Taking a step back from her evergreen solo work, this summer saw the release of Robyn's passion project Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique, and with it, Love Is Free. A celebration of the music she grew up on, the album is the result of a time that she and Markus Jägerstedt worked with long-time friend and collaborator, the late producer Christian Falk. Featuring guest vocals from talented Mad Decent beauty Maluca, the title track is an undeniably fun and powerful anthem.
A fan of the work of underground artist and director SSION (aka Cody Critcheloe) for his mix of humor, darkness and dreamlike flow, Robyn called on him to direct. With Robyn, Markus, and Maluca all contributing ideas, the team found an old porn studio in the valley and got to work on something with all the weird and wonderful disorientation felt while dancing your way through a busy, buzzy club. As we premiere this brilliant video -- complete with beds, bees and bodacious babes -- step behind the scenes and into conversation with Cody and Robyn.
What was the original concept for the video and how did things develop?
Cody: Robyn and Maluca had the idea of breaking the fourth wall -- doing something more raw and messy. I remember the movie The Truman Show being brought up, as well as the idea of the video starting on a bed, and then wanting to incorporate Christian Falk throughout the video in a way that felt appropriate -- not smug or an overwrought tribute. I put together a treatment which was more like a collage of my current obsessions; each room was mapped out and cued to sections in the song and very specifically choreographed but also kinda of chaotic with room to play on set. There weren't really any revisions, except for eliminating the interior of a plane. Robyn really trusted me and let me do my thing, which meant a lot to me.
Robyn: Well you know how things that feel hyper real also can feel totally disintegrated at the same time? It´s an old idea, maybe as old as our entire consciousness. I wanted to make the video as a trip through a physical space that also felt fluid and loose, because that´s what the song is for me; it's concrete and, at the same time, made from an unconscious place. I started talking to Maluca about my ideas and when she came up with the idea of breaking down the fourth wall, it all kind of clicked for me. We gathered references and wrote down some of our thoughts and gave them to Cody and just let him associate freely, it wasn't like we needed to explain much. Cody wrote a treatment that felt really exiting and then he just got to work, tweaking things as we went along. The treatment was super clear. We took out one scene, the airplane, Cody added things that popped up when he found the old porn studio in the valley that we shot it in. I pushed for the hand-held messy takes at the end and then the editing process was great. George's timing is fantastic; I think he really enjoyed working with the material. The video was shot in a very linear way, but that gave us a really good base to work from. It was interesting to break it up; I think we were able to add a layer of disorientation that feels good to me when I watch the video.
How closely did you work together?
Cody: Very closely. Possibly the closest I've ever worked with someone on a video. Robyn had a lot of amazing ideas and I really admired her dedication to seeing it through and pulling the best out of it. It was a legit collaboration -- it was g r o o v y and I loved working so closely with her on it.
What was it that you liked about the behind the scenes studio idea?
Cody: It allowed for a lot of play; doing things the wrong way and kinda turning a pop music video on it's head -- something that embodied the chaotic energy of the song, but not in a pissed-off-destructive way. More like The Sound of Music or Singing in the Rain; euphoric and free.
Robyn: Yes, I also think it gave us more to play with, more moods. What is a performance and what is just a body moving through a space?
What were your main reference points?
Cody: A list of movies I had grown up with that I had associated with the idea and feeling of 'love'. There are a lot of nods to some of my favorite movies and artists in there, and then the bees, which I think about a lot especially in relation to love. I suggest everyone think about bees for a while: queen bees, worker bees, honey, flowers, stinging, death, etc. Very romantic.
Robyn: The bees are interesting. I have had this obsession with them and honey for a while so I was excited that they would be in the video. Honey is the weirdest thing. It's sweet and nutritious, beautiful and sexy, but also disgusting in a way. I asked the bee guy on set how bees make honey and he wasn't actually sure, but they have a pouch that they collect the nectar in, and then he said he thinks that they somehow add something to it from their own bodies to make it honey. The way MTV felt when I was grown up was also reference for me when we made the video. I guess the song is the reference for me, it's hard to explain what it's about. It was one of those things that came very much from my unconsciousness for me.
It looked like so much fun to shoot!
Cody: It was! Maluca, Robyn and Markus were so great, especially once we locked into the flow. That's when things got really fun with Maluca and Robyn playing off each other during the video and behind the scenes. There were points towards the end of shooting where I wanted to just keep going until dawn.
Robyn: I'm very satisfied with my Fred Mercury moment with the vacuumer, and the styling that Karen Clarkson did was so much fun too. It was like we had a big dress up box that we went through during the day. I'm so impressed by her way of going with the flow.
Do you have a favorite moment from the video?
Cody: I have favorite shots. I love when Robyn and Maluca walk from the second room after their dance routine, up the stairs past the kitchen as Markus comes around the corner and stares at the kitchen sink. I love that flow and vibe, having the mood shift so effortlessly. I love seeing Robyn and Maluca 'turn off' after this really super ecstatic dance scene and then its like OVER -- the exhaustion. I love that. Also Maluca's performance after she slams though that window -- she's an incredible performer. I love that dialogue between the man and woman in front of the Chagall painting too. That was something I had been desperate to shoot for so long and it made sense in this video. Also that guy in front of the painting is a really old friend of mine; I've always loved his nose. Probably one of the best noses I've ever seen. I've always wanted to shoot it.
Robyn: I think it's the couple. It's a scene from the X-Files that Cody put in the treatment and it twists my brain every time I watch it. I love how they at the end turn their heads and look over at Christian and then it just all falls apart. I was nervous shooting this video because I haven't been performing for a while; I wanted to let my guard down and I think I did and that makes me happy :) I also love Maluca looking so tough against the Crafty logo and the guy holding the camera after she and I are done spinning at the end.
What about a favorite on-set moment?
Cody: Probably shooting the ending. We were running over-time and we were loosing crew, so even though the plan had always been to 'expose' the tear down of the set at the end, it was literally happening. It felt like the whole video, which we shot chronologically -- I always try to do that -- was leading up to that release. I remember everyone was out of breath. That felt nice.
Robyn: Yes I agree with Cody here as well! We had talked about camera movements that made you lose your orientation and just decided to do these last takes without thinking too much. The spinning Maluca and I did was super fun. It was a good way to end the shoot! We just went as long as we could before we had to close down the studio.
What does the record title mean to you?
Robyn: For me, it's something about letting things be the way they are. What does it mean to you?
Do you think that people need reminding?
Robyn: Yes, because most of us have brains that don't work properly. And there is not enough time to be together and support one another and ourselves in the kind of society we live in.
How does the track make you feel?
Robyn: I want to dance when I hear it. And act silly.
Text Francesca Dunn