Lykke Li Opens Up Before Kanye

Photo by Kyle Dean Renford

“People have this strange misconception that I am a pop artist. I just happen to have a baby face and a baby voice,” said Swedish singer Lykke Li before taking the stage at Webster Hall for Diesel’s U Music event. Indeed, anyone who has heard “Little Bit,” a chirpy single about unrequited love on Li’s debut album, Youth Novels, might have expected a doe-eyed novice to take the stage. However, the 23-year-old’s secret co-headlining set with the Roots took everyone by surprise. Backed by Philadelphia’s beloved hip-hop act, Li’s signature hit got the full P-funk treatment–slide trombones and all–while Li pranced around on-stage, dancing and gesturing to the men in the front row. Wearing a boxy silver boyfriend jacket, slim black dress, and a silk turban, she looked as fit to walk a catwalk as to bang the snare drums with ?uestlove. “Everyone from The Roots to Björk to Coco Chanel inspires me,” she said, helpfully.

Li’s fans will find even more surprises on the new album, which she said would be “Darker, even less poppy.” The material is already there: Li’s distinctive wavering vocals can drop from coy to smoky in seconds. She often speaks, in interviews and in song, of her feelings of lonliness and isolation. Does attention from critics and fans help to fill the void? “Are you kidding?” she scoffs. “It’s worse than ever! I travel so much; I am always alone.” She hopes the musical arrangements of the next album will reflect those moods–whenever she gets around to recording it, that is. “I’m starting to write it, but it won’t be released anytime soon. I don’t have a home at the moment,” she explained.

Of the recent attention she has received from music press and fans, she said “I don’t consider myself to be a star. I am just starting out–I am not anything yet. I am an up and comer.” That may change soon: Though the crowd at Webster Hall didn’t seem to be familiar with their mystery guest, the floors were shaking after two songs of her fiery, Roots-driven set. Even Kanye West–the evening’s other guest of honor–couldn’t compete with that.