IF YOU LIKE the Swedish pop singer Robyn, it's difficult not to like her a lot. After scoring a pop hit in America in 1997 with "Show Me Love," Robyn unexpectedly reemerged in 2005 with a self-released, self-titled album full of smart, irresistible electro-pop. The album begins with an impossibly grandiose introduction called "Curriculum Vitae" in which the pintsized Robin Miriam Carlsson is described as a "two-time recipient of the Nobel Prize for super foxiest female ever and wartime consigliere to the Cosa Nostra." This toughness—in pictures, she seems to be staring you down—is both compelling and charming, but Robyn doesn't see herself that way, necessarily.
"I think of myself as kind of a soft person," she says. "Sometimes it's easier to start with toughness, you know? It's a good frame for an emotion. It's a good starting point for when you want to describe something that's complicated. It gives you a bit of protection when you go into really emotional stuff."
This appeal, along with pop gems like "Be Mine!" from Robyn and "Dancing on My Own" from this year's Body Talk Pt. 1, have slowly built her an audience here in America, garnering her appearances on MTV's Video Music Awards and Gossip Girl. But Robyn says she has basically the same audience across the world.
"Wherever I go, it's the same kind of vibe from the audience. A really mixed, very open and queer crowd. And to see all those different kinds of people in the room, it's a great feeling every time."
That crowd is attracted, in part, to the way Robyn takes pop music and pitches it on a slight slant. She's described her music as "unexpected pop," but she says it was never a surprise to her.
"I feel like what I'm doing now is what I was always moving toward. I never felt like pop music and quality contradicted each other. They were always part of the same thing for me, growing up with people like Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper and Prince. I just think that for a while there in the '90s, pop music became more like an industry phenomenon than a real expression. So not unexpected to me, no. Just to a newer generation that wasn't exposed to that as much as I was."
Robyn loves to play with contrasts, throwing sadness into a bubbly pop tune, and trying to address the dissociation we sometimes feel at living in a world full of metal and plastic by singing love songs to robots. She doesn't see that as a problem, though.
"Real doesn't mean it's how it actually happened, but how it felt. I think what we always do, whether it's in film or music or any kind of expression, is recreate reality. I think robots are the most extreme form of that. It's like recreating a human being but in a more simple version. And that's why it's so easy to use them—you can put your finger on what's really human."
In the end, Robyn sees herself as another one of the contradictions she likes to sing about. "I'm tough," she says, "and soft, as well." And that's why we love her.