Lately, some critics have taken to referring to Robyn as Sweden’s answer to Lady Gaga, which would be more of a compliment if not for the fact that Robin Miriam Carlsson’s career stretches back three times the length of Stefani Germanotta’s. Then again, it depends which Robyn you’re talking about. The teen-pop sensation who scored an international hit with “Show Me Love” back in the mid-’90s? Or the sharp-tongued, shape-shifting electronic artist who liberated herself from the music industry with her self-titled 2005 album, released on her own Konichiwa Records? Although she’s a major star at home, Robyn is still building an audience stateside, but her albums have caught on with indie rockers in search of their musical ids.
Robyn’s latest characteristically audacious venture is a series of albums, titled Body Talk Pt. 1, 2, and 3, which she plans to release over a period of several months: Pt. 1 came out in June; Pt. 2 is scheduled for September. In spite of Body Talk’s scope, there’s no overarching concept to the three-part album, just a desire to release music as fast as she can make it, without waiting for the industry’s gears to slowly turn. Opening with a song called “Don’t F****** Tell Me What To Do,” Body Talk Pt. 1 is a blast of bratty braggadocio set to thumping club beats. Over the course of its half-hour, she’s a sexed-up robot (“Fembot”), a wistful other woman (“Dancing On My Own”) and a worldly, wise adult offering advice to lovelorn teenagers (“Cry When You Get Older”). Through it all, she demonstrates that pop music can have a brain and a heart without sacrificing its appeal to the body’s lower regions. While traveling through southern California on her tour bus, Robyn rang up The A.V. Club to talk about stepping out on her own, being an eternal teenager, and the changing face of the music industry.
The A.V. Club: Where did the idea of putting out three Body Talk albums in less than a year come from?
Robyn: The idea came from feeling like I wanted to do it in a different way. The last albums I’ve made, I’ve been quite frustrated by the fact that I haven’t been able to write as much and be in the studio as much as I’ve wanted. So it’s a way of trying to make the whole process of making an album more pleasant for myself. [Laughs.]
AVC: Your last album originally came out in 2005, but it was re-released in different countries over the course of several years. Pop music started out as very immediate, the way “The Twist” would be a hit, and then five more twist records would come out over a couple of months. But the process of exhausting an album’s commercial potential now takes years.
R: Yes and no. I don’t agree, really. I think the music industry has been slow realizing it. And that kind of comes from the way pop music used to be. The music industry used to be able to control a single dance on the very smallest level of when people are supposed to hear it, and when they’re supposed to start liking it, and when they’re supposed to start buying it. And that’s trashed, you know, that big machine that takes control and works albums for a long period. All of that is changing with the Internet. That’s also why I toured that album that long. That’s the way I did last time. Because new people were discovering the music themselves all the time. Not because of a record company telling them what to do. It was just spreading naturally on the Internet. I decided to work with that and go where the album was doing good—to find that audience and connect to them. That’s what I’m building on with this new album.
AVC: And in this case, the record company is you.
R: Yeah, but I also work with bigger labels at times. I wouldn’t have been able to release this album the way I did the last one, because it would have taken too much time to start up a Konichiwa in each country. But I still get to be very much in control of my creative process. I keep the album to myself until I feel it’s ready. And then I bring the labels in that I work with. I work with Interscope here, with Cherrytree Records in Santa Monica. I work with Island in the UK, with Ministry Of Sound in Germany. And I start talking to them when the album’s done, so I get to still have that to myself, which is really important, but also the help from bigger labels to market an album worldwide.
AVC: Do you think traditional record labels would let you do the kind of thing you’re doing here, releasing three short albums in a short time span?
R: I think things are changing, yeah. I mean, it’s different. Here in America, it’s much easier to work this way. In the UK, it’s a little unusual. With Interscope here in the States, they’re already releasing shorter albums, 8-track albums, with other artists. Not three in one year, and not one album divided in three parts the way I’m doing, but they still are more used to the concept of a shorter album. So it’s different, you know? The music industry is not one thing anymore.
AVC: You’re involved in and in control of all the aspects of your career, including its marketing. Is that part of the creative process along with songwriting and recording?
R: Yeah, it is. It’s not the same thing creatively. It’s not like I wake up in the middle of the night and I have an idea about marketing. [Laughs.] But it’s still something I want myself to think about, and really get into, and enjoy. I know that if I don’t, it’s going to be really hard to communicate what I want this album to be seen as. The marketing is just as important as the music, almost.
AVC: Especially now, the album is just one piece of a much larger puzzle.
R: Yeah. Exactly. And that whole idea comes from the fact that I wanted to change my working structure to something that feels more real and honest and easy and natural. That’s the sense of the whole marketing campaign. This album never had a concept. It was never a conceptual idea, the idea of the three albums, even though a lot people think it was. It was a practical solution. But I think it’s definitely become something that influenced the marketing, because it’s all connected back to—I wanted to feel real. I wanted to feel honest. And not too polished. And not too hard. But like it has a personality. And it goes for everything. The videos and the cover, but also the marketing campaign and stuff we’re doing on my website, all the viral stuff. The direct communication between me and my fans on Twitter. It’s all a part of the same thing.
AVC: Your last album was self-titled, and you were starting your own label, which you worked into the first single, “Konichiwa B******.” You weren’t exactly restarting your career, but you seemed to be setting new terms for yourself. Was some of that pressure off this time around? The whole three-album concept seems again very much on your terms.
R: For sure. I was definitely trying to be smart about it and not just make an album and not draw on what I learned from the last time. But it wasn’t at all like pressure, it was like fun doing it. So it was really easy. It was a fun record to make.
AVC: This isn’t necessarily a trilogy in your mind. They’re just all parts of one whole?
AVC: That does let you do things like put an acoustic version of “Hang With Me” on Body Talk Pt. 1, then release a dance version of the song as the first single from Body Talk Pt. 2. If they were on the same album, that might be a little odd.
R: I spoke with a journalist a couple of hours ago who told me Peter Gabriel in the ’80s, he just released his albums under the name “Peter Gabriel” because he said they were like magazines. I never heard of that before, but I thought that was an interesting thing to say. I think sometimes you can’t be too practiced about what you do. You can’t control it, anyway. It’s what it is. It’s pop music. It’s supposed to be there to inspire people. It’s not only about me, you know. And being a little looser with those things is always good for the music, and always good for how the music seems in the future as well.
AVC: Not being too precious about it is something people appreciate about not just your music, but the way you present yourself. A lot of women in the entertainment industry, especially as they hit 30 and up, feel a constant pressure to make sure every photo of them is properly posed and lit. You’re willing to look silly or weird, or spit blue paint out of your mouth. There seems to be a lot of freedom in the way you approach your public image.
R: It’s supposed to be fun! That’s the most important thing.
AVC: A lot of the songs on Body Talk Pt. 1, especially “Dancing On My Own,” are sung from teenagers’ perspectives. Is it still easy to slip into that perspective as you get older?
R: Yeah. Because I don’t think that state of mind disappears. It definitely doesn’t have to do with like not feeling like one of the cool kids in school anymore. It’s not like I’m an outsider for real. I’m a white woman from a rich country who is making pop music, so I’m not really trying to prove a point there. But what I’m trying to do is connect to something I think is relevant for all people all the time, that’s feeling connected to the rest of the world. Feeling like someone understands you or loves you and recognizes the fact that you’re there. So that’s what it is for me nowadays. It’s not the same thing it was when I was a teenager, but it’s still what drives me.
AVC: There’s some of the wisdom of looking at things from an older perspective in “Cry When You Get Older,” for example. The chorus is an older person talking to a younger person about life, explaining that “love hurts when you do it right.”
R: I wasn’t even aware of what we were writing about when we wrote it. And then after we did it, we just looked at it and said “Wow. This is a really preachy song.” [Laughs.] I don’t really like to write preachy stuff. But I think the way it is questioning, it’s questioning myself as well. And it’s kind of honorable, because it’s like it’s kind of admitting that getting old isn’t that great. [Laughs.] I think that it works.