in support of her hit record – the one that threatened to make her a pop star, although she would have none of that – Wounded Rhymes. She’s been on the road for so long she doesn’t have a home, and she’s just broken up with her boyfriend. She’s lost, and she’s alone. “At that time I felt like it was the end of the world”, she explains. “I felt a little out of place in the world because I hadn’t had the time to get a hold on anything because I’d been touring. When the tour was over I just hit rock bottom”.

From Stockholm, a place that seems to suit this brittle gothic songstress pretty well, to Los Angeles then, which seems like the absolute fucking worst place in the world to be depressed in – all of those happy people, all of that health, all around you, all the time. According to Lykke, who now sort-of calls the City of Angels home (when we were organising our photo shoot with Lykke for this issue, she wanted to shoot half of in a studio, and half of it at Venice Beach, which may or may not be meaningful, but is, at least, quintessentially Los Angelian), it’s actually the best place to feel terrible in. “I love LA – there’s no better place. Stockholm just enhances your depression; it wants you to be down and dark and under. In LA, you go take hikes in the mountains, and everything supports you, and everything wants you to feel better. There’s light, and there’s solitude, and it allows you to heal and to go on your inner journey,” she explains, her voice noticeably uplifting when describing LA’s uplifting characteristics. “I love LA, and especially now that my life in LA is what I was dreaming for it to be like years ago. I had this vision, and now my life is that vision, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Hitting rock bottom made Lykke Li reassess everything about her life: if the success she has been working so hard for, hasn’t made her happy, is it really success? “I’d been so focussed on having a career as a musician all my life that I’d kind of forgotten to do anything else, and then, being on tour, like now for example, it’s exhausting. It’s really hard to find your ground,” she explains. “When you’re at home there are ways you can shift your anxiety around. You can stay in bed, draw down the curtains, turn off your phone, chill with your friends, watch a film, wear sweatpants, and not have to stand on a stage in front of thousands of people.” She almost quit the music industry as a result, but it turns out ­– similarly to the place most powerful songs have come from ­–writing down her baggage, is the only thing that got her through. “This album is my fight for life, you know. I didn’t want to be that sad – I wanted to be happier and I wanted to survive.”

She has returned to music then, but in entirely her own way. If Lykke Li’s previous album, Wounded Rhymes – with hits like I Follow Rivers and Youth Knows No Pain – almost turned her into a pop star, then I Never Learn has probably undone that. Considering Lykke Li was reassess her place in the industry – as well you know, her place in the world – at the time of writing, I Never Learn is a clear denouncement of one world, at least: the pop world. “When you’re a woman people call you this “pop” artist and put you in this category with people who don’t write their songs and have nothing to do with the process,” she explains. “What I really want to be is a songwriter – like a proper songwriter. I don’t want to have to be a novelty, and dress the way someone wants me to, and be sexy the way someone wants me to, and all of those things.”

Carrie Battan, writing for Pitchfork, described Lykke Li’s performance at a listening party for I Never Learn. She noted the singer joked with her audience about the morosity of the album. “This album is a bit of a bummer, right? So let’s do a really happy song.” Before playing the single bleakest song on the album, Sleeping Alone, which is about everything it sounds like it’s about and more (“”Can I get used to/ Can I forget you/ Will I get used to sleeping alone?”). It’s broken and it’s bare, and the way with which she introduces and performs it is unapologetic. She’s a songwriter, not a show pony. “Just being a woman plain and period, people want to comment on your looks or those things that have nothing to do with what you’re saying. We still have so much to fight against,” she explains. When I asked Nick Hudson, who photographed Lykke Li for this issue, what she was like on set in Los Angeles, he described her as “authentic, without pretence”, “straight up, direct”, “no bullshit niceties, not gushy but still lovely”, didn’t seem to have anything to prove, or the need to impress anyone”. While these are the ways a lot of writers have described her when meeting her for an interview, it’s something entirely different to have them recounted to you first hand, but someone who had to interact with her professionally, but someone whose job is not to observe, and extract meaning from those observations. As in art, so in life, then.

One thing she is very direct about in the lead-up to our photo shoot is the kind of clothing she will wear: “not classic female silhouettes”. Her style is gothic, masculine, androgynous – inimitable, and speaks to her current sonic output. It’s also covetable, and earlier this year & Other Stories released a capsule collection designed by Li. “My friend is the head designer there, and we’d been talking for years about doing stuff. Finally, I had an idea to make a nomad collection – making something that fits in one bag, all the basic pieces,” she explains. “I’m jealous of men’s wardrobes. Women’s fashion for me, is so…I donno…frizzy.” The collection is all black and all structured: a pair of killer pointed platform boots compliment silk flares and a few, versatile shirts. She’s also been venturing into acting. First, with a Swedish film, Tommy, released earlier this year, and, maybe, with a yet-unnamed, secret Terrence Mallick film, due for release early next year. “It’s still super secret! I have no idea when it’s going to come out or even if I’m in it. I shot it, but that was a while ago and the way that he works is that he edits them so much that anything could happen – people get cut out. I honestly don’t know what’s happening with it.”

I suggest that acting is an interesting move for someone who is crippled by shyness and hates the performative part of her current job. “I just needed variation – I was a bit tired of being myself. I got the chance to being somebody else and I started to really enjoy it. It’s all about escaping, really.” While her 2014 album may be called I Never Learn, it kind of seems the opposite is true. “I think the most important thing to have for yourself is self-respect and dignity and your own opinion”, she explains. “Being successful on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean that you have self-respect. You have to keep your spirit in check.”

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