“It is literally paradise,” Karen Marie Ørsted says of the island in the Arabian Sea where she’s holed up after the holidays. It’s the singer’s first real vacation since 2012, when Ørsted began her career as the electropop artist MØ, merging the last two initials of her name into a word that means “maiden” in Danish. “It’s so nice to fully recharge before going back on the road,” she says. “Can’t wait though!”
MØ hits House of Blues on Jan. 20 behind her assured October release Forever Neverland, a second album that took four years to make while she was doing vocal features for Iggy Azalea, Diplo, Bleachers and Charli XCX. Much of MØ’s extracurricular action followed “Lean On,” a 2015 Top 10 hit by Diplo’s EDM trio Major Lazer and DJ Snake that became one of the most-streamed songs of all time.
“That of course was mind-blowing, like the biggest dream ever coming true, but I did struggle a little bit afterward, finding my own path,” says Ørsted, 30. “I’m really bad at saying no, and I find most things to be an exciting experiment.”
So when Major Lazer offered the chance to write another smash with Ed Sheeran and co-featured singer Justin Bieber for “Cold Water,” she took that dip as well. “I enjoyed all the experience I gained,” she says, “but it did feel really great to take a little pause from the features and finish my solo album.”
Forever Neverland—largely produced by the LA-based Stint, with contributors including Diplo and Charli XCX—proves worth the wait. Ørsted finds her voice in broad settings, from beat-driven to dreamy, often sliding toward Top 40 territory. She exudes youthful confusion in standout “Blur” (which partly echoes the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”) while “Nostalgia” taps the heartbeat of young love.
“I’ve always felt inspired by the restless shiftiness of youth,” Ørsted says. Yet she adds of the album title’s reference to Peter Pan, “Escapism isn’t always the answer. Peter Pan is sweet but sad. Denying reality and creating your own imaginative bubble is a form of self-erasing, and I think this album is me having an inner discussion with myself [on] whether I should wake up or stay dreaming—or whether there’s a healthy way to do both.”
Growing up in Denmark, Ørsted found her balance between two influential poles. She was first drawn to music at age 7 as a fan of the Spice Girls. “It was these five flamboyant, very different, outspoken girls, with different styles and girl-power attitude,” says Ørsted, who shifted to punk and alt-rock as a teenager, “rebelling and dressing in black and being a nightmare to my parents.” Her main obsession became Sonic Youth, particularly Kim Gordon. “Role models help shape you,” she says. “They will always be breathing down your neck when you create art.”
In her late teens, Ørsted formed the experimental punk duo Mor with her friend Josefine Struckmann Pedersen, releasing an EP that’s title translates to “Pussy in Your Face.” And she began to lean toward the DIY counterpoint of electropop. “We had a lot of friends—artists and musicians—in that environment,” Ørsted says. “I asked some of these people for beats, and they made this kinda rough electro, and I kinda just went with it.” She was inspired by female electro artists like Peaches and M.I.A. who reflected her interest in feminism and activism.
“Feminism for me is about equality for all sexes, no matter how you identify,” Ørsted says. “We live in a time where these subjects are being introduced to the mainstream pop world. It could be more and it could be louder and brighter, but it’s on the way and I have faith in the generations to come, and I will do what I can to organically express this in every possible way.”
That will likely include getting face-to-face with fans at House of Blues, given that MØ even dove into the crowd at Boston Calling in 2015. “A good crowd-surf is the perfect ending to a show,” Ørsted says, “a way to unify the room.”◆
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