On The Record: Is Robyn Proof That We're The Dumbest Nation On Earth?
This may not exactly be news to the more than 6 billion people who exist outside of our borders, but I'm starting to suspect that perhaps we Americans have a rather inflated sense of self.
This has nothing to do with the fact that, as a whole, we behave like some bizarre, big-headed cross between Rambo, Captain Kirk and Ivan "Ironman" Stewart, despite being one of the most obese, least literate countries in the world, or that we elected George W. Bush twice, or that pictures like this exist (or this one).
No, basically, I'm realizing all this because of Robyn. Or, more specifically, about how not famous Robyn is here in America. And how that's never, ever going to change, because we are a nation of narrow-minded nimrods.
For those not in the know — which is roughly 98 percent of you (or 60 percent of the gay community) — Robyn is the towheaded, down-and-dirty electro diva who is wildly famous in her native Sweden (and most other places on the globe) thanks in no small part to being one of the most dynamic, shape-shifting, forward-thinking artists currently making pop music. She is remarkably self-assured, wickedly funny and not afraid to drop a curse word (or 16) in her songs. And she is, for lack of a better term, indescribably weird, in the best way possible. All of this makes her awesome, and completely, 100 percent unmarketable here in the States.
Because, to be frank, we only like our pop stars one way: saccharine sweet, lyrically inconsequential and completely disposable. Oh, and sort of dumb too. And I'm not trying to say that Britney or Christina or Rihanna (or at least Christina and Rihanna) are actually lacking in intelligence, but rather that their musical output — and their carefully crafted personas — are dumbed-down to a point where they are little more than pop-culture soft-serve. We can digest them in one slurp, with little fear of getting an ice-cream headache. And, of course, they have to be this way, because Americans don't like to be challenged when we watch MTV or turn on the radio. We just like ice cream.
And Robyn is most certainly not ice cream. Sure, when she first broke here in the States — way back in 1997 with a song called "Show Me Love" (not to be confused with the song of the same name released by Robin S.) — she was just another strawberry swirl. But sometime after that, she changed. She started writing songs about having an abortion. She appeared on a Snoop Dogg remix called "Sexual Eruption." And she dropped lines like "Make the balls bounce/ Like a game of Ping-Pong" without blushing. So, of course, for more than a decade, no label would dare release her records here ... it would be commercial suicide.
Unfazed, she just decided to form her own label (Konichiwa) and release albums on her own ... getting weirder (and better) in the process. In late 2006, she put out The Rakamonie EP, which — based on the strength of tracks like "Konichiwa Bitches" and her cover of the Teddybears' "Cobrastyle" — garnered her critical acclaim and announced her arrival as the most interesting, vibrant pop star on the planet. It also got her a deal with Universal Music Group, who will put her on the same label as Feist (Cherrytree) and announced plans to release her self-titled album here in the U.S.
The record comes out April 29. It's fantastic — really smart, sort of dirty, very forward-thinking ... probably the best pop recording you'll hear this year. In fact, earlier I mentioned the dumbness of Britney and Xtina and Rih Rih ... well, even they managed to sneak out a brilliant hit or three — like "Toxic" or "Umbrella" or even "Candyman" — and Robyn's album has at least six songs that are better than any of them. So, naturally, it will probably be a huge smash hit for UMG, something that will pay big dividends and earn whomever was smart enough to sign her a nice raise and a corner office. It should be played on every radio station and revolutionize popular music. Only I'm fairly confident that's never going to happen.
Because, let's be honest: It didn't happen for Lily Allen or Kate Nash or even Amerie — despite (and, ultimately, because) all of them were totally great, decidedly against-the-grain purveyors of pop. We don't like weird. We don't like complicated or confident or even cool. We like Jessica Simpson (or at least we used to). We like Taylor Swift. We like Mylie Cyrus. It seems as if we here in the States are in some eternal state of pop adolescence. We don't like tunes that are made for — or by — adults. And that's totally a shame. We should grow the f--- up.
And, to be honest, I hope we do. I want millions of people to hear Robyn's album, because it's that good. And perhaps its success will inspire major labels to take risks, to sign and promote artists that fall outside the narrow definition of what equals pop success (this will probably not happen, but, you know, whatever). Also, I'm sort of hoping that we as a music-consuming public aren't as stupid as the rest of the world tends to think we are, though I have my doubts about that one too.
But, please — prove me wrong. Last month, Robyn played Perez Hilton's party at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, and while I was watching her, a friend of mine turned to me and said, "In one year, she'll be playing Madison Square Garden." I laughed, because to me, that's crazy. But, hey, what's the harm in trying to make it happen? Come on, America, I'm counting on you.
Slightly Less Than A Half-Dozen Of My Favorite Things On The Internet This Week, So Named For A Post-Rock Group That No One Probably Remembers
1. Prada's "Trembled Blossoms," featuring CocoRosie: A leggy alien emerges from a blanket of leaves, straps on shoes made out of bugs, wanders a psychedelic forest, meets a satyr, receives a purse from a koi fish, births a hummingbird and then disappears back into the Earth from whence she came. Art by James Jean. Music by CocoRosie. Get into an altered state and watch this.
2. The "Super Mario Bros." theme, as played by a remote-control car: This was sent to me by MTV News video game guru Stephen Totilo, and I'd like to think it's the reason the Internet was invented in the first place.
3. Death Cab For Cutie's video for "I Will Possess Your Heart": Like getting paid to travel the world with a beautiful, slightly mannish model/actress, while Death Cab freeze in a meat locker. That this is possibly the best song of 2008 doesn't hurt either.
4. The Breeders' Mountain Battles record-release party: The Deal sisters debut their terrific new album at a VFW Hall in Ohio. Cake is served. Actually, don't watch this. Just go buy Mountain Battles for yourself.
5. "There Will Be Remix," from YTMND.com: Impossible to say whether this is the final nail in the "I drink your milkshake" coffin or the beachhead from which the slogan begins its assault on the mainland, but, whatever ... it's fresh.
Questions? Concerns? Star-Spangled Hate Mail? Send to me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.