Robyn finds freedom in making own way through club music scene


If you're finally over that regretful phase of wasting your ears on Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, why not listen to a much more fun singer rooted in electronic-pop? Her moniker is Robyn. She is neither a Gaga couture mannequin nor a Perry pop patronizer.

You might already know her songs if, while clubbing, you have heard "Hang With Me," "Dancing On My Own" and "Cobrastyle."

How did Robyn become so good?

For one thing, the best musicians have the best taste in other musicians and tones. As a kid, Robyn crushed on "the more adventurous" side of dance music. By era, that would be Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Prince, Michael and Janet Jackson, TLC, Neneh Cherry, Kate Bush, Technotronic, the forgotten-but-utterly-danceable KLF, and house and techno.

As a result, Robyn's best tunes are her more adventurous and daring projects. Her catchiest song is probably "The Girl and the Robot," an intense collaboration with the mega fun, Norwegian electro duo R yksopp.

With her uber-urban-confident vocals, it took Robyn a decade to get real exposure in America as a dance musician, because it has taken a decade for electronic-dance music to truly infiltrate pop music.

Robyn is a citizen of Sweden and even she understands the pickle American dance music has found itself in.

"You guys invented club music in a way," she says. "But the good music you have has never gotten any attention. It's more been about the commercial side, which is maybe not the most interesting thing to me."

Robyn herself used to be part of the machine when she notched a Billboard hit at age 19, in the 1997 single "Do You Know (What It Takes)," a major-label production, pop-i-fied by Britney Spears' Swedish producer Max Martin.

As Robyn matured, she left major label life to strike out as an independent musician under her own Konichiwa Records in 2004.

Since then, Robyn, 31, has evolved into a better and more popular musician and songwriter.

I asked if she feels vindicated, having leap-frogged the standard record-label routine.

"I'm not looking for that kind of recognition. I don't think I have anything to prove," she says. "I did these changes very much for myself."

The freedom she gained allowed her to do something remarkable last year. She released not one album, but three. It worked out, supplying club hits, good sales and critical acclaim.

Recording three albums at once freed her creative mind, she says.

If she awoke one day wanting to record a dance hall song, she would do just that, writing "Dancehall Queen." If she awoke one day wanting to record a pretty synthetic ballad, she would write "Hang With Me."

The process was akin to eating or dressing oneself, she says.

"Some days," she says, "you feel like wearing something particular or having something particular to eat.

"That was in my head when I came up with this way of working. I wanted to have a creative process that followed my instinct more."

To Robyn, it seemed a logical outlet from the industry's way of releasing albums.

The music industry, as she notes, tries to make everyone listen to "the same thing at the same time."

Here's a good example: When we listen to a Robyn song on YouTube, YouTube often suggests we should next listen to a Lady Gaga song -- a collusion to ram that insufferable Madonna parrot down our throats with videos polluted with product placements.

At any rate, Robyn does not expect to continue the three-albums-a-year model.

"Everything about doing it that way has been amazing. It would be impossible for me to do it again. I just started touring much more than I've ever done before."

If a fellow musician wanted to do her three-albums-in-a-go bit, her only warning would be, "Don't try to tour too early."

"I'm a tour zombie," she says.

All Robyn is missing is the popularized personal life that makes a star a star. She is scandal-free in a world that rewards the Lady Gagas and Kim Kardashians for being egomaniacal and naked.

I asked her why I know almost nothing about her personal life.

"It's because I don't talk about my personal life at all, so people don't have anything to talk about," she says.

I tried to coerce her, asking her to name likes and dislikes at the very least, but she wouldn't step into the bear trap.

"It's very hard for me to answer that question. It sounds like a question you have in those friendship books in school," she says.

"My interest is music, and that's usually what I spend my time doing. I'm really bad at answering these questions."

So that's Robyn, a musician focused on inventing a lot of good songs for our lucky ears, a rabid concept in a business that shills Gaga juggernauts.

Doug Elfman's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Contact him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

 

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