About two years ago, the very weird and very fun music video
for an indie electro-pop song called "Konichiwa Bitches," by the pintsized
Swedish singer Robyn, went viral online and likely drove a lot of
people straight to Wikipedia. Could the woman singing in this bizarre
video--in which, at various points, she boxes with a kangaroo, dons a
bumblebee costume and emulates Porky Pig--possibly be that Robyn?
The same one responsible for bubblegum-pop confections "Show Me
Love" and "Do You Know (What It Takes)" ten years earlier?
Yes and no. Technically, today's Robyn is the same person who
once vied with Britney and Mandy for MTV airplay. But she's reinvented
herself so thoroughly that you'd never know it from the sound
of her 2005 self-titled record or her recently released album, Body Talk Pt 1, out on her own Konichiwa Records. (Robyn split with Jive
Records in 2004 after they reacted poorly to her new sound, which
she has said was inspired by electronic acts like the Knife.)
This Robyn is playful and fierce, collaborates with RÃ¶yksopp and
Diplo and proclaims her independence at every turn -- the opening
track on Body Talk Pt 1 is a tongue-in-cheek song called "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do." It's a far cry from the cleanscrubbed,
Max Martin-approved 16-year-old she
was (or at least appeared to be) in the '90s.
"I wouldn't say I regret it at all, but I wouldn't
do it again, either," Robyn says of those days. "It led
me to the point where I felt like I figured myself out
and understood what I wanted to do... to be happy
as an artist." She chooses instead to focus on the present
and future, and with good reason: Body Talk Pt 1
is the first of three albums she's planning to release
this year. "It's kind of an experiment," she says. "I'm
just trying to mix it up a little bit and make it so that
I have more time in the studio and more time on the
road together, and not just do one thing for a couple
of years and then change and do the other thing for
a couple of years."
It's understandable that Robyn would want to
shake things up. She spent five years on tour promoting
Robyn; since it was independently released, buzz
about the album built slowly, and it wasn't until 2008
that anyone outside Sweden really caught on. All that
touring gave Robyn a real taste of global club culture,
which ultimately seeped into and influenced her new
record. "I made a club album," she says simply. "The
concept of a club being an important place for our
generation -- almost like a church or a place where we
go to experience something that's bigger than ourselves --
has been a great inspiration."
One of the most refreshing elements of the
new Robyn is how genuinely empowering her music
is. And, happily, the self-assured badassery of some
of Robyn's catchiest tracks, like "Handle Me" and
"Cobrastyle," is back in full force on Body Talk Pt 1.
Robyn says it's personal, rather than partisan: "I'm a
feminist for sure, but I don't see myself as a political
artist," she says. "I think that what I do reflects me
and my life, and maybe that's where that comes in."
At least some of this casual self-confidence can
be traced to Robyn's childhood as the daughter of
parents who helmed an independent theater group.
"We were on the road a lot, and... I was totally an
eccentric kid and a bit of a Pippi Longstocking." Her
parents' theatricality also had an effect on Robyn's
rather eccentric personal style (if bike shorts come
back into fashion, we're going to credit Robyn's April
performance of "Fembot" on the Swedish talk show
Skavlan). "I was around people who dressed up for
work every day, and so the concept of how you can
use clothes to change your personality or communicate
who you are is very interesting to me," she says.
There's also a strongly intimate, almost confessional
aspect to Robyn's songs -- particularly on the
new album, which features a lovely, vulnerable ballad
called "Hang With Me" -- so it's a little surprising
how reticent she is about her personal life. "There's
a little bit of me in all the songs on the album," she
says, careful not to divulge too much. "But life is too
complicated to describe with one song."
BIRDS OF A
Robyn is part of the grand
tradition of bird-named
musicians (A Flock of
Seagulls, the Eagles, the
Byrds, etc.). Here are some
bands to fly away with...
Department of Eagles
Grizzly Bear singer/guitarist
Daniel Rossen's side-project
Department of Eagles came
to the forefront in 2008
with the lush In Ear Park.
Rossen actually formed the
band prior to joining Grizzly
Bear (with his NYU
freshman roommate Fred
Nicolaus). An album of earlier
tracks, Archive 2003-2006, is
out July 20th.
Them Crooked Vultures
This hard-rock super-group
(comprised of the Foo
Fighters' Dave Grohl, Queens
of the Stone Age's Josh
Homme and Led Zeppelin's
John Paul Jones) released a
debut album in November
that's just as epic and
amazing as you'd imagine.
They're touring overseas this
summer, with stops in
Norway, France and Japan.
The Bird and the Bee
This L.A. jazz-pop duo
comprised of Inara George
("The Bird") and Greg Kurstin
("The Bee") did something a
bit different on their third
album: They reinterpreted
nine classic Hall & Oates
songs. The band plays the
Hollywood Bowl on July 18th.
Known around the indie rock
watercooler as one of the
most talented yet least
productive bands making
music these days, the New
Jersey natives who released
The Meadowlands back in
2003 have officially begun a
follow-up, tentatively titled
Funeral, that'll tentatively
(but hopefully) be out this fall.