Robyn: Business Casual at the MOMA

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Robyn at the sold-out “Conversation with Robyn” Red Bull Music Festival New York, May 21st, 2018
Photo Credit: Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Sound Content Pool

On May 21st, the MoMA hosted a conversation between Swedish singer, songwriter, label owner, and producer Robyn and friend and fellow artist Kindness (Adam Bainbridge) as part of the Red Bull Music Festival.

Robyn exemplifies the importance of an artist taking risks to create work that feels true and authentic. In 2004, she left her old label, Jive Records, as a response to the disapproval she received over her new sound. Since then, her label Konichiwa Records has been a success and Robyn has received five Grammy nominations, appeared on Saturday Night Live and other television programs around the world, and most recently organized a festival for young women pursuing programming, robotics, 3D printing, game design, electronic music, and more.

It has been eight years since Robyn released her last album, Body Talk, so many were eager to sit down and listen to what Robyn has been up to and what she has planned for the future. The talk was greatly enhanced by Robyn and Kindness’ close relationship; watching the onstage conversation felt more like spying on two friends than being part of a festival event.

The pair discussed Robyn’s early days. It was inspiring to learn that Robyn had become what she now is even though her early days were a struggle – her parents divorced when she was 11, and she moved out of her home and left school at 16. How strong she was, to come to the U.S. as a teenager and boldly enter the scene at that time. She was one of the few non-black artists to perform on Soul Train. She attended Body and Soul parties. She later opened for artists like Tina Turner and Destiny’s Child.

A lot of us knew some of her story. Maybe we’d seen a documentary about it on Youtube, but we hadn’t heard it in person, shared between friends. Robyn explained more about the time she changed labels. She had changed her musical style at that time to represent how she was changing as a person. She felt like the work she’d done on her old label wasn’t her, so it was not worth it and so the idea of dropping it meant she had nothing to lose. She started to make music differently, and this was around the time she was sent Deep Cuts, by The Knife. She realized her feminist and conscious ways of working were pulling her away from working for others and moving her towards working more independently. Oddly enough, the same people who expressed dislike of her new musical style also helped her get to where she needed to go next.

Beyond the conversation, one of the most special parts of the event was listening to demo versions of songs, both old and new, as well as learning about the stories behind some of the songs. We learned that “In My Heart” was about her parents’ divorce. We listened to a new song called “Honey,” which Robyn used to illustrate the importance of an artist taking as much time as is necessary to create something that is true to them (it took her one year to make that song). It was a song that had been played on the show Girls. It was exciting to watch Robyn groove to her own songs and it felt like we were all her friends as we laughed together at the “yogurt,” or babbling to fill what would later be lyrics, on her demo of “Dancing on my Own.”

One of my favorite quotes of the night was when Robyn said, “I’m a fan of light and dark at the same time.” She opened up to us and said that she had spent the last 7 years going through a period of deep psychoanalysis. It was clear that she had come to some very deep understanding of herself and life.  She took the time to find the right energy for the songs she wanted to make – one that is playful and sensual. It makes us really excited for the next album.

The talk can be viewed in full on Youtube by accessing this link.

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