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Disappearing. It’s probably the most underrated strategy in pop music, but when it’s executed properly, it’s devastating. Robyn Carlsson mastered it when she single-handedly erased herself from the international (if not Swedish, where she continued to release music) music scene for a good eight years after charting with the huge hit ‘Show Me Love’ in 1997. Co-written by the same powerhouse responsible for the Britneys and Christinas of the world, the song made her instantly popular in the US when she was still a teenager. Exhausted and overwrought, she spent the next five years in continual battles with her record label, which didn’t release her subsequent albums internationally despite her obvious songwriting and performing ability, and excised herself from the relationship in 2004. By the time Americans, Australians and Brits heard the little pixie soprano again, she’d been out of their heads for nearly a decade. But when she came back, she did it with a vengeance.
In 2012, any bedroom producer can start their own label and distribute their material on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. Back in the dark ages of 2005, that wasn’t such an easy proposition, and for a dance-pop artist, it was even more unlikely that it would succeed. But Robyn, who has two actors for parents, was born with the entertainment bug and an uncompromising desire to do just that. Thus she poured her resources and energy in Konichiwa Records, sent a big ‘fuck you’ to her major and started writing the kind of stuff she wanted to.
As we’ve seen over the last two weeks – with the accomplished, moody electronica of The Knife and the bombastic anthems of Swedish House Mafia – Sweden is ground zero for making amazing music on keyboards and computers, turning them into something bigger than the country from whence they came. Tapping into that ethos, Robyn ditched her sugary sweet roots and went badass. She got The Knife, The Teddybears and other forward-thinking producers on board, whipping an album so good that she could only name it after herself. With uncompromising, beat-heavy attitude, bombs like ‘Konichiwa Bitches’, ‘Who’s That Girl’ and ‘Handle Me’ (teamed with a bitching new haircut) Robyn v2.0 had well and truly arrived. Two years later, Interscope put it out in the US, the Grammys nominated her for Best Electronic album and ‘Show Me Love’ probably had a huge spike of searches online as we all reacquainted ourselves with the dynamo who never really stopped working.
Riding on a wave of success that had collaborators knocking and popettes begging to tour with her, Robyn initiated the second, rather ludicrous phase of her chart takeover in 2010, when she announced her intention to release three EPs worth of music in one calendar year. Though each of the eventual Body Talk records were supposed to be minor hits, they became far bigger than Carlsson anticipated, with the demand for singles meaning she found herself on TV and blasting out of the radio with alarming frequency throughout the year. It was an ambitious project that pulled in all the extended networks Robyn had collected over the years, included collaborations with Diplo and Savage Skulls, and features from Royksopp and Snoop Dogg. It also came back to square one with two numbers from Max Martin, the very same guy who’d penned ‘Show Me Love’. Each Body Talk release was an event, spurred on by Robyn’s desire to get the music out there while she was touring and keep everything moving after the five years since she’d initially spent promoting Robyn.
In the end, she opted for a record rather than an EP the third time around, having put out a staggering amount of music and film clips in a year, all while staying at the very forefront of how we consume tunes and relate to the entertainment process. In an even bigger twist, every song was utterly different. Anthem ‘Dancing On My Own’ nestled beside the hardened ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’ on Pt 1, while ‘Hang With Me’ sidled up to the swaggering ‘None Of Dem’ for Pt 2. Robyn’s scattergun approach to writing on the fly had just made her one of the most diverse artists in popular music.
Where Robyn heads next is anyone’s guess. But it was her inspiration from her own country which would go onto inspire countless others as she breaks down every wall in front of her and turns herself into the only blonde girl with multiple Grammy nominations who doesn’t only have her hands on the wheel, but is driving wherever the hell she wants.