Karen Marie Ørsted, also known as MØ, is a good example of the indie and mainstream worlds colliding. She had been making a name for herself as a singer-songwriter in the early 2010s, but was catapulted to fame with her appearance on Major Lazer & DJ Snake’s worldwide smash Lean On.
Since then she has been in demand as a pop vocalist, but aside from some more glossy production not much has changed in her solo output. For her second album MØ mostly eschews high profile producers, Major Lazer’s Diplo being the biggest name in the credits, and vocal guests are also limited.
The exception to this is the Charli XCX-featuring If It’s Over, a spiritual successor to Charli’s 3AM (Pull Up) with creaky production from Stargate and Hudson Mohawke and a post-hook melody that sounds like an elephant’s trumpet. It’s all a bit of a mess, and her collaborations with producer ST!NT produce better results. Take the brilliant lead single Nostalgia, which twins speak-sung verses and an anthemic hook about getting over an old flame (“I know you’re hurting / I know your heart, it aches / for someone’s loving / but the sun shines when the cloud breaks”).
Another highlight of Forever Neverland is the upbeat I Want You, featuring silky guitar chords and an explosive “pop drop” that compliments the songwriting perfectly. Add to that an infectious hook – complete with implied but pre-censored f-word – and the track is chart ready while remaining a natural extension of her electro-pop sound. Other nods to contemporary trends include the Zedd-style vocoded harmonies on Blur and Imaginary Friend, as well as the moombahton grooves that weave through several of the more upbeat tracks. But it rarely feels forced, and if this is a more poppy record, it’s still MØ’s take on pop.
There are two slower and more impassioned tracks on the album, but the former, Mercy With What So Not, is more than a little treacly and forgettable. Trying To Be Good is more interesting, with dotted quavers powering the beatless production along as the lyrics detail a struggle for personal growth (“I’m never gonna fall for the pressure / I could change, baby, if I wanted to”). It’s an unconventional ballad, its restless stasis suggesting PC Music’s pastiches of pop, and MØ’s dramatic delivery sells it as the most powerful track on the whole album.
Sun In Our Eyes is the Diplo team-up, although his style here is more subtle than much of his other work, allowing the songwriting to shine. Lo-fi piano chords outline a familiar sequence and MØ’s vocals sparkle over the track’s steady beat, making for an enjoyable if less distinctive piece than much of their previous work. Meanwhile, the hedonistic and bassy Way Down is a great example of those moombahton grooves, with its main riff inspired by Kanye West’s Fade and a winning hook to top it off, and is the closest thing to Lean On the record has.
The brief intro track serves as a teaser for its final track, Purple Like The Summer Rain, and its kinetic beats coupled with watery chords makes an odd but satisfying end to the record, especially as the track dissolves into a string section and lush vocal layering before coming to an abrupt end with a click, like someone hitting the stop button early. Is Forever Neverland the most mainstream indie album for a while or the most indie mainstream album? With hits like these, songwriting as accomplished as this and production as tight as this, it surely matters little either way.