“I don’t know how to write a song that isn’t personal,” says Robyn. “You know, why do it then?”
The 32-year-old Swede, best known for her electropop track “With Every Heartbeat,” is getting ready for her biggest show after touring with Katy Perry. Tomorrow, she headlines the Hollywood Rose Bowl with fellow Scandinavians Royksopp.
“Electronic music is very direct and efficient,” she says. “All the different styles of music I listened to, like hip hop, avant-garde pop like Laurie Anderson, or Technotronic. These were all artists working in an electronic environment.”
Robyn, who has also supported Madonna, sits backstage, her blonde hair crowning a black dress and green and orange jacket. She talks in a precise Swedish accent.
“I have made acoustic versions of my singles,” she says, “but they are usually with strings and end up having some instrument powered by electricity anyway.”
“Do You Know (What It Takes)” reached number 7 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1997. A slick piece of commercial R’n’B mixed with a catchy Europop, it also featured the talents of Max Martin, who went on to produce Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time” and the Backstreet Boys.
“We started writing together when I was 16,” says Robyn. “He’s working in the very commercial space of the pop industry. He is very rational about what needs to be done to make sure a song gets on the radio.”
Robyn realized that the commercial end of the business wasn’t for her. “I was in the hands of a music industry that had one solution for all artists,” she says. In response, she set up her own label, Konichiwa Records.
“It’s about having my own bubble and my own structure where I could be left alone,” Robyn says. Her approach paid off. Her 2010 release “Body Talk” mixed energetic dance beats with pop. It featured “Dancing on My Own”, “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Indestructible” and became an underground pop classic.
“Body Talk” was originally released as three separate mini-albums. This wasn’t a carefully planned strategy. Robyn simply found that the usual industry cycle of intensively recording an album and then spending two years solidly touring stymied her passion to write songs and perform live.
A similarly unplanned approach led to “With Every Heartbeat,” a song Robyn wrote with producer Andreas Kleerup, reaching the top of the charts. The song, a slice of electronic pop gorgeousness, wasn’t originally released as a single.
“People just started requesting it, playing it on the radio and it grew from there,” says Robyn.
It remains the song she is most proud of. “Songs are exercises in digging into your unconsciousness,” she says. “It was inspired by Andreas’s relationship. You can be inspired by other people’s lives, it’s really about yourself.”
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)