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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

The contained emotion of "How Long"

Instrumental, lyrics, and video combine to present Tove Lo as a fragile narrator who tries to remain calm through her sorrow.

Before I begin this entry in earnest, I must clarify: No, I have not seen Euphoria.

I get that it's been the show to watch talk about among my age range and beyond this calendar year, even now as we're more than a month removed from the airing of its season finale... but I just haven't gotten around to it. I've had other things take up my time, whether that be class or other more leisure-based activities — like this blog!

I open with the Euphoria disclaimer because my song for today comes from the soundtrack of its now-concluded second season. I first heard it while going through new releases a month ago, and I've come back to it a few times since because I just really like the dark electro-pop vibe it's got.

To be fair, that's the case with me and a lot of Tove Lo's catalog. I wouldn't say she's got a specific formula, but she does often inhabit that domain within the greater pop sphere, and she's done so to great effect for more than a decade and a half at this point. "How Long" is simply the latest example of that success. I think what really helps sell it to me above some of her other work is the contrast between its crisp, cleanly cut beat and Tove's emotional rawness, especially once she gets to the chorus. That contrast is made visible in the track's video, in which Tove holds a mannequin-like pose for the most part, but beneath that unfeeling exterior is a greater sense of emotional torment at the revelation that the subject of her singing has been seeing someone else all along.

I know I said that the beat is super clean, but I simultaneously feel like there's a slight haze or fuzziness around the verses. I think it's the fast synth figure that gives me that feeling more than anything. Prominent in the opening as it speeds up and the song's tempo is locked in, its reduction to a faint background element means it almost fades in and out between each beat and as the synth line descends. Given the lyrical context, I can't help but think back to what I said about "Disco 2000" a couple days ago in how I listen to "How Long": it's got the same sort of couple-drinks-in feeling going. Tove is "trying to play it cool," as she says in the opening line, but as she reminisces on a love she thought she had, she can only think back on the "empty promises of love" he gave her. Heck, there's even a line about drinking in there, and it's a line I tend to remember when thinking of this song:

You're an honest man when you're drunk

It's a line that a lot of people may pass over or not regard as significant in their listening, and maybe it just interests me because of how I've observed people behave when their inhibitions have been compromised by just a little too much liquid courage. Within the context of "How Long," though, I think it's an underrated sentence. It reveals some of how Tove's character found out about everything, and how the real side of her ex-flame emerged. Usually these dealings are magnified more, but in a song built around the reaction rather than the act. of uncovering — I again remind you of its title — it's a smaller detail that helps build up to the comparatively explosive chorus. Even that, though, isn't overblown. It's all just barely emotionally contained, and that's what makes it so powerful to me. Tove wants to let out all her anguish, but she really can't in the moment.

Putting the audio and visuals for "How Long" together helps me get a fuller picture of what Tove Lo was going for in the track, and it makes me that much more invested in my listening of it. I'm honestly interested now in seeing how it's integrated in Euphoria; hopefully it isn't just an end-credits song like so many "soundtrack songs" that end up winning awards.


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