Teen-pop survivor is reborn as electro spitfire.
Many claims to Robyn’s greatness are made in “Curriculum Vitae,” the spoken-word intro to her new album: “World-record holder with a high score of two gazillion in Tetris…she split the atom, invented the X-ray… choreographed the fights for Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon…” But the most improbable boast of all? That Swedish teenager who lit up the Hot 100 a decade ago with the lubricious pop of “Show Me Love” is now a DIY label chief, the “founder and CEO of Konichiwa Records.”
Robyn Carlsson was Britney before Britney was Britney — both were sexpot blondes signed to BMG with breakout hits assisted by producer Max Martin. Then, after two years of living in New York hotels and being worked like a flouncy show pony, she quit the TRL life. The offer of a support slot on a 1997 Backstreet Boys tour was a teenybop debasement she couldn’t stomach. “It didn’t have anything to do with it not being credible,” Robyn, now 28, recalls in flawless English. “It just wasn’t inspiring.” She released two hit albums in her homeland, got sick of working with major labels, and crafted a plan for her own start-up. In 2004, Konichiwa was born, along with a new sound — one that owed as much to the bleeps and blurts of Swedish electronica iconoclasts the Knife as it did to the irresistible melodies of the country’s ’70s hitmakers ABBA.
It is this revitalized Robyn who arrives in America — for the second time — this month. Already a hit in Europe, her self-titled record is stuffed with impeccable, streamlined electro-pop, including collaborations with neo-disco producer Kleerup (the euphoric “With Every Heartbeat”), Teddybears’ Klas Åhlund (the rollicking ragga house of “Cobrastyle”), and the Knife (the slithery “Who’s That Girl?”). No longer an assembly-line moppet, she’s free to be bitter, defiant, or just plain ridiculous. “I’ll hammer your toe, like a pediatrician / Saw you in half, like I’m a magician,” she boasts on “Konichiwa Bitches.” “I got into the role-playing,” she explains. “I was thinking of myself like a superhero.” This Robyn, however, needs no Batman to bail her out.