XOV : Black & White 2

Meet XOV, a Swedish pop star on the rise.

To really get into his music, you need to know his past. (And yes, that is a direct contrast with the classic Spice Girls pearl of wisdom: “If you want my future, forget my past.”)

XOV grew up in Tensta, a ghetto considered to be the most unsafe residential area in Sweden. He fell into trouble at a young age — in fact, he was nearly killed after a run-in with a Neo-Nazi gang at 13 years old. (!) He found an escape from life through music, specifically hip-hop, rapping and crafting beats — and eventually moving into singing. Up until that point, music was solely a side passion until one day, when he gave up being the CEO of one of Sweden’s largest event companies at age 23 to pursue music.

He’s evidently been making a good impression behind-the-scenes: XOV has been working at Conway Studios in LA with the almighty Swede-pop messiah Max Martin, prepping his independent debut studio album. (Got your attention now, huh?)

While the album continues to take shape, he’s been teasing out new (free) tunes in the shape of an EP called Boys Don’t Cry, which is being released in two versions. The first release, called the “Naked Edition,” is a single synth and vocal-only semi-acoustic offering. Later this year, he’ll drop the full studio version of Boy’s Don’t Cry.

“Lucifer,” the first song on the EP, popped up on my radar (on my ray-duh) a couple months ago. The haunting vocals were what caught my attention: It’s a minimal production, relying solely on XOV’s crisp crooning to lead us through the bloody, (presumably) autobiographical tale of his troubled upbringing.

The Boys Don’t Cry EP is a strong introduction, blending revealing, cold-blooded ruminations about his troubled past in rap form with heaven-sent, smoothly crooned pop hooks. Even in semi-acoustic form, tracks like “Animal” and “Fireman” already sound like bonafide pop anthems.

The production is dominated solely by a lone ambient synth, recalling the late night trip-hop moodiness of The Weeknd and Lorde. And then, there’s the lyricism and supreme pop hooks that could only be cultivated from a songwriter raised in Sweden: “Lucky motherfucker, you don’t know what I’d do to you/I used to kick it with Lucifer and he still lingers in the dark,” XOV warns, bringing fellow Swede acts Robyn, Erik Hassle and Miike Snow to mind.

After hearing the EP, it’s no wonder Max Martin’s interested: XOV’s cultivating an intriguing sound, and certainly has the potential to shake up the male pop landscape.

“Lucifer” was released on September 4. (iTunes)

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