Robyn: “Sorry, I’m Straight!”: The New Gay Interview
I think you can tell a lot about an artist by how they choose to be interviewed. While some leave their sunglasses on indoors and intimidate you with their management, others will simply sit on the ground in the alley behind the 930 club, smoking a cigarette and having a chat. Swedish pop singer Robyn falls in the second camp. Never mind that she filled said club to the gills with excited homos just hours later, that her album Body Talk pt. 1 and its inescapable single Dancing on My Own have ruled the summer, and that she’s worked with Swedish(ish) producers Kleerup and Royksopp and given them indelible singles in, respectively, “ “With Every Heartbeat“ and ” The Girl and The Robot.”
On the eve of Body Talk, pt. 2, and a select few remaining US shows, Robyn was nice enough to answer my questions about dancing, bodies, gay music and so much more.
So what are you waiting for? Check it out!
Zack Rosen: Hi, Robyn, how are you?
Robyn: I’m good. How are you?
ZR: I’m doing good, thanks! Your album is called Body Talk and many of the songs are, in their own way, very physical. You have things that are killing you, aging, dancing on your own, etc. Does the title match up? Is “Robyn’s body” a theme here?
R: I don’t have a particular theme for the album. I think it becomes pretentious when you have one theme for the whole thing and it’s all supposed to be about that. But you picked it up, and that’s how I’m looking at it too. There are a couple obvious subjects I’m dealing with, and one is my body. Dancing, dance culture and dance music has been an inspiration too, and what happens on the dance floor, what people use the club for. It’s an important place for our generation.
ZR: In America dance music is generally the fluff, and then you have the real music. You’ve done a better job at bridging those things, you proved that you can write dance music that’s not for stupid people. Has that been well received?
R: I think people are starting to change their idea about what dance music is here, which is nice because this is where a lot of it started. House music, the techno scene, even hip-hop was dance music when I got into it for the first time. For me dance music has always been pretty serious, especially in Europe. It’s not only Kylie Minogue and stuff like that, it’s a whole movement. It’s been a part of youth culture since the eighties and nineties when rave culture started to become a really important part of music in Europe. So for me dance culture has always been something real, it’s never been about the fluff, it’s about the culture that goes on in the club and what people connect with.
R: It’s been good. I work with people that I like and that I have an organic working relationship with, I don’t [make] a list and call producers. It’s more about hooking up and trying to work together and sometimes it works. Kleerup was in my band for a long time before we worked together, and Royksopp and I have the same management, so we got to know each other that way. I love working with all three of them. And most of the people I work with are Swedish, even though Royksopp isn’t, they’re Norwegian.
ZR: We don’t know the difference.
R: I know you don’t…
ZR: I mean I do, but we in general…
R: There isn’t that much of a difference, actually, but it’s a different county at least. I work with a lot of people in Sweden. Klaus Ahlund. Savage Skulls were on the new album… Most people I work with are Swedish.
ZR: This is a subject jump, but it’d be great if you could settle a bet for me. In “Dancing on My Own,” do you say “I’m not the girl you’re taking home,” or “guy?” There’s been some confusion on the matter.
R: I’m not the girl you’re taking home.
ZR: Aww. I was thinking it was this huge gay anthem, that it was from the point of view of a guy watching another guy from the corner.
R: Aw, no, it’s always going to be from my perspective, but that doesn’t matter. Girl or guy, it doesn’t really matter.
ZR: And you have the biggest gay following here which is great, because American gay music is usually so shitty. I think you’re going to have basically have a gay bar in your audience tonight. Have you noticed that a lot?
R: It’s an obvious part of my audience and it’s always been like that, ever since “Show Me Love.” It’s something I’m very aware of and, something I’m connected to because I’ve always been listening to music that’s resonated in gay culture. Unaware of it, too, when I was a kid. Even if I grew up listening to Donna Summer and Sylvester and Erasure, and the things that are typically connected to the gay scene, there are also lots of other artists that I grew up listening to like Prince or Kate Bush. They are super queer, they are always something I’ve been drawn to, and been connected to. For me… what defines it more is a sense of being an outsider, and that’s what always defines gay culture and gay music. It’s music that is not afraid to be on the outside looking in, to be on the other side a little.
ZR: And out of curiosity, for the ladies, any chance you’re not straight?
R: Sorry, I’m straight!
ZR: Well we can’t win ‘em all.
ZR: And speaking of gay culture, what’re your thoughts on Lady Gaga? She’s pretty inescapable, and she’s also another high-octane dance artist…
R: Umm, I get that a lot and I feel very reluctant to answer questions about Lady Gaga because you are always misquoted. A lot of times I get questions about other female artists, and people wanting to know what I think about them, but I don’t think a lot of male artists get asked about other male artists. It’s interesting to look at that and recognize that girls are always supposed to have opinions about each other. There’s space for everyone. I think Gaga has paved the way for a lot of other artists like me. Even though I’ve been around for a long time, I don’t think people would be as open to what I’m doing if she wasn’t doing what she’s doing.
It’s an interesting environment at the moment. You have all these girls doing different kinds of things, defining their personalities in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Everyone’s able to exist and do their thing. It’s not a competition for me.
ZR: I once asked Lykke Li about the current wave of Swedish women artists and I did not get a positive answer, so I’m sure you’re sick of all the Swedish lady questions…
R: I think it’s cool there are so many girls making music in Sweden, it’s a good thing. It’s empowering for me. It’s inspiring. I don’t know why but it’s a good thing.
ZR: And what do you wanna tell us about Body Talk, pt. 2? People will kill me if I don’t get some kind of preview from you…
R: It’s a continuation. All of the three parts are part of the same album, it won’t be a whole different album…
ZR: Like Kill Bill 1 and 2?
R: I guess. They’re all written at the same time, it’s not gonna be that different. Sound-wise it’s in the same world. What’s a little different about this album is that it has a more traditional songwriting identity. If the first album was a little more a setup album, this is more of a straight up pop album, but sound-wise it’s still quirky and it’s still a part of what the first album was. I’ve worked with Klaus Ahlund, I’ve worked with Savage Skulls, a really interesting electronic duo from Stockholm. I also did a song with Snoop, and there’s an acoustic version of a song called “Indestructible.” It’s a continuation of the first album.
ZR: Finally, it’s not a great time to be an artist with the economy and everything else that’s going on. What advice do you have for people that are just starting out? I’m sure you get asked that a lot…
R: I don’t have any advice. I think everyone has to figure it out for themselves, that’s what I did. The problem with the industry has been that there’s been one kind of solution for everyone. That’s what you need to question.
ZR: What’s that solution?
R: It’s a very market-driven industry where people have figured out ways to be able sell records and that doesn’t fit everyone in the same way. It’s about figuring out what it is you want to do, and then looking at what different options you have. And there’s so many options now that I can’t say what would be the best for everyone.TNG
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