HANG WITH HER “Thegoal isn’t to reinvent anything, it’s to peel away what is unnecessary.”
There are some pop stars for whom every record requires a reinvention of their persona. But what if your persona is just yourself, and you've spent your career rejecting the urge to create controversy to make people pay attention to you? For pop chanteuse Robin Carlsson, a/k/a Robyn, the R-word itself causes consternation. " 'Reinvention'?" she cringes. "I don't know, to me, that's an old way of talking about pop music. I'm not trying to create headlines here. I'm really just trying to be more and more myself." She is, of course, correct — it's the goal of every pop star to get at his or her personal essence. When it's your name on the album cover and the concert marquee, everything you do is a draining process of discovering your own identity — and in public.
For Robyn, who comes to the House of Blues next Friday with Natalia Kills and Diamond Rings, this process is second nature. In 1991, age 12, she started her career by recording the theme song for the Swedish television show Lilla Sportspegeln (the somewhat prophetic "Du kan alltid bli nummer ett," or "You can always be number one"). By 1995, she had a deal with RCA and was releasing a series of charting Swedish singles. By 1997, she had a debut album (Robyn Is Here) and an international hit with "Show Me Love" (written with Swedish pop goldfinger Max Martin). But soon after that came exhaustion, label squabbles, and an quasi-existential crisis that led, after several albums that never crossed the Swedish border, to the creation of her own label, Konichiwa Records, and a reclamation of her identity. It took her three years to get her 2005 album — titled, yes, Robyn — to shelves around the world, but after nearly a decade of being a kept property, she was, and remains, her own boss.
"I was so young when I started out," she explains, "and I don't think that I was even close to doing anything that represented me as an artist, because I didn't know who I was gonna be yet. I was just trying stuff, having fun, but not really having a goal. I mean, I was discovered, and I was just catapulted into the pop industry. I was lucky, I didn't have to fight for it, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, I didn't plan for it. But it took me some time to realize what kind of situation I was in and what I was going to do!"
Robyn's emancipation in the mid '00s was also a practical move: not only was her Martin-assisted pop stopped at the US border right when other Martin products like *NSYNC and Britney Spears were assaulting stateside earwaves, Robyn's own musical interests were beginning to branch out. The final straw was her label's disinterest in "Who's That Girl?", a track with a distinct electropop feel owing to its having been co-written by Swedish brother-sister duo the Knife. It wasn't just the Knife's pulsing sound that beguiled Robyn; it was the fact that they paid for and released their own material.