She was a teeny-bop star in the late '90s, split with her label in 2004 and seemed destined to play gay discos for the rest of her life. And she's Swedish. So how exactly did Robyn became pop music's great savior in England and America circa 2010?
The pint-sized 31-year-old singer from Stockholm has neither Lady Gaga's flair for outrageousness nor Britney's sex appeal. In fact, she barely bares any flesh onstage and might be mistaken for a tennis player off stage. Yet she's earning more critical raves this year for her music than those two pop tarts, and she's turning a lot of heads in the industry for her rather messianic -- as in: miraculous -- feat of releasing three albums in one year.
On Nov. 22, the real-life Robin Carlsson will issue the last in a trio of 2010 records that started June 1 with "Body Talk, Pt. 1," the album that landed the club hit "Dancing on My Own." A month and a half later "Body Talk, Pt. 2" arrived, featuring another synth-heavy Euro-dance hit, "Hang With Me." While all of these singles were bouncy enough to light up the dance floor, they also were weighed down with dark undercurrents and smart, wounded lyrics.
Now comes "Body Talk" -- weirdly, there's no "Pt. 3" -- featuring five new songs, plus updated versions of songs from the preceding albums, including the new single "Indestructible."
"For me, anyway, I do see it sort of as the big finish to this whole project," Robyn said by phone while enjoying "a lovely day" in London last week.
She would qualify many of her answers with "for me," which may be a tactic she picked up when her record company, Jive, didn't see things her way after the buzz wore off from her 1997 hits "Show Me Love" and "Do You Know (What It Takes)." That's when she started her own label, Konichiwa Records, which became the turning point in a career that's hitting overdrive as Robyn finally makes it to the Twin Cities for a very-sold-out concert Sunday at the Fine Line.
Q The main story told about you is you could have become another forgotten teen pop artist, but you successfully came back on your own terms. Are you comfortable with that?
A Yeah, it's a compliment, actually. I'm happy if people get inspired by that as "my story." On the other hand, I feel reluctant to have to shoulder being any kind of role model. That was what I wanted to get away from -- from the way the industry demanded me to be a role model.
For me, it was never about having to correct my career. I was interested in Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince and Madonna and all these amazing pop artists from the '80s, and then in the '90s, I was into club music. And at the same time I grew up in a theater family and learned to express my creativity in my own way and to be my own person. So for me, those things all kind of came together naturally, even in artists that I was listening to like Kate Bush. There have always been pop artists that can blend these worlds together -- it doesn't have to be contradictory. But in the music industry -- especially in the '90s, when I started working -- it was hard for people to see that. I just had to break out of the structure.
Q Was starting your own label key to all that?
A That was the most important thing I've ever done. This three-album release cycle is a continuation of that. It wasn't just about, "I'm starting a record company. [Expletive] you!" It was about being able to explore things on my own and trying to have fun.
Q So, would you recommend that every pop artist try to do three albums in one year?
A Yeah, I think I could recommend it. It's fantastic to have an idea and find a way to make it work -- especially an idea like this, which sort of goes against the marketplace and the formula that the industry has created.
For me, it was never a conceptual idea -- it started more just as a practical idea. But the more I kept working on it, it started to influence the visuals and the tour and the way I make the music. So it sort of has turned conceptual.
Q Would it be too cynical to point out you're also shrewdly getting fans to pony up for three albums in one year?
A It might look like that to someone, but that was never in my mind when I started to think about it. It started in this very simple space where I didn't want to be in the studio for another two years without touring, and I don't want to go back on tour and not be able to record again for three years. ... It definitely wasn't about trying to set some kind of world record and impress people with how many albums I can release in one year. It was always just about becoming more organic with recording, and doing something that felt more real.
Q What can we expect of the new songs?
A They're all pretty hard-core pop songs. I felt like we did the "Fembot" thing and we danced the beat in "Don't Tell Me What to Do," so Klaus [Åhlund, her main producer] and me just wanted to write good, traditional songs.
Q A lot of people still like your late-'90s hits. Are you still proud of them?
A Totally proud of them. And that's why I worked with Max Martin again on this new album [Martin produced her early singles, as well as hits by Britney and the Backstreet Boys]. We always wanted to do something together again, but we never found the right project or didn't have time. But we finally hooked up.
It would have been really easy for me to take the easy route and make the album really tricky and more obscure, but I wanted to do like the big pop finale and show people that I'm not afraid of that. Maybe I'm intellectualizing it a little bit too much, but for me it's like taking that world back and coming back full circle to where I started it.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658