Review: Icona Pop less than lovable at Fonda Theatre
In February, the Swedish duo Icona Pop is set to begin warming up arena audiences for both Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, whose “Bangerz” and “Prism,” respectively, are among the year’s biggest pop albums.
For a group with its own top-10 hit in “I Love It,” the high-profile gigs represent an obvious growth opportunity (the band has already appeared on “Dancing With the Stars” and later this month will perform on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”)
But the hook-ups also reflect some savvy brand alignment. Headlining the Fonda Theatre on Tuesday night near the end of their own North American tour, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo positioned themselves precisely at the midpoint between Cyrus and Perry: pleasure-seeking troublemakers with hearts of solid gold.
Their balancing act was only intermittently convincing.
Dressed in complementary black-and-white mini-dresses on a stage that resembled the inside of a spaceship, the women mustered enough energy to get fists pumping in the modestly sized crowd during “Nights Like This,” a chirpy club track about partying so hard that “tomorrow we’ll die to press rewind.”
That’s a dependable theme for Icona Pop, which also played “All Night” and “Just Another Night,” both from the duo’s second album, “This Is… Icona Pop.” (A self-titled debut came out last year in Sweden.) In “On a Roll,” Hjelt and Jawo moved the narrative along to the morning after -- though not, happily, to any sense of regret.
“I’m waking up on the floor, still looking perfect,” they shouted over a slamming beat that somehow didn’t sacrifice crispness to volume. (In addition to singing, Hjelt and Jawo played keyboards and guitar along with pre-recorded tracks.) There was an appealing obstinacy to Icona Pop’s jubilation in these songs, an unapologetic quality that connected the music to Cyrus’ hit “We Can’t Stop.”
Yet the duo’s defiance felt far flimsier at other points in Tuesday’s hour-long concert, as in “Then We Kiss,” introduced by Hjelt as a song “about how much we love making out with people,” and “Ready for the Weekend,” which advertises its timidity right in the title.
Miley, one gathers, would hardly wait to do something she could do right now.
Icona Pop went for a more wholesome, Perry-style vibe in “Girlfriend,” in which the women repurposed the chorus of Tupac Shakur’s “Me and My Girlfriend” for a tune about their devotion to each other.
But “Girlfriend” was less a song than the beginning of an idea for one; what’s more, the charm of that idea depends almost entirely on context.
And when Hjelt and Jawo tried in “Good for You” to work some showy vocal theatrics -- rather than chanting in unison as they did more effectively for most of the night -- the result had none of Perry’s stage-veteran assurance.
Did things improve at the concert’s finale, when Icona Pop revved up the brain-battering synth riff that drives “I Love It”? Sure. The song is one of the year’s most thrilling, and because it’s basically about owning one’s stupidity -- “I crashed my car into the bridge / I don’t care, I love it,” go the words -- it’s more or less foolproof.
But foolproof isn’t the same thing as bulletproof, and by the end of the performance, the group’s bratty exuberance had all but drained away. Icona Pop had taken a hit, it seemed -- pierced by fatigue or disappointment or perhaps the pressure to fill the much larger stages to come.
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