Getty | Getty It's been a great year for music. But what's been even…
- Posted on Sep 21st 2010 5:00PM by Shelley White
Though her next two albums were moderately successful in Sweden, they weren't given North American releases, leaving most of North America to consider her a flash in the pan. It wasn't until Robyn ditched her major label in 2005 to form her own indie imprint, Konichiwa Records, that she began her journey of reinvention. Her first independent release, the electro-pop classic 'Robyn,' became her first number one album in Sweden and spawned the UK number one, 'With Every Heartbeat.' Now, having released two albums in 2010 ('Body Talk Part 1' and the recently-released 'Body Talk Part 2'') with one more on the way by year's end, Robyn's gaining critical acclaim for booty-shaking music that is dripping with pop hooks, yet also emotionally charged and on the cutting-edge of the electronic/dance music scene.
Robyn spoke with Spinner about giving the middle finger to the music industry, reinventing her career, and why nightclubs are important.
You're a huge pop star in Sweden, yet in North America, you're considered an artist for tastemakers and music-heads. Is it fun to live in both those worlds?
Yeah, it's nice to come here and have the focus be on the music and have people connect to it in the right way. I do have that in Sweden now, as well. People have really adapted with how I've changed my career. Yes, I'm famous and people know my face, but people are not as into celebrity culture and it's really easy there. We don't have paparazzi. Well, we do but they tend to leave me alone.
Sharin Foo of the Raveonettes told Spinner that one of the reasons there's humour in a lot of Scandinavian acts (like Jens Lekman, Peter Bjorn and John) is that there's a Scandinavian sensibility that if things get too serious or intense, they have to be taken down a peg or two. Would you agree?
I think we do have a pretentiousness meter. It's an ironic culture. But sometimes it gets a little too much for me, because strong emotion is really important to my music, as well. Even if you look at a band like ABBA, they were super-kitsch, but they were really dark sometimes as well and they were talking about really depressing things. So I think there are a lot of us that are really funny, but I think the combination of those two things, the darkness and the humour, is really more Scandinavian.
Your image as a performer isn't as bluntly sexy as many female pop artists like Rihanna or Lady Gaga -- you appear sexual, but not a sex symbol.
Yeah, it's very difficult for me to see myself as a sex symbol, but that probably has to do with being Scandinavian as well, it's a very equal culture and I'm aware of those issues, they affected me as a person. Sometimes I think it was maybe more important to me earlier in my career because I was more conscious of protecting myself in that sense.
You wore a lot of clothes in the video for 'Show Me Love.'
Right! But as I'm growing older it's easier for me to deliberately be sexy, or be generous with myself in that sense. But even so, it's always going to be from a feminist perspective.
When you first gained attention in North America, people didn't think you were Swedish. You appeared to be the perfect all-American pop singer. Was that your goal at the time?
I don't think I was even aware of that. I was doing something I really liked, writing songs and singing them and being really happy with what I was doing. And I consumed a lot of American pop culture as a kid so I wasn't aware of the signals I was sending. I was just doing something that felt good.
Did you aspire to be 'Britney Spears'-level famous?
Not at all. I think that was the difference, that I didn't have that entertainment business perspective. It was just, like, fun. It was not a career or a long-term kind of thing. I was just by chance put in the position that I could record an album and I accidentally had a hit. It wasn't something I had planned for at all. And I think that's what made it easier for me to re-evaluate the whole situation and figure things out for myself later on.
When you went back to Sweden in 1997, was it because the pressure and attention was just too much for you at the time?
It was more about not enjoying myself anymore. I hadn't thought about all the other things, like press or being a role model or in any way living up to expectations, so when that started taking over it seemed totally natural for me to come back to Sweden and start another kind of process that was about figuring myself out and what I wanted to be doing musically. But I think I was in a very easy situation -- I always had really cool parents who said, 'Do whatever you like.'
You weren't supporting your whole family like Lindsay Lohan.
No, it was so different from anything like that so it was easy to walk away.
How do you think pop music would have evolved if you had been Britney Spears?
Well, I'm not! I think that that's part of it, I can't really picture that. It could never have been me.
Now, are you able to tour and perform and enjoy it without worrying about the expectations of the music industry?
Yeah, I feel I have a lot of freedom now. I don't think any artist is a victim of the music industry, but I think that definitely, if you don't know anything else, you can find yourself in that situation where you're adapting to a structure because you fear you won't have a place in the industry if you don't. I think that takes over for a lot of artists. For me, starting the record label was really my big [middle] finger to it all. And I think that feeling is something I carry with me all the time now, that I'm always ready to walk away from it if I have to. I think mentally that's a good place to be in when you work in this industry, that you don't get too precious about it, or too scared.
In songs like 'Fembot' and 'The Girl and the Robot' you explore the idea of a futuristic synthetic mate. Are you a sci-fi nerd?
Totally, I'm a nerd for sure. But for me, writing about robots, I'm not trying to predict the future or anything. It's more like, it's a nice metaphor -- it's more about the human condition for me than talking about robots. But of course in a song like 'Fembot' it's also fun to use those words, and you can play around with them and it's a lot easier to understand than if I wrote a song about political issues or women's bodies. It's trying to put it in a context so that people can understand what I mean. And dance to it too.
You've talked about the club as the adult playground, the only place grown-ups are allowed to let go and freely express themselves. Tell me about that.
On this record I wanted to connect back to a sound and a culture that I grew up with, which is club culture. And it meant so much to me throughout parts of my life. I was never a festival kid, I was a club kid. That's how I got into hip-hop because it was dance music at the time -- and then came electronic music. And then the last couple or five years being on the road and touring around the world, I spend so much time in clubs.
Is it the place you go to let go, to be emotional?
Oh yeah, that's always been why I did it. Club culture is always going to be a reflection of youth culture, but I think we're maybe moving into a time when the club is a place where older people can go, too. And it's a place people go to connect to themselves, it's not always about the party. It's also about letting off steam and expressing yourself and connecting to other people.
What's turning you on right now?
What I'm inspired by at the moment is something that comes from a place where you feel like there's a person in there, not a flawless surface. Something that feels authentic and real. Artists like M.I.A., Florence + the Machine, La Roux, Santigold -- there aren't too many though. I think growing up with artists like Neneh Cherry and Kate Bush, they really moved me -- that was inspiring to me, and so I'm into people who are continuing that tradition now.
But I don't think it's right to hate on people who do the other, because I know what that's like, too. When you're a young girl, it's very hard to know what you want to do, and it's great to be able to just make some music and have some fun. But I think it's also nice to be on the other side.