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Robyn Isn’t Done Transforming Pop Music

Written By Sam Murphy on 10/26/2018

Amongst pop enthusiasts, Robyn is arguably the most influential pop star of the 21st century. She diversified dance floor emotion with bursting, heartbroken love songs that sounded simple but were rich in texture. If you want to go there, you could say Robyn made pop music ‘credible’. She brought it to indie rock-dog blogs and publications when they were turning a blind-eye to her peers. Madonna and many others raise a valid argument as to why that is ludicrous and the fault of those publications rather than pop but let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Today we’re celebrating Robyn.

It’s important to acknowledge Robyn’s past. It’s the reason why she’s got adoring fans, critical acclaim and hype after an eight year gap but it’s not a shadow to cast on her latest album ‘Honey’. The press surrounding this album has focused on how Robyn has transformed pop. That’s incorrect. She’s transforming pop. When popstars (female popstars in particular) reach a certain age there’s a tendency for the press to write a retrospective rather than focus on the current. Robyn’s past is important to ‘Honey’ but today we’re not celebrating Dancing On My Own, we’re celebrating ‘Honey’, an album that stands firmly on its own, not buoyed by legacy.

‘Honey’ is easily Robyn’s most challenging album. It’s a slower, softer record than its predecessors. Sure there are immediate moments but you won’t find a Call Your Girlfriend chorus here. At its heart, ‘Honey’ is a club record. Cyclical and looping, you can chime in on nearly every song at any point and get what you need. It’s spacious, giving us a chance to inject ourselves into it without offering easy conclusions. Club music is a marathon not a sprint and while ‘Honey’ is Robyn’s shortest album, it requires the most endurance and patience. It won’t give you glory quickly, but it’s there.

The most immediate example of this is the title track. An early demo of the song, featured on ‘Girls’, oozed sweetness with its pop-leaning production but the final version strips us of that immediacy. It swells over a pulsating, relentless beat rarely deviating from the same heartline. It’s the kind of song you’d find dizzying epiphanies in at 3am in a sweaty club and that’s he point. “Come get your Honey,” she sings, because she’s not serving it to you on a silver platter.

With the track list sequences almost exactly as she wrote it, the album is a journey. It’s heartbroken, despairing, drunk, playful and hopeful. On opener Missing You, the beat twinkles as she sings about an “empty space”. It takes her the entire album to fill that space as best she can. She ends the record in a dizzying, climatic fashion singing “never gonna be broken-hearted again.” Its a hyperbolic statement but for the pop star that brought heartbreak to the dance floor, it’s a promise that she won’t let herself get to the lows she got to during this album and her last.

In between those two beautiful, contradicting moments, Robyn attempt to heal. She dances, thinks, loves and loses, taking refuge in club music. Dancing is a large part of Robyn’s therapy and even when she’s at her lowest she doesn’t stop.

On Human Being, she reckons with her place in the world taking an almost nihilistic view. That’s matched by a minimalistic spacious beat which, even though it thumps, sounds silent at points. The space is existent on several of these tracks and it increases the subjectivity of the moments. Baby Forgive Me is similarly minimal with Robyn relying on her tender vocal and direct lyrics to pull on the heart strings.

“Just let me make you smile again baby, I know we can work it out,” she sings as if she’s sure while sounding hardly sure at all in her vulnerable vocal.

On the lighter moments, like the playful Beach 2k20, she’s relaxed rather than forcefully elated. She contemplates going to a “nice place” by the beach over a samba-meets-house beat. The subject matter verges on dull but it’s Robyn’s ability to make those smaller moments pertinent that make her such a force in a genre that trades in sweeping statements.

Joe Mount of Metronomy’s influence becomes apparent on the disco-flavoured Because The Music where Robyn nostalgically recounts a song that her and her ex-lover felt was written for them. It’s a sweet moment made all the more sweeter by the fact that so many of her fans have felt at one point that Robyn’s music was written for them.

One of Robyn’s greatest strengths is that she allows the listener to place themselves within her music and it’s never more evident than on ‘Honey’. Robyn has had a profound few years losing a close collaborator and also splitting with her husband but instead of Robyn being the subject, the subject is us. She finds a way to make those feelings universal in the hope that her listeners will be able to resonate in a way that’s uniquely them. I’ve never met Robyn nor have I lived a parallel life but at times it feels like ‘Honey’ was written for me.

Once again on ‘Honey’ Robyn forges forward, transforming pop. She’s completely unphased by trends and instead she’s looking at what she can do for herself and her listeners. ‘Honey’ is ready to inform a whole new generation of heartbroken, bemused and wondrous kids on the dance floor as well as those that have been there since day one. Come get your honey…