JENNY HVAL IN NEW YORK, JULY 2016. DRESS: VALENTINO. HOODIE: PALM ANGELS. COSMETICS: MAC, INCLUDING STUDIO FINISH SPF 35 CONCEALER. HAIR PRODUCTS: ORIBE HAIR CARE, INCLUDING DRY TEXTURIZING SPRAY. HAIR: HIRO + MARI FOR SALON87/ORIBE. MAKEUP: SEONG HEE PARK/JULIAN WATSON AGENCY. MANICURE: ERI HANDA FOR DIOR VERNIS/MAM-NYC.
At the Pitchfork Music Festival this past July, Jenny Hval stood onstage wearing a swan pool float, flanked by two dancers in clown costumes moving suggestively, while glitter and flower petals dropped on her from above. She took a moment to smile.
“I’m actually very shy,” says the Norwegian musician and writer, casually sipping a glass of sparkling water the next day at Chicago’s posh Ritz-Carlton hotel. “I’m not the kind of person who could do something for provocation.” It’s a surprising statement considering that much of her music explores themes of gender and sexuality, often with explicit imagery, over droning keyboards and abstract electronica. She began her breakthrough album, 2013’s Innocence Is Kinky by whispering, “That night, I watched people fucking on my computer,” and found lyrical inspiration for her pulsating new album, Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones), from low-budget horror movies, vampires, and menstrual blood. “I wish that menstrual blood was seen as something more powerful,” she says. “Something that was not so much repellent. That we loved it. That it was literally something you saw in a picture and you wanted to drink it.”
As a “weird punk kid” growing in southern Norway and Oslo, Hval found kinship in the goth community and began singing in a doom metal band at 17. Now 36, she is a seasoned performer from her years in the Oslo scene and touring, and knows how to challenge audiences’ preconceptions. “I never feel like I have more power than the audience,” says Hval, who, despite a penchant for shows that leave audiences converted or confounded, is adamant that she’s not a performance artist. “I don’t have the agenda.” Rather, she says, she finds a freedom from the inhibitions of self though her art. Mainstream success obviously doesn’t concern her; what matters to her is that her music connects with those who investigate it closely. “I don’t really care if the major public is following what I do or not,” she says. “But I do want people to feel very strongly if they do connect to it. Instead of being loved by many, I just want very strong love. I want strong emotional response.”