The Swedish phenomenon on her new album, the music industry's sexual double standards – and her ideal festival experience. It doesn't help that the rules for women in music are tacitly different, she says. "If I'm on stage and it's warm and I don't want to wear trousers all of a sudden I'm a victim, but if Iggy Pop takes his shirt off? Oh, that's fine. I think pop culture underestimates people. The message is, 'Being yourself is the worst thing you could possibly be.' But people are still attracted to it."
The Swede is only in London for a few more hours before jetting off to Berlin to continue the promotional warm-up to the release of her third album, I Never Learn. She calls it the final part of a trilogy – or "thrillogy", as she pronounces it in dainty, accented English, her voice layered with the rolling Rs of the Swedish language – and describes an album that is as sparse and spacious as the empty studio she sits in.
"The ultimate aim was to do something stripped back. I wanted to do something as pure and naked and bare and honest as possible. The most powerful thing would be to do something like Odetta, just strumming the guitar and 'Argh!'" She imitates the sound of the late US folk singer, famed for a roaring acoustic style that underpinned the civil rights era. "It's the ultimate task to do something stripped back, so you're not hiding behind anything."
While it sounds completely different to her first two albums, Youth Novels (2008) and Wounded Rhymes (2011), broken love is still the theme. The title "just came to me. I want to be lost. And then those words were there – 'I don't know and I never fucking learn.'" The album is co-produced with her long-time collaborator Björn Yttling, of Peter Bjorn and John, best known for the song Young Folks, aka that "whistling" song from every advert ever.
Their relationship is really strange, says Li. "We don't get along. He pulls one way and I pull the other. We fight a lot and we meet in the middle and that's what creates a great song. We challenge each other."
Because of her girlish looks and equally childlike vocal style, Li's sensuality can have a disconcerting effect. In Get Some, a three-and-a-half-minute frenzy of kick drum and feedback at the centre of her second album, she sings: "Like a shotgun needs an outcome, I'm your prostitute, you gonna get some." Response to the lyric was not wholly positive, which elicits gentle disappointment from the singer. "I got a lot of shit for that," she says. "People just didn't get it. That comment was meta. They thought I'd fallen for 'it' – that someone else was telling me what to do. In fact, I was speaking from the point of view of a female pop star. I was saying to the public, 'If this is what you want then OK I'm going to give it to you, so don't look away now.'"
IIn an era of high-concept acts such as Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus, the distance Li keeps from her audience almost seems like a droll statement. As she explains, it's not that simple. "I used to get really sick. I would go to the doctor with all these ailments and they would tell me I needed to be at home. I didn't even really understand what that meant, because since I was a baby I've always been moving, moving, and then touring. And then the advice was, 'Get an apartment, get some plants, cook some meals in it', and then I realised: my soul needed to be nurtured. I needed to have a home. Of course!"