In the summer of 2015, the song "Lean On" by Major Lazer and DJ Snake was nearly inescapable. The summer anthem, which went to generate over 1 billion streams, featured a relatively unknown Danish artist. It launched singer Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen — better known as MØ — into the mainstream.
MØ's debut album, No Mythologies to Follow, had been released the year before, but "Lean On" was the push Andersen's music needed to break through. The singer spent the next couple of years touring, writing and recording new music. But the Danish singer says her original musical inspiration came from a somewhat surprising source.
"I got into music around the age of eight years old, and I think the reason why was because I discovered the Spice Girls," Andersen says. "I fell in love with them, and it was the first time I ever felt like the music was just directed to me."
Andersen says she was happy with her first album, but wanted the second one to "obviously evolve" from there.
"I started writing songs for [Forever Neverland] four and a half year ago, but I didn't really know what direction I was going," she says. "I was just starting out, and I moved to LA for a couple of months and starting going into sessions and writing with different people — I guess just in the hope of finding my voice."
On Forever Neverland, Andersen's personality and passion shine through. She says transparency is a key part of her songwriting process.
"It's always been a mantra to me, when making music or creating art, that you have to be vulnerable," she says. "I guess after the whole success with 'Lean On' — me being introduced into this more mainstream audience — I was a little scared of being my true self, and being vulnerable and being gritty. But it was really nice to get reminded that I should not be afraid."
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In 2015, one song became not only that year's summer anthem. It generated over 1 billion streams since then. Its name, "Lean On."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEAN ON ")
MO: (Singing) Blow a kiss. Fire a gun. We need someone to lean on. Blow a kiss. Fire a gun. All we need is somebody to lean on.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Lean On," a song by Major Lazer and DJ Snake, featured the singer MO.
MO: So my name is Karen Marie Aagaard Orsted Andersen. You probably know me as the singer MO. But in Danish, we actually say (speaking Danish).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: MO or (speaking Danish) spent the next couple of years touring, writing and recording new music. We caught up with her as she was in a car driving to her next interview promoting her sophomore album "Forever Neverland." But first, we wanted to know how she got started.
MO: I got into music around the age of - I think I was, like, 8 years old. And I think the reason why I got the idea that music was what I wanted to do was because I discovered the Spice Girls. And I fell in love with them. And it was the first time I ever had that music like falling in love with some music. And you felt like the music was just directed directly to me, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STOP")
GERI HALLIWELL: (Singing) You just walk in. I make you smile. It's cool but...
MO: My favorite spice girl was Sporty Spice, Melanie C.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STOP")
MELANIE CHISHOLM: (Singing) You take an inch. I run a mile - can't win. You're always right behind me.
MO: Because I feel like I could really relate to her and her personality, you know? And also, I thought she was the one that sang the best, you know? She was singing so good. And I think the thing for me as a kid, like, in school, you know, I wasn't really very good at school because I was bad at keeping my attention. I'm not very good at things if I'm not feeling passionate about it. And so I think that was really why I started getting into music was because it was something I felt super passionate about. And I really liked doing it. And I felt like I was good at it. And that obviously empowered me to keep doing it, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF IT'S OVER (FEAT. CHARLI XCX)")
MO: (Singing) Finally coming down off of all that hurt - got a fresh, new side. Now, I really don't see you.
Yeah. I guess I'm the first musician ever in the history of my family. My grandfather - he was a painter. But that's it. My father - he's a psychologist. And my brother is a psychiatrist. My mom was a teacher. And so I kind of come from a brainy family. But, I mean, there's some creative blood running there somewhere. At least, I guess I'm kind of creative (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE LIKE THE SUMMER RAIN")
MO: (Singing) This is what I wanted all my life. No one can take it, no. Pour me all the wine, and let me picture that I made it, oh. This is what a universal fairytale is made of - sugar in my veins, purple like the summer rain.
With this album, "Forever Neverland," I started writing songs for it four and a half year ago. But I didn't really know what direction I was going. I was kind of just starting out. And I moved to LA for a couple of months. And I guess just in the hope of finding the sound and, like, my voice I was really happy about my first album. But I really, really wanted the second one to evolve from that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUN IN OUR EYES")
MO: (Singing) I feel the sunlight on my head, the scent of summer in my bed - when we were footprints in the sand, stealing liquor, making plans. I can see your face...
It was weird because, you know, you are in this city where all the most exciting music is happening. But I had a moment of just feeling like I didn't know who I was and what my sound was going to be like and what direction I was going. And that was what inspired "Blur."
(SOUNDBITE OF MO SONG, "BLUR")
MO: It was kind of like the turning point when I wrote that song. That was just around the time where I started to figure out my sound and my voice. And so "Blur" kind of started that. And I think it's quite beautiful that the theme of that song was about being completely lost. But then it started to go better after that, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUR")
MO: (Singing) Under the bad, bad moon tonight - or, baby, is it just me? Or is it something in the air we breathe 'cause I'm feeling dizzy, dizzy, ah.
It might sound kind of basic. But I think it was that moment of realizing that, oh, you know, it's OK to actually just be like, no. I love to have a little guitar and to have that kind of rock vibe. But then mix that with, like, a current sound and then also to be vulnerable because I guess after the whole success with "Lean On" and everything kind of - you know, me being introduced into this more mainstream audience, I guess I was a little scared of being my true self and being vulnerable and being ready, you know? And so I was. But it was really nice to get reminded that I should not be afraid.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINARY FRIEND")
MO: (Singing) I'm not the type, but I will let you - I will let you in tonight. I'm a little shy, but we could turn down - we could turn down all the lights.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: MO's album is called "Forever Neverland."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINARY FRIEND")
MO: (Singing) If you can picture it is real - you - you don't need your eyes to feel. Just watch me, watch me, watch me, with your hands. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.