The Romanticism of MØ

Karen Marie Ørsted, better known by her artist-name, MØ, is a Danish music artist whom focuses on the themes of the ideals of youthfulness, the perils of adulthood, and the difficult transition between the two.  Her music is a work of romanticism and it serves to challenge the status quo of contemporary adulthood by rejecting its serious, demanding, and cold foundations. She emphasizes the importance of enjoying the spontaneous and emotional moments that are often fleeting. She reminds us that experiences can be valuable purely insofar as they provide us joy, and her music highlights the way in which romanticism can lead to a greatly enriched and fulfilling life.

Romanticism broadly describes the aesthetic attitudes that flourished in France, Germany, and England between the late 1700s and the mid-1800s. The dominant ideology at the time was classicism and neoclassicism, which emphasized precision, logic, and order as the only authentic source of aesthetic experience. This aesthetic value mirrored the French Enlightenment and its values for science and cold rationality. Romanticism, in contrast to this, strongly valued intense emotions, spontaneity, and imagination as an authentic form of aesthetic experience. Rather than subscribing to the dominant thought of the time, Romantics believed the pure logic and science were insufficient for capturing the full range of human experience and beauty. While neoclassical thinkers were often preoccupied with absolute truths, romantics generally took a relativist approach to philosophy. Rather than searching for the founding principle that gave something value, romantics thought that value was relative to the individual, and so they became more concerned with the individual meaning that aesthetic works had. This is partly why romanticism is linked to liberalism. While rejecting the universal, the romantics turned their attention greatly toward the value of the individual. The individual and their relative aesthetic experience, according to the romantic, was something that could be explored and appreciated through self-expression. These conceptions of individualism and self-expression later became influential in the American Revolution. Although romanticism was pioneered in France, it became more popular in England and Germany because of France’s cultural dominance. As France championed science and rationality, romanticism prominently arose in England and Germany in reaction to what was interpreted to be French ideas (Brittanica, “Romanticism”) (SparksNotes, “Romanticism”). While romanticism arose as a rejection to neoclassicism, it can broadly be understood as a rejection of the rational and precise in favor of the emotional, spontaneous, and imaginative.

In a number of Ørsted’s interviews, she elaborates on the meaning of her artist name: “MØ is an old nordic name for maiden,” which means to be “a pure, young, unspoiled person.” This is “ironic,” she says, because much of her music “is about being a teenager… when you experience all this new stuff and everything goes crazy” (Argentina). Her artist name can be interpreted as the romantic ideal of emotion, spontaneity, and imagination. This ideal is often related (both by Ørsted herself and in literature) to youthfulness, which is the chief way through which the romanticism is expressed. This glamorization can perhaps best be seen in her music video, “Kamikaze,” in which the care-free, reckless, and spontaneous ideal is likened to a kamikaze pilot. The risk, or perhaps inevitability, of self-destruction is viewed as irrelevant to the joy of living in the moment and following one’s emotions. Similarly, another key component to this is the idea that the value of doing something needn’t stem from the way it affects one’s future, and this idea can be noted implicitly in one of her lyrics: “You say you want someone to be wasting your time? Well, I am your partner in crime.” The idea of wasting time is painted in a positive light, suggesting that the value is in the fleeting joy of the moment rather than its consequences. These ideals are the focus of much of her music. In the same way that romanticism emerged as a rejection of neoclassicism, so too has Ørsted’s romanticism emerged as a rejection of the societal and institutional factors that seek to dismantle these attitudes in youth, particularly among their teenage years. In her song, “Pilgrim,” she likens the journey of growing up to the Camino pilgrimage – an arduous route Christians began traveling in medieval times. She repeatedly expresses her discontent with the journey and the world that it leads to. Another line from the song, “Old wise river, take me to the sea,” highlights her wish to return to her youth, and this concept was formulated in another song of hers: “The Sea.” In this song, she laments the sorts of changes that are challenging her youthful romanticism, and she calls for an “escape [from] the world we’re waiting for.” As such, her music can be understood as a rejection of the serious, demanding, and often cold nature of modern adult society in favor of the emotional, imaginative, and spontaneous nature of childhood.

Ørsted’s lyrics and music are important because they serve as a reminder to appreciate the romantic aspects of life. Not all activities must serve a clear purpose, for the value of an activity may be derived purely from the enjoyment that it provides. Too often can individuals become trapped in the routine of their lives. Work, downtime, and interpersonal relationships may become characterized by the same monotonous, expected patterns of behavior. This can have the effect of challenging our ability to feel fulfilled with our lives. Learning to appreciate and enjoy the emotional, the imaginative, and the spontaneous can be greatly fulfilling, and it can enrich our work, our play, and our relationships in ways previously unknown or unexpected. Pragmatism needn’t be abandoned, but the cultivation of one’s romanticism can be fulfilling and liberating.

References:

Argentina, MØ. “Hi, I’m MØ.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 17 Oct. 2015. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

Hipsterčić, Hipster. “MØ – The Sea.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

MOMOMOYOUTH. “MØ – Kamikaze (Official Video).” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

MOMOMOYOUTH. “MØ – Pilgrim (Audio).” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube. 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

“Romanticism.” Encyclopedia Brittanica. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 31 October 2014. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

“Romanticism.” SparkNotes. Sparknotes, n.d. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

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