Marlene & Ji Nilsson Are Making Friendship Pop A Thing

Photo: Beata Cervin.
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Marlene and Ji Nilsson are, on their own, two very influential Swedish pop acts. Together, they are something else. The duo rarely gets the chance to duet, but when they do, the result is tender and almost nostalgic. They care for each other in the deep, obsessive way teenagers love each other. It's not novel — women can be friends in public — but their documentation of it is. It's not often that women gush about their friendships in public, especially in song. Their first duet "Love You Anyway" was released in 2014. The song was a pledge of loyalty — the resounding message was, no matter what happens when the shit hits the fan, I'm going to love you anyway. In March, four years after the release of "Love You Anyway," Marlene and Nilsson released "There," yet another synth-pop ode to steadfast friendship.
"We'd been talking about making another duet for quite some time, actually," Marlene tells Refinery29 over the phone from Stockholm, where she and Nilsson are based. They'd both been through tough times recently, she explained, and wanted to write a song about how they'd leaned on each other during those months. "It was just natural for us to write about it," she said. They wrote the song together in February and released it just a month later.
Nilsson adds, "When I had a really bad couple of months, like a half a year of shitty things going down, we hung out all the time. I was like, 'Can you come get me? I am having a panic attack in your building. Can you come down and meet me?'" The same goes for Marlene. She says she was frequently sleeping at Nilsson's apartment, and, when they weren't together, Nilsson was always just "a phone call away."
This corroborates with the lyrics of "There," which describes a friendship built to withstand difficult circumstances. The second verse goes, "You've seen me ugly crying, drinking way too much / When we were losing it, we still had us."
In the music video, which premieres exclusively with Refinery29 today, Nilsson and Marlene literally lean on each other for support. They are utterly alone against a white background. The video is even devoid of color.
"We just wanted [it] to be clean and just be the pureness of two," Marlene says of the video. "We had this idea of leaning on each other that we put into the choreography. We just felt like we didn't need anything more than that. We just want us two."
"Yeah," Nilsson adds, "We both work a lot with colors in our pictures and in our music videos, and, I mean, I have blue hair. [But] we didn't want to distract anyone from the message of the song." They often work in tandem, but it's rare that they work in isolation like they did on "There." They wrote, recorded and produced it, just the two of them, no outside help needed. When they work as a twosome, communication is efficient — they have that secret "best friend" language that only comes from years of friendship.
"I write a lot of songs together with Ji for that reason," explains Marlene. "Like, she's the one who understands. We have the same references in music. And I always feel super comfortable... I feel like I have no one else in this world that I have this musical connection with other than Ji."
This song is important to their friendship, which almost obfuscates the need for it to be successful. Who cares if the song does well? For Marlene and Nilsson, the song was a necessary outlet. "It means so much to both of us on a personal level. So, even if it weren't a song that people liked or a video that people would want to watch, it still feels like we won something," says Nilsson.
The song bops, though. Nilsson and Marlene's lithe vocals tread carefully over the insistent beat; it's a delicate anthem. It's friendship pop.
"There's not a lot of songs about friendship, and I think there should be more," Nilsson says. "We're filling up the library of friendship songs."
Watch the full music video for "There," below.

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