Robyn: Swede inspiration

By Russell Baillie

On her way for her first New Zealand show, Swedish star Robyn talks to Russell Baillie about her colourful pop career.

Swedish star Robyn will grace Auckland's Powerstation on October 4. Photo / Supplied
Swedish star Robyn will grace Auckland's Powerstation on October 4. Photo / Supplied

When Robyn answers her phone, she's just checked in for a flight to Norway. The Swedish star is the Saturday night headliner at a festival in Drammen, southwest of Oslo and then it's a few weeks off before heading to Australia - where's she part of the Parklife tour of dance/electronic acts - and a brief stopover to play her first show in New Zealand.

"It's weird, I've had people from Australia and New Zealand on my Twitter and I've never been to New Zealand, so I am really happy I am coming."

If she's sounding chirpy despite departure lounge stresses, that's perhaps because being in transit is her natural state these days.

Robyn - or Robyn Miriam Carlsson, as it says on her much-stamped passport - has been a pop star since her mid-teens in her native country.

Her 1990s debut album, Robyn Is Here, sold more than a million copies internationally propelled by singles like Show Me Love Do You Know (What It Takes), which was produced by the Swedish hit-maker Max Martin, whose precision-tooled choruses were soon to be heard on hits by the likes Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion and Pink.

But after subsequent two albums My Truth and Don't Stop The Music stalled outside Sweden, she departed the major label which had preferred she play it safe, musically, and went out on her own.

On her Konichiwa Records, she released her 2005 self-titled album, its shift into 80s-angled electro-pop giving her career a second wind, with a string of hit singles including British number one With Every Heartbeat.

The tailwind Robyn generated meant she spent nearly the next five years touring, including supporting possibly her greatest influence, Madonna, on a 2008 European tour.

After the five-year gap, in 2010 she released three mini albums - Body Talk Part 1, 2 and 3 - the plan being, she says, that it would break the music industry's standard album-tour-album-tour cycle.

Body Talk Part 3 got her a Grammy nomination for best dance/electronica album while single Call Your Girlfriend was up for best dance recording. The various collaborators on the albums' tracks also joined some diverse dots between the likes of Norwegian techno duo Royksopp and Snoop Dogg.

So how did the triple treat plan work out for her?

"That was a once in a lifetime experience I think. I really wanted to be able to do it. I had all the songs ready and I had the energy in me to do the songs like that ... but I'm never going to do that again," she laughs.

Still, like striking out on her own, it was a brave move in a career that seems marked by them - look up Robyn on YouTube and there's a clip of her at the Polar Prize in 2010. As that year's winner, Bjork, sits a few metres away, Robyn sings the Icelandic singer's Hyperballad to her and a room full of toe-tapping tuxedos.

"Yeah, that was very nerve-racking. I don't understand why I said yes to that. It was fun when it was over."

And among her other regular hometown gigs are the Nobel Peace Prize Concerts - all part of being world famous in Sweden. Not that it's too arduous.

"Swedish people don't chase people in the streets, but everybody knows me in Sweden, yeah."

Sweden, of course, has long had quite a way with pop music - does she see herself as part of that hook-laden tradition?

"I don't compare myself to anyone else in my country. But if anything, the Swedish music scene and its history, what it gives is lots of confidence more than anything else."

And the seeming national knack for earworm tunes? "I think that just because you are Swedish it doesn't make you good at making pop music. But we look at pop culture as outsiders and being an outsider sometimes creates this melancholy which I think is really pretty. In any artform or any genre that has been around for a while it's hard to do something new because a lot of things have already been done - but you can always try."

This year, Robyn and her band have been playing to some big crowds - just not their own - as the opening act on US tours by Coldplay and Katy Perry.

She says it's fun occasionally being a small part of those big productions, and she's fine with a career operating at a more modest, more controllable level.

"I am very happy with where things are and where I get to be - inside and outside of that world and I am happy it's on my own terms. When I get invited to it, it's because people like what I do and I get to choose, which is nice. I kind of get off on playing for an audience who doesn't know who I am also."

And yes - despite her reinvention in past years - live, she still plays the hits of her teenage beginnings.

"I don't know if the songs were about being a teenager. I think they were about being in love and I think being in love is something you can relate to, no matter how old you are."

Who: Robyn
Where: Powerstation
When: October 4
Tickets: On sale today from Ticketmaster

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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