Premiere: Mai Kino pays teary-eyed homage to the miracle of birth in ‘Swim’
It’s a very warm Tuesday. I am in a cab from Barbican to Brick Lane. It’s not because I am lazy (I am lazy), it’s because I really, really don’t want to miss my allotted time with ROBYN. When you’re an international Pop star with 15 years in the business under your belt, you rarely give interviews. You do press time. Meticulously scheduled press time that, of course, all goes out the window on the day. My paranoia having got me to Rough Trade East in plenty of time, I meet Mikael for a coffee in the record shop where Robyn will perform a little later to promote the first chapter of a trilogy of new albums this year, ‘Body Talk Pt.1’. It’s an album I’ve been listening to on repeat these last couple of weeks, in particular lead single Dancing On My Own (download the J-Wow Smoked Summer Remix of it above), which picks up where With Every Heartbeat left off yet still feels as sucker-punching, relevant and exciting as ever. It’s an emotionally honest, dancefloor focused album that confidently shows a myriad of sides to a veteran Pop star who knows herself now better than ever before. If ‘Robyn’ was her breakthrough, ‘Body Talk Pt 1’ is the Swedish artist comfortably hitting her stride. The woman herself is sat outside a café just across from us. She’s eating pizza with a camera crew who are filming a video for Hang With Me, the beautiful ballad on the album. It’s actually only a short wait while one interviewer after the other (all women, funnily enough) get their few minutes with her but it’s enough time to get a little nervous.
Robyn and anyone around in their late 20s/early 30s go way back, see. Show Me Love from her debut album ‘Robyn Is Here’ was on constant rotation at clubs up and down the country in the mid/late 90s, including Tubes, the local nightspot in the market town I grew up in. Tubes might not have been the most glamorous of inductions into the breathless liberation of clubland yet the seduction of that (sticky carpeted) dancefloor wasn’t any less potent or poignant. While Show Me Love always got me on my teenage feet, it wasn’t until a decade later with Who’s That Girl (produced by The Knife) and Be Mine that I really got Robyn. Which is when, as is well documented, she finally really got herself too. There was the split from Jive, the creation of her own Konichiwa label in 2005 and the start of the sound she would make her own – one fuelled by the love, sweat and tears danced out in clubs the world over.
In a way, it’s funny that the Pop music Robyn started making in her mid-twenties would capture those teenage feelings of longing, loving and danced out frustration more authentically than anything she released as a teenager. I guess because when you grow up you realise those feelings never really end; you’re just better acquainted with them and subsequently more equipped to give them shape. While the Pop landscape has changed considerably over the last few years, as David discusses in his review of ‘Body Talk Pt.1’, Robyn is more relevant than ever and that’s because of her biggest strength – that authenticity. Big songs grab attention but staying power in Pop music comes down to the person and their ability to resonate with so many people across a whole multitude of walks and stages of life. Music industry ideas about universal appeal often dictate a generic approach, the something-for-everyone route, which is why much commercial Pop pedals sanitised emotion. But human hearts and minds don’t work like that when it comes to music. It’s the songs that break the rules (we can hazard a guess that it was Who’s That Girl’s subject matter of deep-rooted female insecurity that freaked out industry heads), pairing a catchy hook with a taboo subject, that are the ones we champion. Robyn has always known this. After all, this is the woman who wrote her first song aged 11 about her parents divorce. She gives voice to awkward emotions, the ones we all struggle to keep a lid on. That’s why her music continues to connect, and what makes Dancing On My Own such a perfect Pop song – at its heart is a pain we all recognise and that makes it powerful.
Finally it’s my turn for a chat, and it turns out there was no need for any nervousness. Pizza devoured, Robyn is as sweet as can be: smiley, calm and radiating warmth.
Thank you for having a bit of time with me.
Oh no worries!
I absolutely love the album.
I massively got into you with Be Mine and Who’s That Girl because it was so good to hear pop songs with a bit more substance to them.
Yeah…yeah. Thank you.
This album is a lot more clubby – there’s techno, dancehall, electro – I was wondering if you felt dance music, or club music, afforded you more freedom?
Yeah, I think actually after making With Every Heartbeat I found a way to be pop but also emotional in a way that I don’t really did before. I think that’s steered this album in the direction that it’s gone. It’s like the whole is a continuation of the last album but definitely of With Every Heartbeat as well. It was obvious to me that I wanted to take this album to a four to the floor world because of that song.
I completely relate to the feeling of, when you’re at you’re lowest, wanting to dance all night. Obviously something that Dancing On My Own continues. What I also liked was the theme of growing up in suburbia and wanting to escape. It feels like the night-time world is a place you can do that.
Yeah, it’s funny with clubs. It’s a grown-up playground where people just let everything hang out and get stupid drunk. It’s where you let your emotions out if you’re happy or unhappy, sad or in love – whatever it is, it tends to come out when you go out. I think it’s an important place for our generation; it has a role in our everyday lives that you could almost compare to a church or something that has a bigger meaning to people.
When you set up your own label, it seemed to be about breaking out of the usual Pop set up. Was that a very conscious thing when you did it?
Yes, it was a very conscious thing. It came out of being in the Pop industry for about 10 years and knowing it, and realising all of a sudden that there was this whole other world with, like, people who were making music on their own terms. I was never an indie kid, I was a club kid and I was brought into the Pop industry very early. So for me, it took some time to figure out that there was another way to do it. But once I realised that, it was not a difficult decision to make. And I really didn’t feel like I had anything to lose, it was like my last way out, kind of. It was worth the risk and it worked out well, it’s been great.
So you’ve worked with Diplo on this album. How was that?
Working with Diplo is always fun – he’s a great guy, he’s very smart, very funny. He likes the quirky stuff. What we both have in common is that we’ve grown up around a lot of different music styles and genre mixing, in two different locations and two different worlds but in a similar way. I think that’s what we connected on. He came over to Stockholm – that on it’s own, him coming over, tells you a lot about what kind of person he is.
And Royksopp too – I love None Of Dem. It feels like a continuation of Who’s That Girl…
…in terms of that body/brains thing. I love the line ‘none of dem get my sex / none of dem move my intellect’. I really like that it’s a Pop song talking about that kind of stuff. It’s so important.
I get what you’re saying because it’s like [pause]…it can be done in a way that’s not pretentious. It’s like…kickass, you know, it’s fun! I’m happy you get that because it’s important to me, like even if I’m precious about my music and try to do stuff that makes sense to me – but it’s also Pop music, it’s not that complicated. It’s supposed to be empowering.
There are universal themes to Pop music – love, loss and longing. And abandonment and escapism…
And there’s all of that on your album. But there are also some very different things that you’re saying. There’s that line ‘I lost my faith in science’ [from Cry When You Get Older]. I just wondered how you go about writing songs. It’s very autobiographical?
Yeah, always. I always write from my own experience. I don’t think I ever write anything that I didn’t feel was connected to me but at the same time it’s not like I go into the studio with that task in mind either. It’s more about, like writing that song – Cry When You Get Older – was very intuitive. Me and Klaus weren’t really sure about what we were saying until after, maybe. Trying to pinpoint some sort of outsider culture, that thing of youth being wasted on the young, but doing it in a respectful way that doesn’t exclude or alienate people.
It feels like there’s a recurring theme of looking in, of observing, in a lot of your songs. Which is striking because we all feel like that sometimes.
Yes. I think that’s what Pop music is supposed to do, it’s supposed to have that. That’s the purpose of Pop music, to be able to pinpoint those everlasting themes that are always going to be current to people but doing in a way that feels connected to the present time. [pause] And it’s not always that you have a certain purpose of like, ‘I have to change to world with my music’ but just about getting closer to something that’s really honest, that feels really connected maybe unconsciously that goes on within you.
Yes. This is going to sound really silly but in places like the gym where they play a lot of music videos, and so much of it is just fodder, occasionally Be Mine comes on and it feel so relatable.
Nice. Thank you. That’s so cool. Before the internet and before I was doing this the way I’m doing it now, there was definitely, you know, I wanted to do something different but there was no way I would know that there were other people out there thinking the same way about Pop music that I did. Then I started working with other people and took that risk of just doing it anyway, and the album just found its audience you know. In all these different countries, and not a lot of people but there’s people like that everywhere and together that becomes an audience. That’s what brought the last album as far as it went.
What’s exciting about this album for me is that you’ve made such a diverse album but it still all hangs together. I don’t think that there are many male or female Pop artists who could do that without it feeling like it was trying too hard. This feels like, because you’ve doing this for a long time and we know different sides of your personality, it feels very authentic. What’s your favourite track on the album?
It’s impossible to pick one but I think None Of Dem is very important because it was very unexpected what it became. It doesn’t sound like anything Royksopp have done before, or I’ve done before. But also Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do is very important because it sets the tone for the whole album. And of course, Dancing On My Own because it’s the continuation of With Every Heartbeat – a connector between the albums.
I think you’re being called away but thank you!
Thank you, it was nice to meet you.