Coachella 2011: Robyn not pressed for mainstream success: 'If it happens, it happens'
Avalon Hollywood is bustling with producers working to perfect Robyn’s two-song set during a recent afternoon rehearsal.
Though the Swedish pop chanteuse nailed a runthrough on the first shot of her hit single “Dancing on My Own,” she is now on her fourth take as she patiently waits for lighting and camera adjustments.
The pint-sized singer is teetering onstage at the nightclub -- thanks to platform construction boots -- as she semi-choreographs dance moves that she'll later spontaneously change. Later in the evening, the club would serve as host to Logo’s NewNowNext Awards, where she was performing.
“Let’s go guys,” she says to the crew -- her voice childlike, yet commanding as she shows the first sign of impatience.
Landing a plum slot on an awards show is key for Robyn, who despite releasing the critically acclaimed three-album series “Body Talk” last year, still isn’t a household name in America.
“I don’t think about it at all. I think it’s great that other people think about it. I feel like things are moving in the right direction, but I haven’t had any opinions,” she said while casually seated backstage, post-rehearsal. “I’m happy where I’m at. I’ve heard and seen that people are expecting me to cross over, and that would be cool … but I haven’t really made a plan for it. If it happens, it happens.”
Born Robin Miriam Carlsson, she isn’t a complete stranger stateside. The singer enjoyed crossover success in the late '90s when her debut, “Robyn Is Here,” yielded dance hits "Do You Know (What It Takes)" and “Show Me Love” -- both co-written and co-produced by Max Martin before he went on to become one of pop’s most sought-after masterminds.
After her two follow-up discs were released only in her native turf due to label disputes (they did quite well there, nonetheless), she departed from Jive Records and launched her own imprint, Konichiwa Records, in 2005, before later issuing her self-titled fourth disc.
With the success of the album in Europe, Robyn snagged a distribution deal with Interscope Records’ Cherrytree division (home to Lady Gaga and La Roux). Although the disc went platinum and gold in Sweden and the U.K., respectively, it didn’t heat up U.S. charts.
And then she issued “Body Talk,” a set of sweat-inducing, club-ready electropop, over the course of 2010. While all three discs managed to rule on the U.S. dance charts, she is still considered pop royalty only back in Europe, though the dance-centric music she makes is now commonplace for artists such as Gaga, Britney Spears, Ke$ha, Rihanna (who bested Robyn at this year’s Grammys in a dance category) and the Black Eyed Peas.
The album was splashed on numerous best of year lists and she landed a Grammy nomination for “Dancing on My Own." Combined, all three discs have moved 91,000 units in the States, according to Nielsen Soundscan. She’s also spent the last year-plus on the road in support of the album, including a co-headlining tour with R&B singer-cum-dance queen Kelis.
Her lack of empathy toward crossover success isn’t because she doesn’t crave it -- she does -- she just refuses to make any calculated moves to ensure mainstream success, which in itself could be considered a calculated move. For someone like Robyn, who's been down the path of commerical success before, the move could come off as a little surprising.
“Since I started my record company, I’ve always been very careful when it comes to making [decisions] … or having an industry or a more commercial way of thinking about marketing as a starting point for anything I do,” she said, “because it is very unpredictable to use that as a base for anything.”
Robyn said her priority continues to be her music, and her extensive touring schedule has allowed her to carve out a loyal following -- one that would have been fast-tracked had she become a presence on American television and radio.
Taking a different promotional approach, she says, "doesn’t mean that you don’t want success. I just decided to never put the focus there, and to put the focus on the music. I get to do what I want to do, and whatever happens, it's cool.”
She might not be a marquee act in the States, but considering the oh-so critical placement of her name under Friday’s list of performers at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival music and an opening slot on Katy Perry’s upcoming summer tour, things are indeed moving in the right direction.
Just don’t expect her to fret over show prep.
“I’ve been touring now with the band since March of last year, so no preparations. Just the old Robyn performance that I’ve been doing for a year,” she laughed. “What we do onstage, me and the band, it’s kind of simple. Not based on any special effects, or costume changes. It’s all about the music. I think me working myself up into some kind of frenzy somehow gets to my audience.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: (Top) Robyn. Credit: The Fun Star. (Bottom) Robyn performs at the NewNowNext Awards. Credit: Getty / Logo