Caroline Hjelt remembers the days when she and Aino Jawo, her partner in the rising Swedish duo Icona Pop, were on the road and sleeping on floors. Of someone else’s house, an airport terminal, you name it. That’s because it was not so long ago.
“It always happens in airports,” Hjelt says. “Someone notices, ‘Oh, some people are sleeping in the corner. Oh, it’s Icona Pop.’ Someone wakes you up and says, ‘Sorry, are you Icona Pop? Can we get an autograph?’ And you think, this is not right.”
That was their life for two years, before “I Love It” became a monster hit you couldn’t escape, particularly at the start of this year when it was all over the radio and on TV shows such as “Glee” and “Girls.”
On Tuesday, “This Is . . . Icona Pop,” their second full-length album, will be released as a test of whether their exuberant brand of electro-pop has legs beyond a hit single. In the meantime, they’re clearly enjoying the hype that has finally catapulted them to the top of the charts. They became a duo in 2009 after meeting at a party in Stockholm.
“We’re dreamers, and we’re always talking about doing this and that,” Hjelt says. “It feels like finally some of our dreams are coming true on stage.”
“We’ve been hustlers for such a long time,” Jawo adds. “It almost feels unreal to be on a proper tour, because otherwise we’ve been driving in a family car around America twice.”
Hjelt and Jawo say this last week backstage at the Paradise Rock Club. It’s the opening night of their new headlining US tour, and in a few hours they’ll play to a sold-out crowd of more than 700 people who scream loud enough to make you think there are at least a thousand of them.
They take the stage alone and go right into overdrive, darting from one end to the next, their own best cheerleaders. There’s little to behold save for their laptop, a few keyboards, and a red orb of some sort that they explain backstage is their spaceship. Occasionally Jawo plays an electric guitar.
Their latest album hasn’t been released yet, but it’s been streaming online for the past few days. Maybe that’s how half the crowd is already singing the unreleased songs at full throttle. The new material is very much in line with the duo’s aesthetic: short, sweet, propulsive, and relentlessly catchy, drawing on synth-pop, house music, and even a bit of punk.
There is unbridled joy in Icona Pop’s music, the sense that salvation is one chorus away. Hjelt and Jawo tend to sing in unison a lot, even though each is a powerhouse in her own right. Put them together and, well, look out. Their verses rumble out in exclamatory declarations: “It feels like we could do this all night!” and “All I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend!”
They are the sound of youth, the epitome of that newfangled mantra “you only live once.” How else to explain just how much their fans connect with “I Love It.” When Hjelt and Jawo start singing it at the Paradise, they’re quickly overtaken by the thunderous sing-along. All together now:
I threw your [expletive] into a bag
And pushed it down the stairs
I crashed my car into the bridge
I don’t care, I love it
They’ve tapped into that carefree vibe at the merch table, too. A white tank top is emblazoned with “I LOVE IT” in big black letters; another one says, “I’M A 90’S BITCH,” a reference to a particularly memorable line from that song. (Hjelt and Jawo were both born in the mid-’80s, for the record.)
They knew almost immediately that “I Love It,” featuring English pop star Charli XCX (one of the song’s co-writers), was special.
“We felt strongly for that song,” Jawo says, “and then we had people around us that believed in it. But a lot of people don’t know the work behind it. We went to every radio station — and there are a lot of stations in this country — and said, ‘Listen to this song. Help us. Play it.’ ”
“It was a little bit like when you and I met,” Hjelt says. “We were in such a dark place when we recorded it, and it was our little light. It was like our card out of the darkness: ‘OK, this is it. Let’s do it.’ ”