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Swede Emotion 

Even indie rockers love Robyn's catchy dance-pop

Robyn insists she isn't a tease. She released three records last year: two EPs with eight songs each and a 15-track album that included five songs from each of the EPs, plus five new ones. The first record, Body Talk Pt. 1, came out in June. The second, Body Talk Pt. 2, followed in September. The album — just plain Body Talk — was released at the end of November.

But she didn't mean to lead you on for six months. "I think I've been pretty generous," she says with a laugh. "Whatever got done first got put on the first record. I just couldn't see myself being in a studio for a year without releasing any of this material that I was so excited about."

The 31-year-old Swedish singer had a stellar 2010, no matter how you look at it. She's been making music since 1995, disappeared for a decade, and staged a mini comeback a few years ago, before becoming one of last year's biggest stars — a dance-music diva adored by club hounds, pop-music fans, and indie rockers.

And it all started with a plan, says Robyn. The 20-plus songs written for the Body Talk project would be released not long after they were recorded. The idea was to get the tracks out to fans as soon as possible. "I let people in on my creative process to see how the album developed over the year," she says. "It was so fun for me to work this way."

Thing is, almost all of the songs are killer. From the robotic beats of "Fembot" and "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do" to the pure pop thrills of "Dancing on My Own" and "Hang With Me," Body Talk (like the music made by Robyn's fellow Swedes, Abba — the gold standard when it comes to killer songs) is smart dance-pop smothered in cool studio tricks and monster hooks.

"I've always listened to dance music, but it wasn't until this album that I realized how much it was part of my musical upbringing and education," she says. "It's based on the emotion and feeling of what club culture and youth culture is for me, mixed with a classic pop song."

Back in 1996, when Robyn hit the Top 10 with a pair of singles — "Do You Know (What It Takes)" and "Show Me Love" — there were no hints of what was to come. They're mostly forgettable pop songs with none of the edge or angsty joy that would emerge a decade later.

Robyn pretty much disappeared from U.S. ears until 2008, when her self-titled 2005 album (a No. 1 hit in Sweden, where two previous albums reached No. 2) was finally released here. Suddenly, songs like "Be Mine" and "Handle Me" had hipsters buzzing — most of whom were unfamiliar with her earlier chart hits. "Those weren't lost years to me," says Robyn. "I wasn't having the same kind of success, and it was frustrating, of course. But it also gave me a little room to question what I was doing.

"I had years where I wasn't the hot shit anymore and had to figure myself out. It came down to Who am I doing this for — me or someone else? There was no other option but to put it all on the line and do what I wanted."

Then Body Talk hit. Blogs were all over it. Bearded guys who normally waxed poetic about Animal Collective over cold PBRs were awkwardly taking to the dance floor. And the album repeatedly showed up in 2010 Top 10 lists. And for good reason. Body Talk probes way deeper than most dance-pop music.

Underneath all of the sheen (hitmaker Max Martin, who worked on Robyn's earliest singles, helped write and produce a song), Body Talk is kinda dark and very lonely. When she isn't trying to persuade some guy to break up with his girlfriend, Robyn's hanging out in the corner by herself. "I like to write about those kinds of emotions," she says. "You can be in a crowded room and still feel like the loneliest person in the world.

"When I write about loneliness, it's a way to explore my inner world. The moments I remember the best aren't always the moments where I'm just happy. They're usually bittersweet. They're usually happy and sad. That's a nice feeling."

More by Michael Gallucci

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