An oral history of her Kindness collaboration "Who Do You Love," inspired by a wild night out in Stockholm+ READ ARTICLE
Robyn is no stranger to outsider anthems (“Dream On”) or songs about drunken nights gone awry (“Dancing on My Own”), but she takes both of those ideas to another level with “Who Do You Love,” a song she co-wrote with Kindness — the solo project of British artist Adam Bainbridge — for his recently released album, Otherness. In this case, it’s not Robyn feeling alone, but a belligerent Swedish metalhead she and Bainbridge met after a night of heavy drinking and karaoke. The two were so moved by the encounter — which ended happily in a early-morning jam session — that they wrote a song about it.
TIME spoke to Robyn and Kindness (separately — their interviews have been lightly edited together) about what exactly went down that night, shooting the poignant new music video and what the ghost of Teena Marie may have had to do with the whole thing.
Bainbridge: Robyn approached me through her team and asked if we’d like to meet and hang out. That was the genesis of this whole project — just hanging out and spending time and discussing what we liked and didn’t like about music. We wrote this in Stockholm. Me, Robyn and Robyn’s partner had gone out and enjoyed a long boozy dinner, which was already probably sufficient for most people. That’s the point of the night where people would have stopped. Their energy spilled over into this karaoke session.
Robyn: We ended up having lots of beer. I think that Max, my boyfriend, wanted to make sure that he was not sober when he was singing with me and Adam.
Bainbridge: Max was reluctant to enter a karaoke situation with two professional musicians.
Robyn: We started doing only 30 seconds or one minute of each song because we wanted to go through more songs than we had time for. That’s a good karaoke tip, if you only have an hour or half an hour left. One song that I like to do is a classic — it’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Bainbridge: The manager of the karaoke bar knew them very well and was extremely apologetic when he finally had to knock on the door and say, “Look, we closed an hour ago, do you mind going home?” It would have been pretty late — 3 or 4 in the morning. We spill out onto the streets of Stockholm.
Robyn: We ran into this guy who seemed to be in a really bad mood.
Bainbridge: Most people in Stockholm are going to know Robyn’s face. She’s one of the more well known living Swedes at this point in time. He became instantly defensive in a way that suggested he expected to be looked down upon or scorned because she was a celebrity and he was this drunk metalhead on his way home.
It was like Taylor Swift stopping you in the streets of Nashville and being like, “You’re eating the fries I want.”Robyn: In Sweden people are very relaxed and leave me alone. I’ve been really lucky in that way, but I think also people know that I’m maybe not so interested in being seen. It’s such a weird thing to be famous. I’m really, really happy — I like what I do and that they want to buy my music. But it’s still important to talk about celebrities as something that’s quite weird. It’s not something that we should strive for. It’s a really strange way of projecting your feelings on someone. We all have that need — even if we didn’t have any famous people in society, we project things on the people we love. It’s part of being human, but [being famous] is a very extreme form of being human. Well, not extreme — but it’s very loose, and it can be used in a bad way. I don’t even want to use it. I just want to look at it and take responsibility for it.
Bainbridge: My suggestion at the time was to call it a night and go home. There’s no need to get into deep philosophical discussions with random drunk guys on the street. Max insisted, “No, no, we should just try talking to this guy.” He turned to [the man] Johan and said, “What are you so angry about? What is it that we did that makes you feel uncomfortable?”
Robyn: Me and Max usually do that when we’re drunk and meet someone in a bad mood. We’re both those kinds of people who want to do therapy on people. It’s really a positive behavior when you’re drunk, but sometimes it can be a little unnecessary.
Bainbridge: The guy realized no one was trying to make him look stupid or feel bad, and he suddenly became very friendly and excited. “If you’re musicians and I’m a musician, why don’t you come back to my guitar store and jam?” I’m looking at the two of them communicating with my eyes, “Please, no guitar store at four in the morning! Really? Really?”
Robyn: I think he wanted to do something nice for us.
Bainbridge: We even picked up another guy on the street who was also a Robyn fan. Robyn said, “I really feel like some sour cream and onion chips.” And this guy was walking passed in the other direction with a bag of chips. She said, “You! You have the exact chips I’d like!” And he was like, “Uh, hello?” It was like Taylor Swift stopping you in the streets of Nashville and being like, “You’re eating the fries I want,” and then insisting that individual comes with them.
Robyn: It’s how I work when I’m drunk! It might sound like I’m out of control, but I’m not. Sometimes when I party I like to be spontaneous.
Bainbridge: I’m looking at the guy with the chips like, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know why any of us are here, but they seem to be having fun. If you want to join in, by all means.” We were turning instruments on and plugging them in and making a mess.
Robyn: We just stayed there for a couple hours. I broke a drum set.
Bainbridge: My potential disclaimer to this is I don’t think Johan’s employers to this day know that he did that. He doesn’t even actually work in the guitar store. He works in admin in an office building on the other side of town. But I think if they’re not Googling themselves too often, it’ll be fine.
You know when you’re hungover in this strange way, where you’re almost in a different dimension? Really floating around?Robyn: I don’t think any of us thought that we would accomplish anything that day because we were so hungover. You know when you’re hungover in this strange way, where you’re almost in a different dimension? Like, really floating around?
Bainbridge: The next morning, as each of our brains came online, there was really this common understanding that something bonkers had happened — maybe even more so in a conservative culture like Sweden.
Robyn: It is not a spontaneous culture. It’s not very common that you go out into the street and talk to anyone that you meet. And we have this relationship with alcohol that’s quite complicated. People internalize a lot of things, and then they go out and get really really drunk on the weekends. There’s maybe a way of processing things that way, too. There’s this muted way of being that definitely is specific for Sweden.
Bainbridge: You come across slightly belligerent punks in the street in the street all the time. The last thing you expect is that you’ll end up playing “Smoke on the Water” with them in a guitar store. The best way to immortalize it was to write a song about it. What had made this guy seem so alienated from the rest of Swedish society? What is your identity if you’re not sure who your friends and loved ones are? Who you love is a pretty direct indication of who you are and how you relate to other people.
Robyn: I just saw this lonely person, and I recognized myself in that person. I know what that feels like — feeling alone even though you’re not — and how painful that can be. It didn’t really occur to me when we wrote it, but now I can see that it’s about community. A lot of times we feel like we’re not connected to anything, but the fact is, we’re connected, all of us together, to everything. Everything is connected! And it’s really easy to forget. The song is about when you aim, but you miss — like you want to feel connected, but you don’t know how.
Bainbridge: There’s a united front of melancholy in what myself and Robyn do. That still needs further definition sometimes. What are we feeling melancholic about? This had everything: the alienation of the guy that feels angry and doesn’t know why, the optimism and utopian idea of people coming together. And it actually happened — it’s not la di da, wouldn’t it be great if we could all hold hands and play the bongos? That happened for real.
Robyn: Most of the time when you write music, it’s not like therapy, it’s like a way of reaching your unconsciousness. A lot of time I write about things that happen later in my life, so it’s almost like I’m predicting the future.
Bainbridge: Robyn’s earliest music making came from the mid-90s hit factory. It was Max Martin, big record deals and flying on a Concorde to do TV shows. That brings with it a certain amount of hard work and discipline and stamina. Crazy endurance! I have a somewhat different approach that’s about watching stuff on YouTube and eating long leisurely lunches and then doing everything in an hour. It’s interesting to see where the two work practices meet in the middle.
Robyn: I like to live with songs for awhile. Maybe it takes me some time sometimes to decide what to do. Once I’ve decided, I can usually get something out pretty quickly, and maybe thats the way music happens — or feelings happen.
Bainbridge: It was written and recorded in Stockholm, but we ended up recording the final vocal in L.A. whenever the Grammys were. We were just trying to get work done with friends and make stuff happen. We ended up working with Syd the Kyd from Odd Future, who had a studio at the time called Chateau Marie, which was Teena Marie’s old studio. Working there, recording these vocals with the idea of just finishing this song, it was nuts. It was this feeling of family and coincidence, and it was a nice place to bring the story to a close and really globalize the song. Maybe the spirit of Teena Marie is in there.
Robyn: The [music video] idea that we ended up recording was [director] Daniel Brereton’s idea. He had this idea about shooting faces of people we love. It was very simple, but that’s also sometimes the best thing. It came together over a day, but we also had an extra day for shooting my grandma, who’s 97 years old, and my boyfriend, Max, because they couldn’t be there.
Bainbridge: I said to Robyn for months, “Maybe if you want him to be in the video, maybe we should warn him in advance?” It would be weird for him if we just lurched up and said, “Remember us? Want to do a video for a song we wrote with you in mind?” She didn’t. She put it off and put it off and put it off. I think it was for the best, because we were able to track him down the day we were shooting the video in Stockholm.
Robyn: My assistant tracked him down the same day we shot him. He doesn’t work at the music store. He works at the office of the music store now. We had to call around a little bit, but we found him. He came after work — he wanted to go home and put on his best clothes.
Bainbridge: We did these shots where it’s the three of us standing together, and finally at that moment something he [started] thinking, “Wait, what is going on?” You could see a change come over him where he got a little freaked out. It’s understandable. I would have been freaked out in that situation, but it worked out for the best. If he had months to think about why we were asking him, it would have been more overwhelming.
Robyn: It was really important that he was in the video. There’s no irony in it. It’s very sincere, and it comes from a real place. I think when he came there he was like, “What do these people really want from me?” When he left, I felt he had a good feeling about it.
Bainbridge: It feels pretty special as a music video for me. I don’t think it’s a frequent experience to be moved by a four-minute music video. Admittedly, this is full of a lot of faces that mean a lot to me. But the visual aspect of a song couldn’t have been done better in this case. It has all of the feeling and the emotion in the song and it does exactly what we wanted. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever been 100 percent satisfied with a video.
Robyn: He was totally cool. I hope, and I want to think, that he had nothing but good intentions for us. We only shot the video like a month ago. Maybe we’ll see each other again, but we don’t talk to each other on daily basis. We aren’t best friends, but we had a good experience together.