Even if you think you don't know Robyn, you probably know Robyn. Or at least chances are, bobbing in the back of your head is a chunk of the addictive, sticky-sweet chorus from her hit "Show Me Love," which stampeded up the U.S. singles chart in 1997. Though she quickly disappeared from the American music scene soon after, the neon-blonde, bowl-cut-wielding singer continued to release major-label albums in her homeland of Sweden until 2004, when frustration surrounding creative control provoked her to launch to her own Konichiwa Records.
Finally calling the shots, Robyn delivered a fearless eponymous album filled with a strutting, mad-dog mix of electro-pop, rap, R&B, and straight-up balladry to commercial and critical acclaim -- including three Swedish Grammys and a U.K. number one single, "With Every Heartbeat."
After three sold-out shows in the U.S. earlier this year and with the American release of Robyn just months away, Robyn chatted with Out from Stockholm about conquering America on her own terms, the origins of her occasional drag tendencies, and why pop most certainly isn't a dirty word.
Out: Your New York City show felt more like a sing-along at Camp Robyn than a concert -- the crowd knew every single word to every single song. Were you surprised by the reaction?
Robyn: You have to be surprised when something like that happens. You can never expect something like that. I was really amazed by how people not only knew "Show Me Love" and the obvious ones, but how they knew the words to every single song. There was a lot of love in the room.
On this mini-tour you played New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco -- arguably the three gayest cities in America. I swear there were a few guys up front who looked ready to devour you. Why do you think the gays love you so much?
I think it's because my music is good and because the gay audience has good taste in music [laughter]. But, really, I think there's a quality about my music -- I've always had a huge gay audience, ever since Show Me Love. I think there's something about the bittersweet quality to what I do that appeals to a gay audience.
You don't seem to be a diva, but there's sometimes a drag element to what you do. The Konichiwa Bitches video could definitely qualify as a drag performance.
I was raised in a theater family, and being on stage and dressing up or playing with characters and different parts of my personality has always been something that's been close at hand. There is definitely a dramatic perspective or dramatic sense to what I do and maybe it's not diva-ish, but it's kind of up there in that world.
Is conquering America something that's really important to you? Do you want to be playing stadiums in Texas?
I would love to be successful, but success means different things for different people. For me, this time around it's been about doing things on my own terms and staying in control of my creative situation. That's number one to me. I feel very satisfied with where I am. I like being in this place where some people know my earlier stuff and some people don't. I don't think people expect much from me -- there's no pressure. I can come in and do my thing. I'm not really thinking too much about what other people are expecting from this album.
There's an interesting paradox in the way you work. After starting your own label you're completely in control, but at the same time you're heavily into collaborating -- whether it's with the Knife, or Kleerup, or Snoop Dogg. What do these collaborations offer you that you don't get going the solo route?
Collaborating has always been a big part of what I do. Even though I've always been writing songs I've always been dependent on working with other people -- producers and songwriters. On this record it was a matter of choosing the right people because I had a very strong vision of what I wanted this album to be, and I found myself finally in the scene or around people that I felt I belonged with that had the same outlook on what pop music is. It doesn't have to be something that has no integrity or no personal style just because it's commercial music. The collaborations are -- again going back to how I grew up watching my parents work together in this theater group that they had -- a way of working that I really enjoy. It's also because I'm not a producer. I'm always really involved in whatever I'm doing, but I don't know all that [technical] stuff, so I have to work with other people. This time around it was with people that I've chosen myself and that were really into my ideas and were totally supportive of what I wanted this album to be.
So you still consider what you do to be pop music? That's not a dirty word to you?
Definitely not. I think pop music is the best music I've know, whether it was Kate Bush or Prince or the Police or Bob Marley. Pop music is anything. For me pop music is basically melody -- melodies that speak to and connect people, or that communicate with a lot of people at the same time.
But do you feel you belong in the same category as Fergie or Britney Spears? I think there's something very different about what you do.
Maybe there is. I don't want to put myself in a situation where I'm saying I'm so much better or so much more sophisticated. All pop music, all commercial artists, are depending on a commercial -- I'm dependent on that commercial perspective of what I do, so I'm not going to say I'm more credible. I'm just doing it my way, with my personality, and that's all it is.
What's been the biggest change since you were in America ten years ago?
The biggest change is that I'm older. It's really not that complicated.
But surely wiser?
It's been 10 years. I've been able to, through those 10 years, make my way through a conservative and strange industry, and I've been able to keep my integrity intact and turn it into something that serves me instead of just being part of a structure that doesn't work for me.
If you ran into Robyn from 1998 in line at Dairy Queen, what would you say to her?
I would tell her just to enjoy things and not be too worried about the future [laughter]. I don't regret anything that I've been through-it's all connected . These 10 years have been really important for me, and I wouldn't have been able to start my own company without that experience. There was definitely a time when I was taking things very seriously, which I think was good because it made me make those changes that I need to do. It's all about having fun. If you're not enjoying what you do there's really no point -- and that's also what led me to where I am now.