How We Met: Robyn & Johan Renck

'All my close friends are non-conformist; there is something positive about being on the outside'

Stockholm syndrome: Robyn (left) and Renck's friendship began when they were both pop stars in Sweden © Markus Marcetic
Stockholm syndrome: Robyn (left) and Renck's friendship began when they were both pop stars in Sweden © Markus Marcetic

Robyn, 28, is a Swedish singer-songwriter whose hits in the 1990s included 'Show Me Love'. Her comeback single, 'With Every Heartbeat', reached number one in the UK last August. She lives in Stockholm

When I was growing up, Johan was a big star in Sweden. Well, actually, he was more of a one-hit wonder. He had this silly name – "Stakka Bo" – and a massive number-one single when I was about 15.

We were both signed to the same record label, so we had lots of friends in common, but I didn't know him personally, as he was 10 years older than me. At the time Johan was dating La Camilla [Camilla Henemark], lead singer of the Swedish group Army of Lovers. I listened to their records at home, thinking they were the coolest people ever, and he was actually part of that scene, so it was pretty impressive to me.

I don't remember our very first meeting but every time we bumped into each other around Stockholm we had long discussions about music and art.

When he began directing music videos I was keen for us to work together, but he never wanted to. He's not pretentious at all, but I don't think he really liked what I was doing back then.

Eventually, when I started my own record label three years ago I went to him for advice. I think he realised I was growing into my own skin and he was very supportive. I hardly had any money to make music videos – and he doesn't do low-budget stuff – so he hooked me up with people who could help me out. Then, once things started to take off, he directed the video for my single "Handle Me".

I like people I work with to challenge me and that's what I get with Johan. He is unafraid to take risks. Some directors are so focused on their original idea that they freak out as soon as you try something new. They miss out on the possibilities.

Although Johan and I don't hang out all the time, when we do meet we have a real exchange of experiences and emotions. He is one of the few people I know who travels as much as I do, so he understands how schizophrenic it can feel and the distance you feel from home. We love sharing what we notice about different cultures and all these connections you make when you see so many places in a short space of time.

As you get older you realise you don't have to be best friends with everyone; it's nice to have different levels of connection with people in your life and Johan is someone I can engage with, even if it's only a couple of times a year. There's no pressure and that's what makes it so great.

Johan Renck, 41, is a director who has made music videos for Madonna, Kylie Minogue and The Libertines. His first feature film, Downloading Nancy, premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival. He lives in Stockholm

In the early-1990s, I was signed as a singer to the same label as Robyn. She was in her early teens and I was in my twenties, so we didn't hang out, but our paths crossed so many times that we slowly got to know each other and became friends. These days we bump into each other more in LA or London than in Stockholm.

Talent is always tantalising and in a small country like Sweden she made a really strong impression. She was so young but had this amazing voice and musicality, and actually wrote her own songs.

Robyn's personality has always set her apart too. She is very pure and not at all self-conscious. She doesn't try to be anything but herself and I think that's why she has been so successful, even though she is now doing something musically quite different to what she was putting out in the 1990s. She wants to do everything in the right way for the right reasons and that kind of integrity has universal appeal.

We've had an ongoing dialogue about her work over the years but it was only when she set up her own record label and decided to start again from scratch that we began to collaborate properly. In an ideal world, as a director you usually wish you could do your own thing and not have to take anyone else's point of view into account, but occasionally you work with someone like Robyn, who brings a new set of ideas to the table, and the whole ends up much greater than the sum of the parts.

Just by knowing Robyn I am constantly encountering something new. As soon as we get together we are like a couple of kids – we get so excited telling each other all the things we've seen and done since we last met. It might be some huge artistic idea or it could be just a dumb clip on YouTube.

Working with friends isn't easy – the nature of an artistic project means it's about two strong visions colliding and a bit of mental wrestling. Luckily it works for us – Robyn will tell me if she doesn't like one of my ideas, I'll sulk for two minutes and then we will get on with it. She's a lot more intellectual than your average pop star – she doesn't just stand there at a shoot chewing gum saying "That's cool" about everything. She has a very poetic approach to the process.

All my close friends are non-conformist. To say "misfits" sounds bad but there is something positive about being a little on the outside – it gives you an interesting perspective on things – and I think that's something Robyn and I share.

Robyn's new single, 'Who's That Girl?', is out tomorrow on Konichiwa

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