Tove Lo has easily been one of the most consistent new pop stars of the decade. It seems like it was just yesterday that she exploded onto the scene with the instant classic “Habits (Stay High).” That song, which is still her most successful to date, is a perfect encapsulation of the core of Tove’s artistry. She blends disarming lyricism with sweet and smooth electropop. “Habits,” the main single from her debut, Queen of the Clouds, provided a framework that Tove has since expanded upon. Her following records, Lady Wood and Blue Lips, delved deeper into sexual frankness and disco influences. Now, on her fourth full-length record, Sunshine Kitty, Tove somehow gets even more vulnerable while also creating some of the slickest pop anthems of the year.
According to Tove, the album’s title is a play on the “pussy power” mantra that has dominated most of recent mainstream female pop. One look at streaming playlists or radio lineups gives the illusion of a musical utopia of female self-care and empowerment. Megan Thee Stallion is leading the “Hot Girl” movement while Ariana, Lana, and Miley reclaim their power together on “Don’t Call Me Angel” and Katy soundtracks a healing retreat with “Never Really Over.” And then there’s Tove in all of her destructive partying and sex.
Sunshine Kitty first proper track, “Glad He’s Gone,” strikes a slick balance between sparse synths and glittery trap beats as Tove sets up an optimistic premise with a knowing wink. The song is a celebration of the end of monogamy and the start of a string of flings under your own control. Whether this song is dedicated to a friend, lover, or both is unclear, but Tove flexes her penchant for honest and descriptive songwriting throughout the track. The cheeky pre-chorus is reminiscent of the pre-chorus of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” and helps the song keeps its momentum. This momentum then extends into one of the album’s best tracks, the cheerleading-esque and endlessly danceable “Bad As the Boys,” she croons about a queer relationship where a girl breaks her heart just like the guys she used to fool around with. “Sweettalk my Heart” soon follows with deceptively saccharine lyrics that toe the line between desperation, obsession, and love. Some of the album’s other strong moments come when Tove experiments with different sounds under the umbrella of pop music. The latin-pop-inspired “Are U gonna tell her?” is an undebatable standout. Furthermore, the deep house of “Jacques” offers a welcome new aesthetic that is less concerned with tightness of typical pop song structures.
The bluntness of Tove’s songwriting and her exquisite take on the anxiety of partying and love affairs prevents even her most boring of songs from being “bad.” Sunshine Kitty only slightly falters, and that’s mainly due to the sequencing of the tracklist. The tempo slows significantly towards the end of the record which makes for a more difficult listening experience than the fast-moving first half. Even though the overall mood is dampened during the last few tracks, Tove’s excellent vocal performances (she’s super committed to the self-destructive neurotic party girl character), complete with perfectly placed riffs, and strong lyricism save the day.
Key Tracks: “Glad He’s Gone”; “Bad As the Boys”; “Sweettalk my Heart”; “Really Don’t Like U”