Pop star Robyn was named Swede of the Year 2010. But she is also widely acclaimed outside Sweden. The three albums she released in 2010 were discussed in media all around the world. And her song “Dancing On My Own” was voted best track of 2010 by the Guardian newspaper.
Robyn kicked off 2011 by winning four Swedish Grammis Awards: Song of the Year ("Dancing On My Own"), Album of the Year (Body Talk), Female Artist of the Year and Composer of the Year (together with Klas Åhlund). Photo: Claudio Bresciani/Scanpix
Robyn is at the peak of her career. Besides releasing the three Body Talk albums in 2010, she also found time to tour extensively. She mixed sellout arena concerts with guest appearances on talk shows such as David Letterman’s and made a celebrated performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Robyn, the teen star
Robin Miriam Carlsson’s road to becoming pop queen Robyn has been long and winding. She grew up with parents who were part of a traveling theater company, so almost from the start she learnt what it meant to lead a wandering life without proper roots.
“Of course that’s affected me, and probably my music, too,” Robyn says. “Everyone’s experienced loneliness and a sense of exclusion at some time or other. At least I know how it feels.”
Awarded her first recording contract, Robyn released her debut single, “You’ve Got That Something,” in 1995 at the age of 16. In the same year she entered senior high school but lasted only three days before dropping out.
“I developed a bit of a complex about education because of that,” Robyn says. “It’s easier now, though; I’ve started to catch up. Learning things has made me much more secure in myself.”
To other people, however, Robyn has always seemed a secure person. When her debut album, Robyn Is Here, was released, the Swedish music scene suddenly got to know a teenager who was both humble and self-assured.
In 1996, Robyn made her first US tour. There, she was presented as a more pop-oriented version of American R&B stars like Brandy and Monica. Success was not slow in coming. In the United States alone, Robyn Is Here sold 1.5 million copies.
Robyn, the record company boss
Swedes took Robyn to their hearts, but abroad her career went into decline. A major factor was the refusal of her US label to issue her second album, My Truth, on the grounds that it contained too little hit material.
Robyn’s career was re-ignited in 2004. She quit BMG and launched her own label instead: Konichiwa Records. This proved to be the smartest decision she had ever taken.
“Belonging to a giant label, being under contract, was really frustrating,” Robyn says. “It had a lot to do with lack of freedom. I started Konichiwa so that I could do the things I wanted to do — to let my approach and my creativity lead the way. It was about making things simpler and more fun.”
Robyn knows what she wants. Photo: Magnus Klackenstam/Luger
And more fun it was. Less than a year after Robyn had taken full responsibility for her own artistic development, she released the single “Be Mine.” It went straight to the top of the charts in Sweden.
“With Every Heartbeat” followed in 2007, produced by Swedish musician Kleerup, and was a huge hit, reaching number one on the prestigious UK singles chart. Robyn began to be regarded as one of the most innovative pop musicians in Europe.
Robyn, Swede of the Year
One thing about Robyn that has become abundantly clear in recent years is that she seems to be popular everywhere, whether among Goth kids or affluent hipsters. Many critics have praised her ability to erase the boundary between the tasteful and the commercial. Her broad appeal and versatility is one of the reasons Robyn was named Swede of the Year 2010 by the news magazine Fokus. How does she feel about this award?
“This may sound a bit dull, but I didn’t feel particularly different afterwards,” Robyn says. “An award like this is very abstract; it doesn’t really change anything, so to speak.”
Madonna has called Robyn “a fantastic songwriter and a really cool lady.” So how does that feel?
“It’s great that Madonna knows what I’m doing, of course,” Robyn says, “but I can’t honestly say that I felt more than that.”
Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" — best track of 2010, according to the Guardian. Director: Max Vitali
There is no arrogance in Robyn’s occasionally laconic replies. Rather, she seems very clear-minded and down-to-earth. This side of her character is reflected in the Body Talk trilogy.
Many of the tracks have been inspired by the somewhat grungy, rough-edged electronic music that became increasingly popular in European clubs in the 00s. Another distinguishing feature is the air of melancholy that these kinds of songs generate.
“It’s not that I’m a melancholy kind of person,” Robyn says, “but I think melancholy is an important part of life. The things you remember often made you happy and sad at the same time.
“You can’t totally separate happiness and sadness — they’re both powerful emotions that get you going.”
Gabriel Itkes-Sznap is a freelance editor and writer. His first meeting with Robyn took place in a cinema, when her song “Show Me Love” featured in the legendary Swedish film Fucking Åmål. In fact, when the film hit the screens in the United States it was renamed Show Me Love.
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