Ø: An intrøduction to pøp’s new favørite letter


There are 26 letters in the alphabet ... or so we’ve been told.

While English does indeed have 26 letters, many Latin-scripted languages (as opposed to those using Cyrillic/katakana/etc. scripts) actually contain more than that. For example, Spanish contains “ñ,” and the letter “ø” joins “æ” and “å” in Norwegian and Danish, which each use 29 letters. These days, “ø” is becoming more and more common in the English-speaking world, and it’s all because of pop music. Learning to embrace the unfamiliar vowel, leagues of music fans are falling for MØ, BØRNS, and the Dø.

Formed from her middle and last initials, the name MØ designates Karen Marie Ørsted from Odense, Denmark. In Danish, “mø” means “maiden” or “virgin,” though in a “young and naïve” way (not sexually). Her name doesn’t rhyme with “toe” or even “too,” but rather, the French word “bleu” (as in cheese). For the phonology nerds: The Danish/Norwegian “ø” represents a close-mid front rounded vowel. Swedish and Icelandic use “ö” for a nearly identical sound.

Some know MØ from her vocals on Iggy Azalea’s “Beg For It,” and many have enjoyed her delightful debut album, March 2014’s No Mythologies to Follow. From icy opener “Fire Rides” to the trumpet-heavy, multi-layered “Pilgrim,” No Mythologies is full of brilliant pop. But upon hearing her name, most MØ fans would associate her with her current chart-topper from Major Lazer and DJ Snake: bouncy, mellifluous hit “Lean On.”

Thanks to her “Lean On” success, MØ now reaches a bigger audience than ever. She told Billboard about working with EDM legend Diplo, aka one third of Major Lazer: “I got a track from him [in late 2013], and I was just jamming on it ... and then suddenly, DJ Snake came on, and then we changed it, and then I hooked up with Diplo and his team.”

Evidently, she’s been part of the producer’s crew for a while now; for her album, Diplo supplied some syncopated production to MØ’s “XXX 88.” Liner notes list “Karen Marie Ørsted” as a co-writer of Major Lazer’s Mockingjay: Part 1 soundtrack contribution, “All My Love (feat. Ariana Grande).” And as recently as July 21, Major Lazer and MØ dropped a reggae/dancehall cover of “Lost” by Frank Ocean.

MØ stopped by Minneapolis’s 7th St. Entry with MS MR in Sept. 2013, and she played a Varsity show last October 1. Her performances aren’t always note-perfect, as Saturday Night Live viewers noticed when she performed “Beg For It” with Iggy Azalea. But the 26-year-old is still learning, and she values energy over vocal perfection, anyway. Her high side-ponytails or braids are always whipping during shows, and it seems she thinks it’s most important that a performer gets into their songs on stage.

Another artist with the Ø is BØRNS (“borns”), a pop singer with melodic power and a somewhat androgynous voice. While writing music, Michigander Garrett Borns first performed under his first and last names, but that title got shortened to Borns, which is fairly similar to Broods and Braids. How to set himself apart? Add an artistic twist. “I just put the slash through the o for stylistic purposes — to make it extra difficult to type on an iPhone,” he joked with Billboard last week.

Back to Scandinavia, though: “børns” does mean “children” in Danish. It’s pronounced closer to “burns,” the singer said. “We were in, like, Norway,” he said, when people kept cheering, “Burns!” Soon enough, he realized, “They’re actually talking to me.”

BØRNS took “Ø” to an extreme by stretching it into a number: One of his biggest songs has been “1Ø,000 Emerald Pools,” which swaps a zero for an “Ø” in the title. Since that drop, he’s released his Candy EP, which came out in November. It features “Electric Love,” which is currently storming all forms of radio.

BØRNS has been lucky enough to play several overseas shows and festivals lately. Like MØ, he’s supported MisterWives on tour (though Waters will be opening at their October 27 First Avenue show). He was actually slotted to play the Cabooze with Charli XCX and Bleachers on Tuesday before mysteriously dropping out via Twitter.

The Dø is one more pop band that's boosted “ø”’s popularity. The French/Finnish band pronounces “Dø” like “dough,” and they just played the Entry on June 1. Though quiet single “Dust It Off” first came out in 2010, a feature on the 2014 I Origins soundtrack made it skyrocket back into popular attention. France especially enjoyed the song, launching it into the Spotify global charts last spring.

Even five years after opening for the Dø in Minneapolis, Holly Hansen from local band Zoo Animal remembers her favorite parts of their show. “Their groove was amazing,” she said. “[Olivia Merilahti’s] voice is at a register that should be a little bit wearing, but you’re just like, ‘What? This is so cool.’” Hansen looked thoughtful and summed it up. “I’ve never seen such a unique recipe.”

“Ø”’s surge reflects the growing globalization of U.S. pop. True, the fact that many foreign artists sing English lyrics makes them easily accessible to fans in this market (though language barriers shouldn’t keep a country from listening. Please, United States, discover Stromae). Still, though, MØ has millions of fans wondering how to pronounce her name; with Google’s help, they can discover “ø” and the additional few Norwegian/Danish letters. They might even learn about her home country while investigating.

All of the bands mentioned here bring unique perspectives to the scene (whether they’re Danish, French/Finnish, or Michiganian). After hearing their music: bring on the “æ” and “å” crowds.

Fun fact: Mac users can hold down option + o to type the letter “ø.” Add in Shift to get the capital.

Honorable 'ø' mention: Metalcore band Underøath released an entire album called Ø (Disambiguation) in 2010. The sextet announced their disbandment two years later, but a countdown to August 24, 2015 is now live on their website. “Rebirth is coming,” predicts the accompanying message.