Swedish pop star Robyn first appeared on the scene both here in the U.S. as well as across the pond when she was 16 years old and released her debut album Robyn Is Here in 1995, which scored two Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits in the U.S. (“Do You Know [What it Takes]” and “Show Me Love”). The singer released two more albums over the next decade but really made her imprint on the pop music landscape when she founded her own record label, Konichiwa Records, in 2004.
Her first album she released under her new label, Robyn, completely reinvented her sound, turning herself from an urban/R&B pop artist to a more electronic, synth and dance-pop one with songs like “Konichiwa Bitches,” “Handle Me” and “Be Mine!” The album was released internationally in 2007 and the single “With Every Heartbeat” featuring Kleerup, which hit number one in the UK, transformed Robyn into an entirely new artist. Not only was the song a departure musically from Robyn’s previous work, but it also created her signature style that resonated so deeply with fans: lyrics about deep, personal heartbreak set to an infectious, pulsating beat. Basically, a dance song about heartbreak.
After Robyn, she continued exploring her new electronic dance-pop sound (and lyrics about heartbreak) on her career-defining Body Talk trilogy of albums in 2010, which gave us hits like “Indestructible,” “Hang With Me” and, of course, “Dancing On My Own.” After some collaborations with Mr. Tophat, fellow Scandinavian duo Röyksopp and with fellow Swede, the late Christian Falk, Robyn finally released her highly anticipated follow-up to Body Talk, Honey, last October. Robyn performed a pair of sold-out shows at the Hollywood Palladium in February to support the album, and now she’s returning to Los Angeles, with guest Troye Sivan, to play the biggest venue she’s ever played as a single headliner, The Forum, on Saturday, July 27. Robyn spoke to L.A. Weekly last month from Stockholm about the upcoming show, her new album and her 29-year career.
LA Weekly: I believe the Forum may be the largest venue in L.A. that you’ve headlined. Why is this the right time to play a bigger arena like that?
Robyn: I don’t know, I think I’m just lucky and happy that it’s happening. I mean, we got offered to play Madison Square Garden [in March] and I had no idea if I could play a big venue like that and then I sold it out in two days. So that’s amazing of course, and gave me the courage to do some more bigger shows in the States. So I’m just kinda following your lead with people who are wanting to see the show.
What can fans expect of your Forum show?
Well it’s my usual kind of thing, I play with my band and we do a lot of the new album but also many old songs. It’s not separate from the way the music that I’ve made before sounds or it’s like merging the things that I’ve done before with this album, which is maybe a little bit softer. We’ve worked with the set as if it was a DJ set. I wouldn’t say that it’s seamless, but it has a lot of mixes and kind of transitions between the different songs that I think you could look at it as a DJ set.
You’ve played L.A. quite a bit over the course of your career. How would you describe L.A. audiences from your past shows?
I would describe L.A. audiences as very loud and vocal and giving. I think American audiences are very fun to play for. I really love touring in the States because I do get so much back. L.A. and New York are just amazing places for me to play in and I always love coming back there.
Would you ever release a live album?
Maybe. I think we are recording some of the shows, but I have no plan for what to do with it yet.
It had been a second since you had played here before your Palladium show earlier this year! You worked on a lot of collaborations in between “Body Talk” and “Honey.” Will we be hearing any of these at the Forum show?
Yeah, we are performing some of the things that I did with Mr. Tophat. Maybe we didn’t [perform them] at the Palladium, we hadn’t rehearsed them yet, but I think, we will next show and they were already new songs that we put into the set during the last American tour.
Where do you see Honey fitting into your whole body of work? Is it a continuation of Body Talk or an entirely new chapter?
To me it’s not about fitting it in anywhere, I don’t look at it that way. I think for me it’s about just exploring myself and what I’m feeling and then just make music.
So what did you discover about yourself when you were exploring for Honey?
I think I was exploring loss and sadness, but I was also exploring other things like what is my sense of reality and what might be someone else’s sense of reality. And I was exploring my own sensuality but also like sensuality towards life. So like a way of feeling good about myself and about just being a human being, about trying to find some peace with that.
How autobiographical is your music and what do you draw the most inspiration from?
My music is of course autobiographical because I don’t think it is possible to write about anything else than your own experience. You can always try to imagine what it’s like for other people, but it will always be your own brain working things out. So yes, I write it and compose it from what I feel. And I guess there’s different levels to what an autobiographical body of work means, if it’s factual or if it’s a collaboration with other people. There’s so many different levels of ways you can define how autobiographical work is created but I would say it is.
So is that why you think people have connected to your music so much?
I don’t know why people connect to my music. I think it’s really not for me to say. I think it’s up to every individual to describe what it means to them. I think it would sound weird if I tried to describe how other people feel. That’s the magic to me, I think, that I can do something that makes sense to me and other people can recognize themselves in that. I think that’s why music is important to people. That’s why it’s important to me, because a lot of the artists that I grew up listening to did the same thing.
They might have written about something that I also had felt but they put words on the feeling that I had, or maybe they described something that I didn’t even know that I had felt, but when they described it I understood it and I understood myself better. And I think it’s very, very hard to identify what that is, and it’s hard to say we’re all the same and therefore we all connect to the same things. I don’t think that that’s the case [but] at the same time I do think we are similar so there’s like a framework that you can work and use when you tell the story. And maybe telling a story that other people can connect to is about using those elements in a way where it starts to make sense for more than just myself. You leave spaces open so that people can interpret it in their own way.
I think that makes total sense because songs like “With Every Heartbeat,” “Be Mine!,” “Dancing On My Own,” or “Ever Again” are unique in my opinion in that they lyrically and emotionally touch on heartbreak and loss and yet they’re still fun to dance to. Not many artists can do that. Is that something you set out to do or did it just happen organically?
I think it’s what I enjoy myself and I definitely think it was a conscious decision or something that at least I wanted to explore and always wanted to explore. But it’s also the kind of music that I gravitate to myself, whether it’s ABBA or Prince. It’s what makes me feel good.
So speaking of connecting to your music, you have a lot of LGBTQ fans, including myself. Why do you think we’re so drawn to you and your music?
I feel a little bit uncomfortable trying to analyze that because it would mean that I would assume that all people that like my music are the same, which I don’t think they are. And I think that there’s lots of diversity and different types of reasons for why people in the LGBTQ community likes my music. But I would hope because it’s good music. And I would hope because it’s music that is reflective, and I think maybe that is a quality that the gay community has because when people are little bit outside of the norm, you have to question things in a different way. So maybe that’s something that we have in common. Or maybe [it’s] because I come from a country that has come some way when it comes to gender equality and openness about how you can see yourself as a person. Whatever it is, it’s wonderful and I’m really happy that that’s the way it is.
So for a lot of people in the U.S. outside of the LGBTQ community, dance-pop, especially from female artists, seems to be a bit out of fashion right now especially compared to a decade ago (there’s pretty much Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Halsey and Taylor Swift but that’s about it in terms of mainstream Billboard success, and they aren’t even as dancey as pop music from earlier in the decade was, like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry). Do you have any thoughts behind why that is and what needs to be done to bring it back again?
I don’t think that we need to bring anything back. I think good music is good music. It doesn’t matter what genre it is. I think it might not be a very good thing if music becomes appreciated just because it’s in a certain genre, because that means it’s a trend dictating what people listen to and not the actual music. So I’m not a fan of that, although I think dance music and club music is to me a kind of music that’s always been under criticism in America, which is funny because you guys invented it. And in Europe, I think we’ve embraced it on a commercial level, maybe more than you have actually. But in the gay community of course, it’s always been really relevant and still is even though I think the way that it was created and how it developed in America in the ‘70s and ‘80s was in a much more limited kind of underground environment.
You mentioned commercial success for dance music, so speaking of that, many American dance-pop fans turn to your music and other pop stars’ music like Carly Rae Jepsen, who are bubbling just under the cusp of top 40 radio. Do you want to be more embraced by radio or are you happy with where you’re at in terms of exposure?
I’d love to be mainstream top 40, there’s nothing wrong with that. And a big part of why I could keep making music and have my own record label and do all that was because I was in the top 40 as a teenager. So there’s nothing wrong with it [but] it’s really not something I’d change though. I just make music and it doesn’t seem to be radio friendly in America, but that’s okay. I haven’t had a single song on the radio for like 15 years, but I can still do things I want to do, which is very important to me.
Speaking of the beginning of your career, how do you feel now looking back on your original debut album and hits like “Show Me Love?” The music is so different than your current music, do you embrace it still or do you feel like that music doesn’t even really belong to you anymore?
No, of course I embrace that music. It’s a part of my career and a part of my life, so it’s not something that I feel like I have to distance myself from.
What music are you listening to right now?
I just today listened to Jai Paul’s new release. And then I listen a lot to Beverly Glenn-Copeland, which is a very interesting artist that you should definitely listen to. He’s American.
Last question: any plans on what the future holds for you after the tour ends?
I really don’t know what I will be doing at the end of this year, but I hope to start recording new music soon. I have songs already that I’m thinking about, but I have no clue when that’s going to happen or when I’ll even stop touring it, so we’ll see. But I’m looking forward to going back into the studio soon!
For tickets and more information on Robyn’s show at the Forum on July 27th featuring Troye Sivan, please visit ticketmaster.com.