An international pop star — despite repeated problems with labels that halted her career’s momentum several times — Sweden’s Robyn blends the gritty sound of American urban R&B with the sunny pop of her homeland. Robyn found a hit with Do You Know (What It Takes), which hit the Top Ten around the world, including the U.S. Born Robyn Carlsson in Stockholm in 1979, she traveled around the Continent with her parents’ traveling theater group, also listening to classic American soul on the hi-fi. She wrote her first song at the age of 11 about her parents’ divorce; at 12, she recorded the theme for the Swedish television show Lilla Sportspegeln.
Her big break came at 13, however, when the pop star Meja held a workshop at Robyn’s school and heard her sing her song about her parents. In 1994, Meja got her a record contract with Sweden’s Ricochet Records, which released her debut single, You’ve Got That Somethin’ and the hit Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect). Though she was still only 16, Robyn began recording her debut album in 1995 with producers Max Martin and Denniz Pop and co-songwriters Ulf Lindström and Johan Ekhé. The results, Robyn Is Here, quickly topped the Swedish charts. When the album was released in the U.S. almost a year and a half later, the single Do You Know (What It Takes) hit the Top Ten, as did Show Me Love. She was set to support the Backstreet Boys on their 1997 tour, but she had to pull out of the shows due to exhaustion. In 1998 Robyn began work on her second album, My Truth, which was released the following year in Europe, where Electric was a smash hit single. However, Robyn’s U.S. label didn’t feel that America would respond to My Truth as it was, and suggested that she re-record parts of the album. She refused, and the album was not released in the States. Robyn also became a UNICEF ambassador in 1999 and traveled the world for two years.
She returned to music by contributing “Say You’ll Walk the Distance” to the On the Line soundtrack, and moved from RCA to Jive for her 2002 album, Don’t Stop the Music, which ended up being a Swedish-only release; only the album’s singles were released in Europe. Despite the album’s limited release, other artists covered songs from it, including Beverley Knight, who released a version of “Keep This Fire Burning.” Disheartened by her continuing label troubles, Robyn returned to Stockholm in 2003, where she heard the Knife’s debut album, Deep Cuts. She was so impressed by the duo’s experimental, futuristic synth pop that she collaborated with them on her next single, Who’s That Girl. However, her label didn’t like the track and instead released 2004’s Robyn’s Best in the U.S. and another compilation in Sweden.
Robyn bought herself out of the rest of her contract, formed her own label, Konichiwa, in 2005, and collaborated with the Knife, the Teddybears STHLM’s Klas Åhlund, and Alexander Kronlund. The single Be Mine and her fourth, self-titled album arrived later that year and earned several Swedish Grammys, including Best Album, Best Female Pop Artist, and Best Songwriter (which she shared with Åhlund). Robyn continued to gain momentum in 2006, appearing on Basement Jaxx’s Crazy Itch Radio and releasing the Rakamonie EP, a collection of covers and alternate takes. Robyn was released in the U.K. in 2007, as was the single Konichiwa Bitches. The ballad “With Every Heartbeat” really reestablished Robyn in the U.K., reaching number one on the singles chart that summer. Rakamonie was finally released in the U.S. in early 2008, and Robyn,