How To Write The Perfect Pop Song

Robyn’s new single ‘Dancing On My Own’ is a bit of a tune. So we thought we’d ask the Swedish pop empress to share her songwriting advice

Start with the basics
Even though my music is electronic, I almost always write songs initially on guitar, or sometimes piano. The melody always comes first. To begin with I just sing made up words, sometimes not even in English. The lyrics come later.

Inspiration can strike at any time…
With ‘Dancing On My Own’ the chorus dropped into my head while I was out, so I sang it into my Eriksson phone so I wouldn’t forget it. Similarly, when I came up with the vocal hook in ‘With Every Heartbeat’, I was out driving. I’d had the beat on a tape for months, listening to it constantly, then one day something clicked, and I started singing that melody.

…And come from unexpected sources
The beat for ‘Dancing On My Own’ was inspired by (German synth-pop pioneers) D.A.F. That might sound kind of obscure, but [producer] Patrick Berger and I listened to them a lot in the studio.

Melancholy is a powerful emotion
‘Dancing On My Own’ is a sad song. It started out much slower, it was depressing but beautiful, almost like a Glasvegas song. Of course at that time, it was November in Stockholm, very dark outside and gloomy. Obviously it came out sounding very different, with a big, four-to-the-floor beat underneath it. But I love that juxtaposition, the combination of sadness and strength.

Learn from the masters
The most perfect pop song ever is Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. I come back to it time and again. I think what I love about is the simplicity. The production is bold (the song famously lacks a bassline), and there’s a melancholy quality to the song too. That’s been a big influence on me.

Write strong characters
People say I write a lot about heartbreak, but if you look at the lyrics to ‘Dancing On My Own’, she’s not a victim in that song. Because of what I do, I spend a lot of time in clubs, and that’s where I get a lot of my ideas – watching people, the emotional side of why people dance, what they’re trying to escape from.

Find good collaborators
I wrote ‘With Every Heartbeat’ with Andreas (Kleerup), and it just so happened that, at that time, he was breaking up with his girlfriend. So that fed into how I sang the song. Similarly, on the new album, working with Diplo and Royksopp – sometimes you meet someone and you connect, it’s just easy and relaxed. I’m not remotely strategic in the way I pick collaborators. It’s a combination of instinct and luck.

Maintain a strong work ethic
My advice to songwriters? Keep working. Don’t have big breaks in between writing, because you need to be there when inspiration strikes. The truth is, I just don’t know what makes me write a song. If I did, I’d be able to do it all the time.

‘Dancing On My Own’, and its parent album ‘Body Talk Part 1’, are both released on June 14.