Robyn doesn’t really have casual fans. Either you follow every B side and leaked club single the Swedish pop unicorn has released over her two-decade-plus career, or you vaguely wondered once what the Girls from Girls or the guy from SNL in the faux-fur chubby were losing their minds to.
Last night, the 38-year-old singer sat down at New York’s Museum of Modern Art with her friend and collaborator Adam Bainbridge, a.k.a. British electronic musician Kindness, as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Red Bull Music Festival.
Before a full house of giddy, moist-eyed acolytes in Body Talk t-shirts, she spoke about her ongoing cult status, her own icons, and gave a (few, small) crumbs about her upcoming new album and tour, before blowing it all out at a late-night surprise DJ set across the bridge in Brooklyn. Below, a few highlights:
- Growing up in Stockholm, she spent the first seven years of her life traveling in a caravan with her parents and their guerrilla theater troupe, where she was exposed early on to the musicians they loved (Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie). It was their split when she was 11 that spurred her to write her first song, a ballad called “In My Heart.”
- After performing at a school assembly in 1993, she was discovered by fellow Swede Meja of Legacy of Sound; by 14, Robyn had signed with a label and went on to open for the likes of Tina Turner (“my mom was very excited”) after “Show Me Love” became an international smash.
- Early on, she also met and started working with a young Max Martin, who had already made his name with early hits for Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys — though it was a copy of the Knife’s seminal 2003 album Deep Cuts, which the duo sent her unsolicited in the mail, that helped send her sound in new directions. (So did working with her idol Neneh Cherry and longtime producer Klas Ahlund.)
- “I always try to write a song that maybe Prince would like,” she said, after playing a demo of “Be Mine” overlaid with spiky guitars that were later replaced by strings (a move heavily influenced, she admitted, by Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”), and another of “Dancing On My Own” — whose half-finished vocals she called “yogurt,” her term for the nonsense words sung over melodies before the final lyrics come.
- Some songs, she said “you struggle to finish for years,” and some “come as little presents, but it’s rare. It’s close to magic sometimes, when it hits you.” The new material for her still-not-officially-announced upcoming album, she said, “is not finished yet but almost there. It’s very raw, no filters. I’ve been dancing and listening to music that I love and making beats before collaborating.” She also spoke of “getting in touch with a sensuality and a softness that I wanted to explore.” (One hard fact: She did mention visiting the studio of Minneapolis legends Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who drove an hour and a half round-trip to fetch the keyboard Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” was written on, by request.)
- Her favorite dancer of all time, an audience member asked? “Rosie Perez,” she answered without hesitation.
- At the after-party held at Brooklyn Bowl’s recurring This Party Is Killing You: A Night of All Robyn Everything, the evening’s guest of honor shocked the regular event’s hosts into near-hysteria when she commandeered the stage around 11 p.m. for a DJ set that included shimmering, taffy-stretched deep-house cuts straight out of her beloved Body & Soul, an alternate version of Michael Jackson’s “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” and a throbbing live performance of her 2015 La Bagetelle Magique banger “Love is Free” with special guest Maluca, plus the premiere of a radical new version of the long-promised “Honey” before ending it all the only way she could — by inviting the ecstatic winner of a “Dancing by Myself” dance-off to join her onstage.