Words: Amy Keresztes

In the tension between radio-pop chart toppers, written off as cliché and soulless, and under-the-radar indie jams that make the listener think and feel, no one toes the line quite like Robyn. Even the playlist of the most stubbornly anti-industry music lover is bound to include a hit or two from the Swedish goddess of pop, particularly from her most recent trilogy release Body Talk.

The most common reaction to the mention of her name differs depending on one’s geographical location. In Sweden, or the rest of Europe for that matter: a minor swoon, occasional clutching of the heart, eyes closed in contentment, some sign of affection, and deep respect. In the U.S.: “Who?” “You know that song ‘Show Me Love?’” “Oh, her!” I lived in the U.S. until moving to Sweden just over a year ago, and I had never really heard a Robyn song, nor did I know anything about her. But across the ocean and north a bit, she’s second nature. She’s the pop-culture version of IKEA- ubiquitous, generally well-liked, and suitable for every occasion.

Of course, her appeal is mostly about the music itself; Robyn crafts the kind of pop songs that even diehard indie snobs can’t help but fall in love with. Shimmering and infectious, but infused with wit and substance, her songs vibrate with a kind of wistful emotion and self-consciousness that makes every listener feel like she’s singing about our broken hearts, our determination to keep going. Her appeal is also about the continuous themes and messages she has developed throughout her career. Robyn has been consistently lauded for her outspoken, and often playful, analysis of relationships and her brand of casual feminism. According to Sasha Frere-Jones, “her occasional lyrical references to empowerment and independence are probably exactly what feminism was supposed to look like by 2010: she takes her autonomy for granted, and her strength comes from being a consistent and calm oddball.” It makes sense, considering her origins in a country where female political representation is a reality rather than a goal, equal pay for equal work is a given, and parental leave policies make the rest of the world drool.

Robyn has released appealing, dance-able, thought-provoking pop gems year after year (under her own record label Konichiwa Records as of 2004). And in 2010, she outdid herself with the release of Body Talk, an expansive yet completely cohesive three-part album. (Parts I-III released in June, September, and November 2010, respectively.) There has been much speculation in music journalism about the motives behind such a move; is she simply overflowing with too much creativity to be constrained to one record like the rest of the industry’s movers and shakers? Or is there a thread running between the three parts that teases us and leads us, tantalized, from one to the next?

Robyn fits the bill in many ways for a Major Pop Star, but stateside, her easygoing humility and demure composure doesn’t hold a candle to the brash and showy antics of a Lady Gaga, a Beyonce, or a Nicki Minaj. Americans also seem to have trouble fitting her into a category; is she “world music?” “electro?” or “techno pop?” In Sweden she also manages to blur the boundaries between “pop music” and “good music” and systematically occupies that rare and delicious shaded section of the Venn diagram. Sarah Jaffe at Bitch says it best: “It might be possible to ironically like Gaga or Beyonce, but it is impossible to like Robyn without loving Robyn.” Her humility and seeming normalcy is a big part of what makes Robyn an atypical fit into the standard mold. Who could forget The Daily Show’s hilarious excursion to Sweden to satirize Americans’ fears of social democracy, in which Wyatt Cenac attempts a “Cribs”-style visit to Robyn’s apartment?3 She is shown in her modest digs with a twin-sized guest bed, one small television, and her old shopping bag “recycling station.”

Along those lines, one huge reason Robyn will not reach superstar status in the U.S. and remains confined to playing the role of darling of Pitchfork readers and the Coachella crowd: the personal life aspect. She is 30 years old and unconcerned with looking younger. She is not, and presumably never will be, a tabloid fixture. Her Twitter page (@robynkonichiwa) contains mostly musical and tour-related updates, occasional personal messages, and very little drama. No one cares who she is dating (she’s engaged to her long-time boyfriend) or how much of her body she shows off. Of course, she has always made it clear that it’s not her body that she’s showing off, nor is it her private life that sensationalizes and amplifies her career. Her sexuality and her sexiness are simultaneously natural and fabricated, depending on the song, the video, and her mood- but the origin is always her own playfulness and creativity. For Robyn, her music and the messages she infuses it with speak for themselves.

Photography by Marko Saari (top left) and Heli Hirvelä (bottom right).


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