Article + Live Review: Robyn | Pop Machine

Pop machine

Robyn can churn out hits, but don’t call her manufactured.

By Joshua P. Ferguson

Originallly published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 07.15.10

TOC | Robyn: Pop Machine

Currently one of Sweden’s biggest musical exports, Robyn has been navigating the mainstream music industry for just shy of half her life. She was discovered at age 16 by the Swedish pop star Meja, who recognized her considerable talent while participating in a music workshop at the teenager’s hometown high school in Stockholm. That was 1996. Just a year later, Robyn, born Robin Carlsson, hit it big with “Do You Know What It Takes” and “Show Me Love”—not to be confused with the house anthem of the same name by Robin S. Now, at 31, Carlsson has released five albums internationally; the tour for her latest, Body Talk Pt. 1, sees her performing on the main stage at the Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday 16.

With so many years dedicated to pop music and two actors for parents, you’d think that Carlsson was groomed for stardom at an early age. But, when we reach the silky-voiced chanteuse at her Berlin hotel room, she sets the record straight. “It’s very different from what it might sound like,” she says. “My parents had an independent theater group when I was a kid, but it wasn’t really commercial at all.” Though she dreamed of being a singer as a child, she says her discovery during that fateful workshop was a happy accident.

The meteoric rise Carlsson saw after her debut record, Robyn is Here (1997), proved difficult to maintain. A combination of physical burnout and head butts with her record label, BMG, stunted her popularity here in the States. It took some time, but in 2005 Carlsson broke free of her corporate contracts and launched her Konichiwa label, giving her the creative freedom she’s always craved. “I spent ten years in the industry trying to figure out how to make pop music my own way,” she explains. “I definitely got to a point where I didn’t feel like it was worth it anymore.”

The new label proved to be her saving grace. Carlsson’s first record there, 2005’s Robyn, served as an international comeback. The album received numerous award nominations in the U.K. and at home in Sweden, and her playful rap on “Konichiwa Bitches” garnered healthy hipster cred.

Continue reading: TOC | Pop Machine

photo by Kate Gardiner

Live Review: Robyn | Pitchfork Festival 2010 Chicago

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published on the Time Out Chicago blog | TOC: Robyn Live Review

Though tempting, it’s a backwards juxtaposition to say Robyn reminds you of La Roux. Really, for all the coiffed hair and electro pop, it should be the other way around. If you made the comparison to her, she’d probably say “Konichiwa bitch. I’ve been at this for fifteen years.” And she has. Her Bambi-legged British counterpart has maybe 24 months under her belt. Seeing Robyn live at Pitchfork tonight, for the first time, you realize how much of a pop star performance veteran she really is.

Sauntering onto the stage to “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do” and bleeding straight into “Fembot,” the debut single on her new album Body Talk Pt 1, Robyn had a strong ’90s air to her, like something out of Back to the Future 2. Her platinum blonde ‘do cut high and tight, she sported a grey mini dress with leather shoulder pads, sections on the back cut out in all the right places. In comparison to when I spoke to her—recently, during a long day of interviews—for our recent feature “Pop machine,” she was all energy. Alongside her band, fresh off the plane from Sweden and dressed all in white, they kicked through maybe twelve songs. A good portion were from the new album, but that didn’t mean there weren’t highlights from further back in her career as well.

The pace of the show stayed upbeat and highly danceable. She covered all the hits including her latest album’s highest highlights, “Dancing on My Own” and 2008’s “With Every Heartbeat.” Flipping things into half time, she even had everyone skanking to the Diplo-produced “Dancehall Queen.”

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get this hot in Sweden. This afternoon’s temperatures soared into the low nineties. Regardless, her elfin face red from the workout, Robyn and co. killed it tonight, marking a great start to what is sure to be a most memorable weekend.

— Joshua P. Ferguson



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