10 Ways Pop Star Robyn Was Ahead of Her Time

on October 25, 2018, 1:07pm
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Robyn Laid the Groundwork for the best parts of Britney Spears-style pop

In the mid-’90s, Robyn broke onto US radio as a teenager with R&B-inflected, big-chorus pop (“Show Me Love” and “Do You Know (What It Takes)”) produced by Max Martin, the soon-to-be grandmaster of ubiquitous bubblegum pop. While Robyn’s smash debut was praised for its realistically youthful-yet-mature sass and savvy, the singer may have been too self-possessed to be a Lolita for the pop machine. At 16, she told a Swedish magazine, “I’m not gong to be a product” — and Martin went to work with 15-year-old Britney Spears, writing “…Baby One More Time” and sending the vessel of mass appeal (at great personal cost) on to pop world domination. Yet, you can still hear echoes of Robyn’s vocal quality in Spears: the baby-coo rap that breaks into soaringly sweet refrains.

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Robyn Opened up About Women’s Health 20 Years Ago

Sure, we had Ben Folds Five’s “Brick” in 1997, but it’s not exactly from the woman’s perspective. Robyn’s second album, My Truth, which went platinum in Sweden in 1999, contained two Robyn-penned songs that referred to a teenage abortion. However, American record execs wanted to exclude or change those songs for the album’s US release. Robyn refused, and so the album was never released.

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Robyn went indie — and made indie love pop

In 2005, Robyn re-emerged with new music on her own indie label with her own electronic sound. With Robyn and her collaborations with The Knife, she was recognized by the high council of hipster criticism, Pitchfork, and embraced by the first widespread wave of poptimism. Her new sound was out of left field — combining dark, experimental sounds with the shining light of her choruses. She was perhaps even more forthright than before, proving that pop was smart, individual, and underground. It was also where some of the most exciting voices and innovations were being heard. She was a bellwether for rock getting less rigid in introducing non-guitar sounds and for pop music becoming more dance-driven and experimental. (See: the future of chameleon queen Rihanna, whose given name is Robyn, and who in 2005 was still a Caribbean teenager being packaged for the sound of the moment.)

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Robyn has fought for—and gotten—creative control from the jump

Forget the myth of the female pop star molded and exploited by Svengali producers. Despite starting her professional music career at 13, Robyn has steadfastly fought to control her creative destiny — rejecting an offer from Jive (which later launched Spears), leaving BMG seeking more freedom, then striking out on her own. After an experimental collaboration with The Knife, she founded her own label — the aptly named Konichiwa Records — and found artistic partners who expanded her sound and respected her process. In the video for 2007’s “Handle Me”, she rebukes the offers of men who deem themselves powerful, while dressed as a human jukebox and dancing avant-gardely around literal boxes she’s been put inside. In 2010, she released Body Talk as three EPs, which included the line “My label is killing me” on the unambiguous track, “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do”.

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Robyn made platinum-plaited mullets and bushy eyebrows a thing

Well before Cara Delevingne’s naturally thick “power brows” became the standard of western beauty, US record execs were asking Robyn to re-shoot her “Handle Me” video because her brows were … too much. Today, it seems most pop stars have gone platinum blond to look edgier, and Katy Perry even copped Robyn’s classic cut: a white-blond asymmetrical pixie cut. Taylor Swift even borrowed some of Robyn’s “fembot” aesthetic for her recent album, Reputation.

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