Swede relief

Good things come to those who wait: Scandi-pop queen Robyn finally plays NYC.

LAID BACK Robyn isn’t sweating her long-overdue return to the U.S.

LAID BACK Robyn isn’t sweating her long-overdue return to the U.S. Photograph: Samantha Rapp

Quiz No. 1: As a young girl in the late ’90s, you score a huge international hit with a song cowritten by Max Martin. You’re wined and dined by music execs, you play to screaming fans. You’re…Britney? Bzzzz!
Quiz No. 2: Your hook-laden album of clever electronic pop comes out in a Scandinavian country, then becomes an obsession for international bloggers, who pretty much post the entire thing on the Web. Pitchfork starts following your every move, the Brits welcome you, and after what seems like an eternity, said album finally gets a U.S. release. You’re…Annie? Bzzzz!

Robyn actually is the answer to both riddles—but thankfully, the Swedish singer’s knack for reinvention and her idiosyncratic musical sensibility ensure that she’s going to deftly parry any assumptions prompted by her bio. She may have hit it big with “Show Me Love” back in 1997, but when things started to go south, as they are wont to do for young women in the pop-music industry, she had the good sense to just stop and start over from scratch. The first step was to leave the teen-pop-heavy major label Jive and create her own Konichiwa Records in 2005. “It was about going back to a place where I was in control and not putting high expectations on myself,” Robyn (née Robin Carlsson) recalls on the phone from London. “Just basically doing what made sense and what was good for me as an artist. I see pop music as my medium, the place where I choose to express myself, but I don’t see it as a genre that I have to adapt to anymore.” Instead, pop adapted to her: When she released what felt like her true debut album (self-titled and led by a single winkingly titled “Who’s That Girl?”) later in ’05, it topped the Swedish charts; the following year, the new “With Every Heartbeat” became a hit in Britain. (It’s included on the U.S. edition of her album, which is finally coming out here in April and is preceded by a live date this week.)

Few things…okay, nothing in Robyn’s previous incarnation as a cute little teenage pop star suggested she’d return with a severe new-wave haircut, fantastically inventive electro beats, platinum-plated melodies, and pals like Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, from the superarty sibling duo the Knife. “It was inspiring to work with them,” the singer gushes. “It was a kick in the butt for me, because I felt that if they could do it, so could I! I also felt comfortable, because their way of working made me think of my parents, who had an independent theater group when I was a kid.”

Robyn actually brings up her parents a lot in conversation; not only is it not dorky, but it also seems clear they’re one of the reasons she held on to her sanity when success came and then went. “I was 17 when I first started to travel to America,” she says. “It was very intense and definitely a lot of hard work, but I didn’t want my parents to come along. I don’t think they would have liked to be involved in my career in the same way a lot of American pop stars’ parents are, anyway.” She chuckles, fully aware of the number of exploitative parents for whom a kid can turn into a four-course meal ticket.

Another defining encounter was with Teddybears’ Klas Åhlund, who cowrote and -produced the majority of the album with Robyn, and who also embodies the ease with which many Swedish musicians straddle the line between underground, brainy art and an immediately accessible mainstream. “This mix between intellectual and emotional is something I was exposed to very early,” Robyn explains. “My parents and their theater company were looked upon as strange birds by both the commercial and the uncommercial sides. Now my stage is the pop scene, just like my parents’ was the theater scene.”

And she seems determined to cover all the bases, all the time: Despite her indie success, Robyn keeps in touch with Max Martin (“He’s still somebody I call when I have a melody I don’t know what to do with”), and in a poptastic twist of fate, she can be heard on the recent Britney Spears album. “Klas wrote ‘Piece of Me’ and asked me to demo it, and they kept the backing vocals for the final recording,” she explains. If Britney is looking for inspiration on how to resurrect her career—and her life, for that matter—she need look no further than her own record.

Robyn plays Highline Ballroom Tue 5; Robyn comes out on Cherrytree/Interscope in April.