The first time I saw Lady Gaga, now perhaps America’s biggest pop star, I immediately thought, “She’s doing what Robyn was doing five years ago!”
Now we’ve got Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and loads more pop artists skewing in a generally club-oriented direction. But this change is more than just the sound: it’s the weird. Robyn isn’t afraid to dress up like a bon bon or play at a honky tonk in Granger, Texas. Her sense of humor was a breath of fresh air during an era of hyper-sexual, super-serious pop (with the exception of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” of course). It seems like we, as a society of pop consumers, have managed to catch up to her … almost. The first two of her 2010 trilogy of Body Talk mini-albums still manages to surprise. The third and final volume is still slated to come out later this year.
Taking a break from her busy touring schedule, Robyn got to sit down for a brief chat with PopMatters, talking about the current American reception to dance music, bringing people to tears, and the difficulties of getting into a bumblebee costume …
How’s your tour going?
It’s going well, we’ve had some amazing shows the last couple of months. I really love to be on tour. It’s how I grew up. I love performing but also just being on tour with my band.
I feel like the sort of music that is topping the charts in 2010 is the sort of thing you were doing five years ago. Are you finding American audiences more receptive to your music with the new record and tour?
I do. I can feel that there’s a difference in how people approach it.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know why. I don’t feel like I have to justify things as much as I did in the last tour.
Do you feel like America responds better to dance-oriented music than it did five years ago?
Yeah, and I think club music overall is more accepted. It’s more diverse than I think it used to be. You guys have festivals, which seem very much geared around — you also have indie rock music, but there’s lots of electronic music too.
With your 2005 self-titled record, you proved that you were able to put out an album independently that was able to find fans all over the globe. Are there any unique challenges that remain now that you’ve established yourself as an independent artist?
I guess being a part of a commercial level of the industry is still — I mean I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. I don’t really know how to respond to that question. I guess just seeing how far I can take it, making pop music that is a little bit unexpected. It’s gonna be interesting to see where it goes. It’s pop, but it’s not maybe made for radio in America for example, but we’ll see. It’s exciting to see new people discovering the music.
It seems like a lot of pop stars feel like they have to be serious to be sexy. One thing that strikes me about some of your music, especially in videos like “Konichiwa Bitches” or songs like “Fembots”, is that you’re not afraid to have fun and be silly. Can you tell me about how your sense of humor informs your songwriting?
I just like to have fun. Life is not so easy sometimes but you have to make it fun for yourself. I can do that with the people I work with. There’s always an internal joke or a play with words. Stuff like that happens when you’re in the studio.
How do you go from there to dressing up like a bumble bee?
It’s easy, the hard part is coming up with the video [Laughs].
I have met several people who have told me that when they saw you perform “Dancing on my Own”, it brought them to tears. Have you been surprised by the emotional resonance the song has with your fans?
Yeah I did! “Dancing on My Own” was number four in the set. And when I played it it always really exploded. You never know what a song is going to feel like in a new country till you get there. For me, “Dancing on my Own” is definitely a dance record. I didn’t expect it to feel so natural. When I did it on Letterman it really resonated. It’s something you can’t explain, you just feel it. Same with the tour, people responded in a very direct emotional way.
I guess a lot of us know what it feels like to be dumped.
[Laughs] It’s just one of those things.
You’ve been recording acoustic ballads lately. Have you ever thought about doing a record that doesn’t have any dance music?
I’ve never thought about putting out an album that’s all acoustic, no. It’s not like I’ve made a decision. I still do the acoustic versions because it’s nice to show people what the song sounds like when you write it. We did it on the last album with “Be Mine” and people responded to it. I wanted to do it in a more planned-out way with this album. The original version is still the original version, you hear the structure of the song and maybe the lyrics in a different way. It’s fun.
Did you envision the dance mix before you wrote the acoustic version?
Yeah, but you don’t write the mix [Laughs]; you produce the mix. Pop is written with the guitar, and while we’re demo-ing we write with a guitar. Then you dress it up. When you write it’s just chords and a beat.
What was it like performing “Hyperballad” for Bjork at the Polar Music Prize awards show?
I was super nervous. It was crazy. Before I performed I don’t know why I even said yes. It’s stupid to say yes to those things because you know you’re just gonna fucking shit your pants. I said yes before thinking about it. I was able to rehearse with my band and we were able to able to do something that was own its own, but still pay attention to what the song was. She really liked it. She said she was really happy about the whole ceremony, she just cried to the whole ceremony, she was really moved.
Will there be anything to tide us over until Body Talk Pt. 3 comes out in December?
At the moment I don’t have any time. I’m just getting the album done and touring. So, no, very busy.