The question: Do you think artists such as Lady Gaga are doing a disservice to pop music?
"I understand why you asked me this," Robyn responds bluntly. "But at the same time, I'm reluctant to answer. And I'll tell you the reason why: Girls always get questions about other girls, and I don't think you'd ask a guy the same thing."
Our little inquiry, though, isn't entirely unfair. In addition to making out-of-the-box pop music like Gaga's, Robyn also finds herself on the same Interscope imprint, Cherrytree Records. Still, there's a significant difference between the two stars. At times, Gaga relies on publicity stunts (i.e., giving Mets fans the finger during a baseball game or wearing a dress made of meat to an MTV awards show) for headlines.
Robyn performs Friday, February 18, at South Side Music Hall.
Meanwhile, Robyn seems perfectly content letting the music speak for itself.
But she appears a bit annoyed, subtly suggesting the question is a trap meant to lure her into saying something nasty about one of her pop peers. It's obvious she doesn't want to feed the gossip blogs or breathe life into a nonexistent diva battle.
"I'm trying to stay away from that situation where I'm having to [express] opinions about other female artists," she says. "I think there is space for everybody. I think it's cool that there are all these different kinds of girls doing it in the more commercial world."
It's a tempered response, one that makes it difficult to find much connection between this 31-year-old Swedish musician and the teenager who was once in direct competition with American tarts such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. After getting her break on the U.S. charts in 1997 thanks to fellow countryman and über-producer Max Martin with singles such as "Do You Know (What It Takes)" and "Show Me Love," Robyn gradually disappeared from the stateside scene until her 2005 self-titled album caught the attention of the blogosphere—and, namely, Perez Hilton. Unlike her earliest hits, the 14 tracks off of this later disc were complex electro-pop experiments produced in collaboration with an entire crew of avant-synth Swedes including Teddybears and the Knife. In a way, it was bubblegum gone next level.
More recently, Robyn has delivered her most ambitious work to date: a series of three mini-albums collectively titled Body Talk—an especially daring move in a digital world where even traditional full-length efforts appear to be headed toward extinction. But Robyn sees it differently. In her mind, it's a matter of evolution.
"I don't agree that the album format is dead," she says. "Albums don't have to be released at once [anymore]. It can be released over a longer period of time. The album is never really going away."
Like her brainy 2005 breakthrough, Body Talk is studded with contributions from a slew of superhot producers such as Diplo, Kleerup, and Röyksopp. But it also marks her reunion with Martin, and Robyn believes that working with her old producer is a fitting acknowledgment that her career has come full circle.
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"The success we had together in the mid-'90s was not only my first success but one of Martin's first bigger hits in America," Robyn says. "I love the fact that I'm getting to work with one of the biggest producers in the world. Also, it's maybe showing people I'm not afraid of my past. For me, making a beautiful song is what I'm obsessed with. And 'Time Machine,' which is the song I recorded with Martin, is amazing and I'm really happy that we were able to put it on the album."
Looking back on her transition from mainstream commodity to legitimate musician—something pop artists such as Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and, lately, Miley Cyrus seem to be seeking constantly—Robyn says she always wanted to make music her way.
"I never identified with the pop industry," she admits. "I loved the music I made. I was having a lot of fun getting to record an album, tour it, learn about the industry, meet people, travel and all that stuff. It was a great experience. But I never felt like I belonged in that environment.
"I'm not trying to be a credible indie artist either, even though I have my own label," she continues. "I want to make pop music. It's always what I wanted to do, but I want to do it on my own terms. And I've been able to create that situation for myself, and it's been awesome."