Pop Goes the Damsel
By Noah Michelson
Photography by GL Wood
It seems appropriate that when Robyn turns up for her Out photo shoot at the mammoth Palm Springs studio usually reserved for snapping souped-up hot rods, she’s smack dab in the middle of the gayest week of her life. On Thursday night the Swedish pop star performed in front of Hollywood’s crème de la queer—including some girls from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Adam Lambert, Johnny Weir, and other assorted famous queens -- at Logo’s New Now Next Awards. One night later she played a secret show to a West Hollywood club packed full of gay fans who, in between songs, took to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to post blurry photos and log giddy status updates like “I never thought I’d be so happy to have a vagina in my face!” from the front row. Tonight, she’ll stage dive into a crowd of 3,000 sweat drenched gay men dressed in little more than booty shorts and muscles when she headlines the White Party, “North America’s largest gay dance festival.” And finally, on Tuesday, she’ll swing by The Ellen DeGeneres Show for a victory lap.
The back-to-back timing of so many gay appearances may be coincidental, but her affinity with the queer community comes as no surprise considering how frequently her sexuality -- and even gender—have been called into question. “I get mistaken for a lesbian all the time -- but I guess I do have the most lesbian haircut of any of the girls in my field,” she laughs, referring to her signature blonde bowl cut. “And when I was growing up and I introduced myself to people I’d say, ‘Hi, my name is Robyn and I’m a girl,’ because in Sweden, Robyn is a boy’s name and I had such short hair. My handicrafts teacher thought I was a boy for three years. I tried to tell her I was a girl, but she’d just say, ‘My little boy wanted to be a girl when he was a kid, too.’ Finally my mom had to write her a note that said, ‘Please don’t assume that Robyn is a boy anymore because she’s a girl.’ Having that experience where I was confronted by people’s reactions to what I looked like or what I was supposed to look like made me identify with queerness. It still happens to me all the time, and a lot of the time it happens to me in America because even though what I consider butch is still very feminine in Europe, here you can shock people very easily just by looking a little queer.”
Though the singer’s popularity exploded in the United States last year, this is hardly her first American affair. In 1995, at the age of 16, just three years after she was discovered by Swedish pop star Meja during a chance meeting at her middle school, Robyn released her debut album, Robyn Is Here, in Sweden. Two years later the album, filled with fizzy pop songs co-written by legendary hit makers Max Martin and Denniz Pop, made its way to America, where tracks like “Show Me Love” and “Do You Know (What It Takes)” shot up the Billboard Singles Chart.
But despite the album’s success, something was amiss. “I never felt at home in the pop industry,” Robyn says. “My parents had a theater company, and I was exposed to a lot of different things as a kid. My mom is an actress, and she was always playing a man or a witch -- they were never typical roles. She had a shaved head and she’d come to pick me up at daycare and I’d walk on the other side of the street because I thought she was so ugly. You just want your mom to be pretty. Even though it occurred to me that my mom was different, it didn’t occur to me that my upbringing was unusual. Because I grew up in such an alternative family, I think I had a very naïve image of what making pop music would be like.”