Pop music is "anything that connects to a lot of people at the same time, that deals with what's going on when it's made," says Swedish singer-songwriter Robin Carlsson, better known as simply Robyn. "It's not even always about the music. But I think it's very much about the song."
For Robyn, "the song" has happened not once, but several times. Her career is an example of modern pop convergence, of how rejecting consumerism's nesting instinct has empowered musicians to evolve their channels of expression. Artists including Robyn, fellow Swede Lykke Li, and Brooklyn-via-Philly's Santi "Santogold" White are MySpace contemporaries forging healthy followings with sonic vulnerability and industry defiance as they organically cultivate their sounds.
Li does icy soul and powdered-sugar pop with aloof assurance, while Santogold answers hype with dub-scrunched electro amping. These women are part of the new independent pop paradigm germinating, of which Robyn is an especially prime example. She has successfully navigated pitfalls to balance retro-contemporary singles and Next Big Thing status.
Robyn's 1997 Max Martin–produced single "Show Me Love," followed by "Do You Know (What It Takes)," introduced the now-28-year-old internationally, delivering hooks informed by the fluid melodies of TLC and the punctuating bounce of Europop. She then underwent several years of personal evolution in the midst of typical music industry shuffling, finding labels so concerned about different territories' tastes that they were unwilling to distribute her songs outside certain markets.
Finally, in 2004, Robyn had enough, and with her management she formed Konichiwa Records to self-finance and license her collaborations with producers and fellow nationals including Klas Åhlund ("Cobrastyle," "Handle Me") and Kleerup ("With Every Heartbeat"), among others, all of which she released in 2005 as Robyn. The shift was precipitated by Robyn's encounter with Swedish production duo the Knife, who helped craft the more tonally perverse portamento on her 2005 electro-house single "Who's That Girl." Robyn, whose parents ran a radical theater troupe in the 1980s, was attracted to the Knife's more democratic form of expression: The group uses evocative imagery without strictly dictating its intentions to the audience.
The singer's highest priority has been reaching listeners on a decidedly emotional level. "On a song like 'Be Mine!' I've never actually shadowed someone in a train station, but feeling rejected and invisible can find its space in many people's imaginations," she says. "It doesn't have to be autobiographical, just something that feels very real."
Since reclaiming her career reins and master tapes, Robyn has shown why Swedes have become synonymous with sensible construction, from flat-pack furniture to pop melodies. First licensed to the U.K. last year, Robyn has now made it to U.S. shores through CherryTree/Interscope (and gained bonus tracks along the way). Joining the wistful arpeggios, mischievous tics, and harmonic MIDI handshakes of previously mentioned tracks are the burbling synths and vintage Yo! MTV Raps braggadocio of "Konichiwa Bitches," the sassy schoolyard disco of "Crash and Burn Girl," and the plucky kiss-off of "Bum Like You." Central to all of Robyn's recent progress, however, has been maintaining creative control not only in the studio but also in marketing. She wants her music presented as genuine and accessible, not aggressively pushed.
Despite her pragmatic approach, Robyn notes the most frustrating and rewarding aspect of a modern career is the lack of structure. Artists such as Robyn, Lykke Li, and Santogold have no obvious direction to follow while decoding the universal pop music formula, which means there's no reason their way can't be the right way.