Pop has made a turn toward sadness in the last decade. In 2008, the only two options for the angsty were either going full emo or embracing every artist on the “Garden State” soundtrack with open arms. Now, musicians once relegated to a hipster’s obscure reference machine like Lykke Li have an opportunity to branch out to the popular sphere, and that’s exactly what the Swedish singer has done with her newest release, so sad so sexy. After a four year bout of radio silence, the birth of her first child and the death of her mother, Li has returned to the scene with a fourth studio album, a marked growth from the quirky indie-pop stylings of her past.
On her first three albums, Lykke Li created a signature style for herself, showing significant talent in the innovative lyrics, rhythm and instrumentation of her material and carving out a niche in the indie pop scene. The songs “I Follow Rivers” and “Little Bit” became pop hits due to their incredibly catchy hooks and Li’s inimitable voice; the second was even sampled by Drake. Her 2014 record I Never Learn explored melodramatic themes with gravitas, bringing the songwriter’s stripped-back style to grander new levels.
Now, Li has taken her proclivity for chic sadness to a different place, venturing into R&B and hip-hop with songs like “deep end” and “sex money feelings die,” among others. It’s a notable departure from her past work, a collection of moody ballads and cinematic, rhythmic ruminations on love and life. Lykke Li, known for a unique sense of putting together musical pieces which others would never think to, has left a bit of her whimsy at the door for so sad so sexy, instead opting for a more radio-friendly sound. Li navigates musings on relationships (“hard rain” and “bad woman”) and reconnection (“utopia”) in this new manner.
Though it’s somewhat obvious that the artist has a ways to go before she settles completely into this album’s computer beats and patchwork rap, her intention to grow from her previous material is commendable. There are moments in so sad so sexy where it seems like you’re not listening to Lykke Li at all, but just another single on the list — the rap interludes in several songs seem out-of-place (“two nights”), an area which Li is so far from her past style that it seems forced. Despite this, the songstress’s incredible knack for rhythm and intrigue is still present throughout the record, reminding listeners of her raw talent for writing catchy, emotionally moving songs. The jury is out on this album, but it’s all but obvious that Lykke Li is committed to maintaining a certain sense of the alien in her music. No matter what you may think of the artist’s new sound, the album is aptly named — it is truly sad and sexy at the same time.