Sparks flew when fashion plates Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo first met at a house party in 2009. “You know when you get a friend crush? It was like that—love at first sight,” Hjelt recalls. What began as a boozy promise to write a song together eventually led to Nights Like This, their first EP under the name Icona Pop, followed by the Swedish duo’s U.S. crossover hit, “I Love It,” a jagged, electro-fueled shout-along that’s well on its way to becoming the kiss-off anthem of the year. This fall, Hjelt and Jawo, who declare that they’re waging a “pop war,” will release their still-untitled debut album, a record stocked with an arsenal of moody synths, galloping drums, and killer hooks—as well as a little lyrical innuendo. The saltiest line on the record: “I like it when you kiss me downtown.” Says Hjelt, “We love dirty music.”
You two seem very close. How did you meet?
Aino: I had just been dumped, so I was just lying in bed for two weeks really depressed, and one of our mutual friends forced me to go to a party at her place. That was the first time Caroline and I spoke to each other.
Caroline: Yeah, I lived in an apartment with a bunch of girls. We had so many good parties, and we were always out dancing and cooking. I was very frustrated and trying to fill the empty spaces in my life with dancing. Aino came to my party. You know when you get a friend crush? It was like that—love at first sight.
Why do you think there was such a strong chemistry between you?
Aino: We just started to dance and it was like, “Hey, we should write something!” That’s something you say when you are kind of drunk, but you never do it. But I called her the day after because there was something about her that I couldn’t shake. Then I went to her place with my computer and brought a bottle of wine, and we just sat down and poured our hearts out. We wrote our first song, “Sheriff Came to Town on a Big Black Horse.” Two days after that, we booked our first gig. We didn’t even have songs—just that one. I think we were both in this position where we really, really needed some light in our lives. We found each other when we needed someone to pick us up. We give each other energy and inspiration.
Caroline: Yeah, we were both down at the bottom. If we had met two months before that, maybe we wouldn’t have been as receptive to each other. I was sure I wanted to be a solo artist; I didn’t want any drama being with some other person. I love to be in control, and Aino is exactly the same. But we just clicked and it was all so natural. Suddenly we were in a creative flow, and we never got out of it. I remember calling my mom right away and saying, “Hey, I’m in a band!”
Didn’t your mother come up with your stage name, Icona Pop?
Caroline: We spent a lot of time in Sicily when I was younger. My mother’s best friend was married to a guy over there, but then they moved to Sweden. My mom was at their place having dinner, talking about what me and Aino were doing, and they were like, “Oh, it’s like icona pop?” That’s “pop icon” in Italian. “So they are going to be the next pop icons?” they asked. My mom was like, “Oh, that sounds kinda cool!” So she texted us and we liked it.
Your style is very important to you as performers. There’s an edge—a darkness—to your aesthetic. Where does that come from?
Caroline: When it comes to our music and our style, we always have this bittersweet edge. With our music, we want people to be able to cry if they are sad, but also feel even happier if they are happy. Likewise, if I’m wearing a pink dress—which I don’t do every day—I naturally put on my Doc Martens with it. We also like to mix female and male stuff, play around with wearing a suit and high heels. It’s fun to play with shapes as well. We like sheer fabrics so that you can see our silhouettes in the stage light—they sometimes make your moves look bigger. We like clothes that make us look powerful.
Aino: Like heroes.
Caroline: We are constantly in this pop war. We have to wear clothes that represent that.
Your song “I Love It,” which came out this past summer, earned you your first major exposure in the U.S. Charli XCX wrote that song. How did you meet up with her?
Aino: We met in Sweden because we were writing together with [producer] Patrik Berger and she was also writing with him. So the first time she was in the studio with him, we passed by and started to talk. Then Patrik played us her version of “I Love It.” It was the same tempo, but it wasn’t as shouty. We instantly felt like it was our song. It spoke to what we had been through—our struggles with love.
Caroline: Then we gave it a punky vibe. Charli liked what we did to it. We are planning to write something with her again.
The best line in the song is “You’re from the ’70s, but I’m a ’90s bitch.” I can clearly hear the ’90s influences in your music. Who are your favorite bands from that decade?
Aino: The boy bands!
Caroline: We loved the one-hit wonders. Like Haddaway!
When you sing “I love it,” what exactly is it that you love?
Aino: The feeling of love. Love can be destructive sometimes, but even when you’ve been through a lot of shit, you can turn it into a positive vibe.
Caroline: It’s about that “fuck it” feeling when you turn the situation around. Instead of staying home and crying over someone, you actually stand up and you’re like, “I don’t care about you anymore and I’m happy and I’m proud of myself and I deserve so much better.” Instead of looking back at everything in anger, I think it’s nice to look back at the beautiful moments you had. But, I mean, if you did a shitty thing to me, I’m going to hate you for life. Breakups are always terrible. Two people connect, and it’s so weird when you don’t have it anymore. But I still think I’ll find the love of my life.
Are you girls decidedly single now?
Aino: We are so single.
Caroline: Here we come! Whoop, whoop!
What can we expect from your debut album, coming out later this year?
Aino: It will be very chaotic, but in a really nice poppy way. You’re going to hear twisted synth sounds and drum sounds and some funny lyrics.
What’s the funniest lyric?
Caroline: “I like it when you kiss me downtown.” We love dirty music.
That sounds like something Prince would write.
Aino: Yes, exactly! The album is like our diary. We’ve been traveling a lot and soaking in everything from the new cities we’ve been to and the people we’ve been meeting. I think it’s going to be a good mix. You will really get to know us on this album.
Bullett’s new fall issue is The Romance issue. Who were your celebrity crushes when you were growing up?
Aino and Caroline: Mulder from The X-Files!
Caroline: I still have a crush on him. He is, like, the hottest guy on earth. If I saw Mulder with those hot pants really high up in his bum, I would just die.