For Danish artist MØ (born Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen), life for a while felt something like a hamster wheel. But it didn’t begin that way—not musically.
As a young person growing up in Denmark, MØ first felt the surge of music at eight years old when she first laid ears on the Spice Girls. Before that, she’d let the songs of her mom and dad essentially wash over her. But when she heard the Spice Girls’ LPs, she lost herself in them and listened repeatedly.
Her family is comprised of academics—except for MØ. She didn’t feel comfortable studying diligently, yet also never knew how to make a music career begin early on. Soon, she discovered punk rock, trading in her ambition to be Sporty Spice to be Kim Gordon. She found like-minded friends. Her interests became layered. In her twenties, MØ’s career took off. So much so, however, that burnout found her. Now, at 33 years old, the artist is back with her best work yet—a 10-track LP born from resilience, Motordrome, out on Friday (January 28).
“I think I was naïve,” MØ tells American Songwriter. “This is an industry. And there’s a lot of money in this industry.”
Throughout her career, MØ says, there was a push for more, more, more. There are “many games” going on in the music industry, she says. Games she didn’t totally understand early on. And without a handle on them, exhaustion can be a byproduct.
“There was always an undertone,” she says, “that you could do better, you need to work more. It never ends. It’s just like that hamster wheel. It keeps going. And that’s good, but I think in the end, the sum of all that was that I got so exhausted. I was constantly giving more than I had to give.”
If one adheres to outside metrics, then one can never feel fulfilled. It’s the internal goals and their achievement that can sustain. MØ has learned this over the past 10 years as her career has taken off and progressed. So, after her 2018 record, Forever Neverland, and many years constantly touring, she took a break. She’d been riding a high after working with big-name artists like Iggy Azalea and appearing on Saturday Night Live. For a few years, MØ was happy every day. But, she says, she kept pushing that. Not giving herself time to breathe or truly take a step back for a better, more clear-eyed perspective.
“I just kept extending it,” MØ says. “Instead of taking a break to reevaluate who I am now and also where I wanted to go, musically.”
Growing up in Denmark, there isn’t exactly a ton of people to look to as mentors for mainstream music careers. While there is a “really cool” music scene in the country of five million, it’s also a small country. MØ hopes more people will pay attention to the country’s songs moving forward. Yet, as such, MØ had to largely find her own way. She released her first EP, Bikini Daze, in 2013 and rather quickly achieved attention.
“I just realized today,” MØ says, “like fuck it’s been 10 years that I’ve been in this industry. When I think back to doing that show with Iggy at SNL, it’s so long ago now. But it also feels like yesterday, in a way.”
Going from 0-100 miles per hour is fun. It can also be jarring. MØ calls it “overwhelming in a good way.” She went from an up-and-coming indie artist to international exposure. Thinking about it, she says, it’s a great deal of fun. She was literally achieving her dreams in real-time. She’d dreamed of this ever since singing to the Spice Girls in her small hometown of Ubberud, Denmark. Achieving her goals put a smile on her face. She’d gone from high school to art school to her career taking off. She released her LP, No Mythologies to Follow, in 2014 and Forever Neverland four years later. She’s participated in world tours. Thousands have screamed her name.
“I was young,” MØ says. “I know I’m really lucky, I got success early on. I think back and I’m like oh my god, I was just a little baby having a ton of fun!”
On her new album, MØ took her time. She’s looked inward, self-evaluated, figured out “what went wrong.” She’s addressed her anxieties. She’s discussed them with her family, her mother especially. In fact, it was via a conversation with her mom that her new LP began to take some shape. The record is named after those wheels where motorcyclists speed up and down, side to side, defying gravity. That’s how MØ felt in recent years. Now, though, she’s left the chamber on her own two feet.
“This album was me starting to try and open up into what was going on inside of me,” MØ says. “Reflecting on it. And just searching for some kind of—’answer’ isn’t the word. Trying to figure out this new person I was becoming.”
For MØ, writing music has always felt therapeutic. And writing the new songs for her new LP was a way for her to examine. The new record is tight, insightful, and lively. Standouts on the album include the hypnotic “Wheelspin,” the melodic “Hip Bones” and the confident “Punches.” It’s music created at the hands of a skilled, refined artist.
“I definitely feel much better than I did the last couple of years,” MØ says, “before having this realization and having burnout. It’s for sure still a process. Knowing my own limits but also still being able to push. When you’re an artist you need to push but you also need to take care of yourself.”
Often, life is about nuance. MØ is living that now. She’s learned many important life lessons as she’s made her impact and imprint on the music world. And as she wrote Motordrome, she realized just how much she loves music, loves her job. But more precisely, she knows it has to be something she does for herself. That’s big.
“Music can create this magical world,” MØ says. “It can just open up something in you that inspires you and changes you.”
Photo by Fryd Frydendahl / SacksCo