Robyn's First Commercial: Inside Volvo's New 'Made By Sweden' Ad Featuring 'Monument'
"It's not a commercial about a car -- it's a commercial about a way of thinking," says the Swedish pop star.
"I've never done commercials before, or anything like this," says Robyn, discussing her appearance in a new Volvo television spot while video-chatting from her kitchen in Stockholm. "I really wanted to make sure I could make something that didn't feel like an intrusion."
Like most Swedish residents, which Robyn describes as being "more than a little reserved," the singer-songwriter is impossibly polite. But she's also deeply passionate about saving the environment, a topic that has led to an unexpected collaboration with an automobile company. Over the course of a music career that has stretched nearly two decades and has included a handful of critically adored pop hits, Robyn has never once used her music to soundtrack an advertisement, much less appeared in one. Earlier this year, however, the Swedish performer decided to join the new 'Made By Sweden' ad campaign from Volvo -- the multinational manufacturing corporation based in Gothenbeurg, Sweden -- and star in the commercial, which features her new song with Royksöpp, "Monument." Robyn is the third artist to appear in the 'Made By Sweden' campaign, following the company's collaboration with Swedish House Mafia in 2013 and with Swedish football superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier this year.
The 150-second ad features Robyn driving through a neon-infused Los Angeles, chatting on the phone with a friend from Sweden about feeling like "a tiny little drop in a huge bucket" while flashes of Swedish nature light up the night sky. "All we have is now," Robyn's voice echoes as she explores L.A., taking detours through arcades and karaoke rooms before driving toward a sunrise.
"It's not a commercial about a car -- it's a commercial about a way of thinking," Robyn tells Billboard. Indeed, the sprawling advertisement is for Volvo's new Drive-E engines, low-emission alternatives that will be made available with all of the company's 2015 models. Directed by Robyn's boyfriend, Max Vitali, the commercial prods at environmental issues by juxtaposing the cityscape and serenity of nature, and promises engines that reduce emissions by 30 percent. It also offers Robyn -- a outspoken advocate of global warming awareness -- as a new proponent of their cause.
"I think about it all the time," says Robyn of climate change. "The system we're in is so wrong, and you want to do something, but you can't, because you're relying on energy that's being produced in a way that's not good for the environment. You need to travel, but there's no reliable way to travel if you want to be kind to nature… With this commercial, I used my own doubts and anxiety about the environment."
Robyn first began talking with Volvo about joining their campaign in early March, while putting the finishing touches on "Do It Again," her five-song "mini-album" with Röyksopp due out on May 26. Per Carleö, the marketing manager of Volvo Cars Sweden, says that he was one of the first people to hear "Monument," which Robyn played for him on a drive through Stockholm.
"Robyn is a world-famous pop star -- she's associated with Sweden, but she's got the whole world as her stage," says Carleö. "She takes that unique Swedish-ness and brings it out into the world, and we think we're doing the same thing at Volvo."
Robyn says that Volvo was extremely open to her concept for the commercial, which she filmed in Los Angeles with Vitali over a three-week period of planning, writing and shooting. The natural shots were filmed near Robyn's own country house in Sweden, and the dialogue was written by the pop star.
"I wanted it to be personal, and it was very, very challenging to make something that wasn't about pointing fingers or that was depressing," she says. "I wanted to express that the only thing we really have is each other. Maybe there's no real answer right now, but it's nice to know that other people are thinking about it as well."
The international version of Robyn's 'Made By Sweden' commercial launched online and on television in Sweden on May 2, and Carleö says that the plan is to bring the ad to different markets slowly, starting in Europe and expanding to Asia and North America. Robyn recently recorded the vocals for the English version of the ad, which debuted online on May 21 and will likely be hitting U.S. television soon.
"It's been hectic, but it's been exciting," says Robyn about starring in her first commercial while simultaneously prepping the release of "Do It Again." "I learned a lot about myself, and I spoke to a lot of people who do research on environmental issues. I had a lot of existential conversations with my friends about, 'How do you make a difference? How do you work in a commercial context as an artist?' It's been interesting."