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Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009

Lykke Li: Manic Pixie Dream Singer

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Lykke Li is a mystery, "even to myself," she says. She's capricious and full of contradictions, at once plucky and melancholy, sweet and standoffish. She delights in her eccentricities, and though she doesn't lie, per se, she usually doesn't volunteer the whole truth, either. She spends a good deal of interviews refuting or correcting insinuations she herself made in previous interviews. It's easy to see why so many indie boys have fallen so hard for her: She's a real-life version of Natalie Portman's Garden State fantasy girl, a sex symbol for those terrified of overt sexuality but attracted to girlish quirks and thinly concealed emotional baggage.

The 23-year-old Swedish singer emerged as one of last year's breakthrough artists on the strength of her debut, Youth Novels, a labyrinthine dance-pop album that stood out both for its exotic production by Peter, Bjorn and John's Bjorn Yttling and for Li's unusual songwriting perspective. Breaking from the archetype of the outgoing electro-pop singer, Li introduced herself as a guarded loner. "My hips, they lie," she sings early on the record, "'Cause in reality, I'm shy, shy, shy." Later on Youth Novels she bemoans being propositioned by "fellas who got a look in their eye. I don't wanna be seen, touched, heard, bothered," she sings.

Li laughs at the irony of having picked a career that puts her in the spotlight when so many of her songs are about pulling away from people-"I know, it's weird, right?"-but says she is just writing from the heart.

"I like dance music, but I don't like boring lyrics," she says. "All of my songs are about my experiences, and my feelings, and I'm a very melancholic person. I find it hard for me to be happy. I feel sad a lot of the time, not only for me, but for the world."

She maintains that she's at peace with her perpetual sadness. "It's not a problem if you don't see it as a problem," she insists. "It's just a state of mind. I think in the West the reason people are so sad is because they feel like they always have to present themselves as happy. That's what's making them sad."

Though she says she's not depressed, she does show signs of negative thought patterns associated with depression. Asked where she lives now that she's left Sweden, for instance, she says, tersely, "I don't live anywhere," then adds, "In the West, people are always asking where you live, but some people are just nomads in life I'm not depressed, I'm just not a balanced person, at least that's what my therapist tells me. He's like, 'You need to have a base.' But he doesn't understand that everybody can't have that."

Her self-diagnosis is that she's too ambitious for her own good.

"I know exactly what I want in life, but there's so much I want that I can't have it all," she explains. "I want adventure. I want to make an amazing second album. I want to make movies. I want to learn to play guitar. I want to travel the world. I want a house. I want to make small babies."

Also on that list is finding true love, but she's treading cautiously in that area.

"I had the love of my life, but then it went to hell," she says. "He's the ex-love of my life. I haven't talked to him since. This happened recently, so my songs about it will be on my next album" she stops.

"I've given too much away already," she says.

Lykke Li headlines a Thursday, Aug. 6, concert at the Turner Hall Ballroom with Miike Snow and Esser at 8 p.m.

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