Exploring the spectrum of love and pain, Swedish indie pop artist Lykke Li updated the sounds of '50s-'60s girl group pop for the 21st century on her breakthrough 2008 debut, Youth Novels. With confessional lyrics and often delicate vocals, she matured on the beat-driven Wounded Rhymes (2011) and sweeping I Never Learn (2014). Following this trio of releases — all produced with Björn Yttling — Li traveled in a new direction, adopting the sounds of late-2010s trends with mainstream pop producers on so sad so sexy (2018).
Born Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson in Ystad, Sweden, she grew up in a musical family — her father is a member of Dag Vag — and enjoyed a multi-cultural upbringing, as her family frequently lived and traveled across Europe, Africa, and Asia. After spending some formative months in Brooklyn as a teen, she returned to the city to record her debut.
While she grabbed the attention of indie fans in the early 2000s with her catchy, retro-chic singles, it wasn't until she teamed up with producer and frequent collaborator producer Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John that her sound could come into its own. Armed with sensuous, barely there vocals backed up by a quirky, bass-heavy electro dance sound, Li released her debut EP, 2007's Little Bit, on her own fledgling LL Recordings label. She made her first appearance on Swedish MTV that same year, and the video for "Little Bit" was nominated for Best Video at the Swedish Grammy Awards. She soon signed with Atlantic for worldwide distribution of the Little Bit EP and her first album, 2008's Youth Novels. The album proved an international success and Li increased her visibility by touring, scoring a guest spot on Swedish producer Kleerup's debut album, and appearing on late-night television talk shows.
In 2011, she returned with her atmospheric and beat-driven sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes, which was a worldwide critically acclaimed success. The set was a hit in Scandinavia and climbed into the U.S. Top 40 on the strength of singles "Get Some," "I Follow Rivers," and "Youth Knows No Pain." She subsequently toured Europe and North America that year, appearing at a selection of summer festivals in 2012, including Pukkelpop in Belgium and Helsinki's Flow Festival. In 2013, Lykke Li contributed to David Lynch's second album, The Big Dream, performing vocals on the lead single "I'm Waiting Here." That year she returned to the studio with Yttling and Greg Kurstin (the Shins, Foster the People, Lily Allen) to record her third album, I Never Learn, which was released in May 2014. A more introspective affair that focused on a hard breakup, I Never Learn was another critical favorite and Li climbed higher into the Billboard Top 30.