Robyn may be “Dancing on My Own” with her Grammy Award-nominated 2010 single, but she’s hardly moving by herself these days.
The Swedish pop singer (full name Robyn Carlsson) was one of the world’s most prolific artists last year, and now into 2011. Starting in June, she released a series of three EPs and an album collecting the best of that tuneful, electro-pop litter. All three hit No. 1 in her homeland, winning four Swedish Grammys, and made it onto the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S. “Dancing On My Own” was also a Swedish No. 1 and a club hit on these shores, earning the Grammy nod for Best Dance Recording and also a feature spot in an episode of “Gossip Girl.”
Nobody’s mistaking Robyn for Lady Gaga or even Ke$ha, mind you; despite rave reviews and spots on many year-end polls, the “Body Talk” releases have sold a combined total of less than 80,000 copies in the U.S., and Entertainment Weekly magazine even headlined a recent feature, “Robyn Is Totally Amazing, So Why Isn’t She A Superstar?” But if she ever is going to be one, “Body Talk” has certainly been a step in the right direction as she brings herself back across the pond for more concerts.
“It’s a lot of music,” explains Robyn, 31, whose parents are actors in Sweden. “I have the luxury now to play all of this now, so there’s a lot of songs and a lot of music that we’ve been rehearsing and that we’re going to try and communicate to the audience in the best way possible to be able to make them dance. That’s what our goal is.”
“Body Talk” was not a “concept,” Robyn says, but rather “a practical solution to the problem of me feeling like my creative process was always depending on a calendar.” It’s been that way for her since 1994, when the singer — who first came to light at the age of 12, when she recorded the theme song for the Swedish TV show “Lilla Sporspegein” — signed a recording contract. Her first single, “You’ve Got That Somethin’, ” came out that year in Sweden, with her debut album, “Robyn is Here,” emerging in 1995. The set made a platinum mark in the U.S., yielding the Top 10 hits “Show Me Love” and “Do You Know (What It Takes).”
But Robyn fell off the map here when her U.S. record company decided not to release her next two albums, both of which went platinum in Sweden, and left her out of sight for the better part of a decade, when she found a new label and re-released her fourth album, 2005’s “Robyn,” in 2008.
“It feels like a long time when I think about how badly I wanted to get back in the studio,” Robyn says. “But it didn’t feel like a long time musically, because when I listen to (‘Robyn’) now I feel very connected to it. ‘Body Talk’ is a continuation of that album; it’s not a reinvention or a sidestep. It’s not a contrast to that album. It’s a continuation of it.
“There were a few things I wanted to keep exploring, like (the single) ‘With Every Heartbeat’ and ‘Be Mine.’ Those were important songs for me, and I felt like there were more important things in there to do.”
Still, Robyn explains, she felt hogtied by the prospect of having to make a full-length album “and then touring it for two or three years. That means not being able to be in the studio as much as I’d like to. I’ve always loved touring, but it was always for such long periods without being able to make new music. I wanted to find a way around that.”
“Body Talk,” then, was that way, allowing her to record small blasts of songs at a time, hit the road for a while, then return to the studio. It also, she feels, put her more in sync with how listeners are consuming music in the digital age.
“My contact with my fans is over the Internet. It’s direct and intuitive,” she explains. “I shouldn’t follow an industry that’s built around record stores that don’t exist anymore. There’s a totally new way of communicating with young people that’s really natural to them, and I felt like it also is a positive thing for me in my music.
“So it doesn’t matter how I release my records, really, if it’s an EP or a mini-album or a double album or a single. It’s more about talking and communicating what’s going on. It’s very real, and that’s what I want.”
Nevertheless, Robyn says the “Body Talk” EPs were “recorded at the same time, written at the same time and thought of in the same space. It’s very much like one album released in three parts.” The inspiration was “club music, four to the floor beats,” while any thematic unity was based on “the contrast between the two extremes of being totally connected but also being isolated. It was an interesting process of figuring out where those lines are and what put them there.”
A case in point, in fact, is “Dancing on My Own,” which Robyn says is “is such a powerful, symbolic picture. It’s something I’ve always done, since I was a little kid. But also, going out for me is not always about partying; it’s also about observing. I love going out to clubs and watching people and thinking about what they’re feeling and stuff — being alone in a big group, you know?”
Another “Body Talk” song she’s particularly proud of is “U Should Know Better,” which appeared on the second EP and gave her a chance to work with American rapper Snoop Dogg.
“It’s a great song ... that I worked on for a couple of years,” she says. “It was really cool to be able to be in the studio with him, first because I always was a fan but also because he was really creative and we had so much of an exchange in being there together, both as vocalists.
“I had an idea and he really got it and got into it, which was awesome. I think it puts Snoop where he’s supposed to be, which is some place that’s very gangsta.”
With the “Body Talk” cycle completed, Robyn is staying on the road a bit longer; she’ll tour Europe in March after her current North American run and will also perform at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in April. But she continues to hit the studio when she’s not touring and predicts she might even have another album out at some point this year.
“What I want is to not set a new structure in stone,” she explains. “I’m going to be listening to my heart and doing it the way I want to. I’m going to keep writing and hopefully be able to release stuff more frequently than before, in exactly what from I don’t know. It could be four songs. It could be 10.
“It’s really exciting. It’s very liberating. It makes it fun and also it takes pressure off to conform to something that you might not always have inside you. I just want to communicate well enough with people that like my music so that they know what I do is very, very real and that it comes from a real place. That’s what I want.”
Robyn, Diamond Rings and Natalia Kills perform Wednesday, Feb. 9, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 day of show. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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