Disco queen with a dark bent

Swedish pop star Robyn, with music producer Markus Jagerstedt, on the set of her new music video in Los Angeles.
Swedish pop star Robyn, with music producer Markus Jagerstedt, on the set of her new music video in Los Angeles. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Robyn, the 36-year-old Swedish pop star, was in Los Angeles recently, decked out in a pale blue bustier and lying on a bed, as part of the video shoot for her latest single, Love Is Free.

Around her, the soundstage resembled a block party for Brooklyn hipsters as tattooed men in Dickies jumpsuits danced around with fanny packs on their belts. Everyone was having a grand old time, except Robyn.

One minute, the camera zoomed in for a close-up and she seemed nearly on the verge of tears.

Robyn may be known for her up-tempo dance music, but pain and sorrow lurk beneath her raver-style armour.

Nearly 20 years ago, she rose to fame with Do You Know (What It Takes), a teeny-bopper anthem produced by Max Martin, who had helped jumpstart the careers of Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys.

But that sort of music never really inspired her. After having a religious experience dancing at the Shelter, a popular club for gay black men that started in Tribeca, she left her record label in 2004 and re- emerged as a space-age disco queen with a depressive bent.

At a time when pop stars top the music charts, misanthropy and melan- choly have yet to bring global stardom to this pixieish woman. But her influence has clearly been felt.

In 2005, she selected a largely unknown producer named Klas Ahlund on her first dance music effort, Robyn. The album drew raves from critics and Ahlund went on to work with Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue, Kesha and Jordin Sparks.

In 2009 and 2010, Robyn released a three-part music collection called Body Talk, which earned a Grammy nomination for its first single, Dancing On My Own.

Madonna gushed about the album in interviews. Perry tapped Robyn to open her California Dreams world tour, telling MTV that Robyn is "the tastemaker", the person she and Prada and Rihanna and everyone turn to for inspiration, from the music she makes to the footwear she sports onstage.

Her latest work continues in that trajectory.

The five-song recording Love Is Free, released this month, was recorded in Stockholm between the fall of 2013 and the spring of last year. It was produced by Robyn with her long-time collaborators Markus Jagerstedt and Christian Falk.

Shortly after they got to work on it, Falk was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died that July, leaving a laptop of unfinished tracks along with a blessing to complete the material in his absence.

"We didn't want to make a memorial album," Robyn said.

The song Love Is Free was turned up high and she started bouncing on the bed as if it were a trampoline. Moments later, she was done with the shot and the crew broke for lunch.

"Good, good," she said, as she walked towards Jagerstedt and gave him a hug, this time flashing a hint of a smile.

And for a moment, what shone through was not a downbeat diva's air of perpetual discontent, but her resilience in the face of it. NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Disco queen with a dark bent'. Print Edition | Subscribe