Swedish singer Lykke Li moves on to the final instalment of her acclaimed indie-pop trilogy

She has never heard a happy song she likes, longs to work with Lars von Trier and wears nothing but black (check out her forthcoming fashion line!). Meet Lykke Li, Swedish star of indie-pop and connoisseur of torment, sorrow and woe…

It's not often that an international indie-pop star can count on one hand the number of times they've been approached by fans in public. Yet Lykke Li says nobody ever recognises her, recalling her surprise when a couple came up to her on Brick Lane, east London, the weekend before we meet at her record label in west London.

It might be a curious situation, but it's one for which Li is thankful. While the Swede might not be a household name (yet), the 28-year-old's resumé is impressive: two critically adored albums (2008's Youth Novels and 2011's breakthrough Wounded Rhymes), well over 100 million YouTube views of her videos, near-top billing at festivals, not to mention a specially penned song for the Twilight soundtrack.

It's not as though Li is the kind of artist who hides behind elaborate costumes or tries to obscure her identity to the public; she takes centre stage in just about every one of her videos. There she is, formidably trailing a departing lover across Sweden's stark wilderness in the video for "I Follow Rivers", a song that was remixed by the Magician and topped charts around Europe three years ago, selling 1.2 million copies (it also featured on the soundtracks for the films Blue is the Warmest Colour and Rust and Bone). In the clip for her latest single, "No Rest For the Wicked", taken from her forthcoming third album I Never Learn, she can be seen clutching on to another fella in a field as the camera closes in on her tears.

In person, she hardly blends into the furniture either. Though sweet and thoughtful, she smiles rarely, and laughs less; dressed severely in all black, with thick kohl-lined eyes and nude lips, she emits an aloof elegance with a hint of drama. So how does she retain such a low profile?

"I've worked hard at it," she offers. "I guess I'm not that interested in being a part of things that have nothing to do with my music. I'm not that interested in going to parties and events. It's my lucky star."

The relative anonymity she enjoys will no doubt be troubled by I Never Learn. It's an atmospheric corker of an album filled with power ballads she wrote as a way of alleviating the guilt she felt after breaking someone's heart, and which she explains is the final instalment of a trilogy.

"The [albums] are a young woman's chronicle on youth, love, hope, despair," she notes. "And I do think that any person's life at this time, between 21 and 28, is a pretty valid chunk of experience, and hopefully you can turn the page and move into something more mature."

Lykke Li performs at the Other Ball fundraiser in New York Lykke Li performs at the Other Ball fundraiser in New York (Getty Images)
What she will go on to do is anyone's guess. But don't expect a departure from the melancholia that has informed her career so far. "I don't really know how happy music sounds," she deadpans. "I don't think I've ever heard a happy song that I liked."

While the music has moved on from Wounded Rhymes, with less percussion and more of a focus on melody, the subject matter remains familiar. You only need to glance your eyes over the tracklisting for evidence: "Never Gonna Love Again", "Sleeping Alone", "Heart of Steel". There are no feel-good tunes to lighten the mood; this is straight-up sorrow and torment.

"I wanted to go where's there's no bullshit, no gimmicks, no hiding; to feel like you're holding my beating heart in your hand," she says. "I wanted to make something really raw, but it also needs to have power in the narrative to cut through. Making the album, I was in such darkness, and so sad and heartbroken that my music is a fight for life. I'm fighting to survive."

Born in the town of Ystad, in the south of Sweden (the town, coincidentally, that Henning Mankell's Inspector Wallander gloomily calls home), Li is the daughter of a musician father and photographer mother. Along with her sister and brother (who now work as a stylist and musician respectively), the siblings enjoyed the sort of childhood befitting of artists' children.

"The thing is, if you're an artist, you're kind of self-involved; [my parents] were just like, 'Do your own thing,'" she recalls. "We could be whatever we wanted to be. I think having that upbringing really freed me. Doing what you want has always been very important and I think that has inspired me."

Any colour, as long as it's black: Li will release her first clothing collection this autumn Any colour, as long as it's black: Li will release her first clothing collection this autumn (Rex Features)
The family moved around a lot, living variously in Portugal, Morocco, Nepal and India. Her nomadic youth, you'd think, would have prepared her for life on the road. Yet she struggles. Although Li now lives in Los Angeles, she has just put her belongings into storage because the thought of having a comfortable place she has left behind makes her sad when she's away, which she expects to be for the next year. "When I'm on tour, I find it hard," she says. "I can't choose when to go to bed or what to eat or what to do. It becomes a very controlled environment."

While the day-to-day existence of touring depresses Li, she insists it's worth it because she gets to perform. But, as anyone who has ever caught her live will attest, her shows are exhausting. And they often play havoc with her health. "I come off stage and feel I've given everything I can. Every day is some sort of victory or defeat. I get a lot of physical ailments on stage, like my shoulder will jump out of its socket because I've been playing the drums so hard, or I'll hit the mic with such force that my mouth will bleed."

It's curious to think that this shy, softly spoken woman is responsible for such wild, ferocious antics on stage. But with the transformative nature of her performances, it should come as little surprise that Li has recently completed her first acting roles. "Ever since I was a kid, for me being an artist was doing it all," she says.

Not only is she set to appear in Terrence Malick's upcoming, as-yet untitled feature – assuming she doesn't befall the fate of so many actors in the secretive director's films and end up on the cutting-room floor – she also had a leading role in recent Swedish crime drama Tommy, directed by Tarik Saleh, with whom Li has collaborated on a number of her videos.

"I love film and am completely obsessed with it and always wanted to do it. Then I was asked to audition for Tommy and I never thought that anything would happen with it, so I did my best just to learn and to test myself. Then they told me I got the part and I was like, 'Are you crazy? I'm a musician, I can't possibly be in a film; I'm going to fall flat on my face.' I was so scared. So scared. But I had to do it." She hopes to explore the cinematic world further and says her dream is to work with Lars von Trier. Jacques Audiard (The Prophet) and Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) are other directors who make her gooey-eyed.

'I come off stage and feel that I've given everything I can. Every day is some sort of victory or defeat' 'I come off stage and feel that I've given everything I can. Every day is some sort of victory or defeat' (Kalpesh Lathigra)
It's not just film that Li is getting involved with; this autumn she will release her first clothing collection. A collaboration with & Other Stories, the fancier sister label of H&M, it's a colourful line of neon bodycon dresses. Just kidding. Expect black, black, and more black. "Because I travel so much, I kind of wanted to create a capsule wardrobe for a modern woman in a man's world. It's very masculine. I'm always so jealous of the businessman who can just have their suits and their loafers and they're done."

When Li turned up to the 2012 Grammy awards, her black tuxedo stood out amid a sea of backless dresses. And sure enough, expectation about women's image in the industry is something that bothers her. "As soon as you are some type of star you're supposed to also get into the machine of, like, getting your make-up done for hours and wearing dresses. I've realised you don't have to do that. I can just wear my flat loafers and suit and call it a night. But it is interesting that whenever you do a shoot, if you're a man they want to take a portrait where he is showing wrinkles, and wearing a suit and is super-serious. Then with me they always want to zoom out and I'm like, 'Just take my face, that's enough.'"

Despite acknowledging that the music industry is actually a pretty good place for a woman right now, where they can expect the same opportunities, money and power as men, Li is quick to point out that the battle for equal rights is far from over, and feminism remains an important issue to her. But then, struggle is something that Li is comfortable with; it's where she feels at home. "It's great being a woman, I love being a woman," she says quietly. "It's fun to have more to fight for."

'I Never Learn' is released tomorrow on Atlantic

Make-up by Valeria Ferreira at Caren using Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Fluid and S 2014. Hair by Ali Pirzadeh

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders