PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Peckmezian
I am featuring an artist I have meant to include for a long time now. I shall come to Robyn and her latest track in a bit but, at the moment, I am compelled to talk about Pop survivors and those who grow and inspire through the years; why the likes of Robyn provide a lot more depth and inspiration than many of her peers; artists who talk about their personal struggles and how helpful that can be to people in a similar position; the European influence on the music scene, then and now, and the effect seriously great and intelligent music can have on you – I will talk a bit about where Robyn might head next. To start things off, I think one needs to look at someone like Robyn in terms of stamina and appeal. There are so many Pop artists who sort of arrive and then fade away after a few years. Aside from some mainstays such as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, there are a fair few artists in the mainstream who have not been around that long. I do think that modern Pop artists understand that, in order to remain and retain popularity, they need to be a bit bolder and original with their sounds. The ones that sort of disappear tend to stick too rigidly to the commercial line; get stuck in a mindset that offers little in the way of interest and depth. Robyn has been in the industry for her while but her 1995 debut, Robyn Is Here, was received well. In 1995, she was a pleasing alternative to the more conventional and sanitised Pop artists on the scene. For those who wanted something a little less routine and manufactured, Robyn was this necessary tonic and relief. Since then, she has continued to evolve and make her mark on music. Her latest album, 2018’s Honey, was another blockbuster and an album that gained a lot of love. By being herself and not following what everyone else is doing, Robyn has remained relevant and hugely popular.
This is encouraging to see because, as I said, there are not that many artists in the mainstream who have the same attitude as her. In fact, the reason there are some long-lasting artists in Pop is because of the likes of Robyn and their mark. If everyone writes about the same thing and follows the commercial, you never have any sense of survival and artists will naturally fade away. I have a lot of respect for artists who can weather the decades and adapt accordingly. What bothers me about modern music is the fact there are so many of these short-term artists that seem to say the same thing. Robyn has been around since the 1990s and she has not doggedly stuck with the same sound and hoped that works. Instead, she has worked with different people and changed accordingly. Her music has that nice mixture of the personal and revealing teamed with something a bit more, well, fun and less serious. That might not be the best description but I do not like artists who are always so serious and open; similarly, those who stray away from their own lives entirely can grow a bit weary. I love Robyn because her music is always compelling and fresh but she manages to put her heart and soul onto the page. Robyn is forty now and, as I will explain, there is this issue of ageism that has hung around music for decades. There is no sign of Robyn slowing and I do hope she continues to make music for decades more. Those who remain and continue to make music should be respected because I think the industry is a lot tougher now than it was a decade or two ago. Pop is a genre that is pretty broad and ever-changing but, in the modern scene, there is a big split between the more commercial artists and those who go deeper. Robyn is definitely someone who surpasses her peers and has inspired so many artists today.
PHOTO CREDIT: Max Vitali
I will bring in an interview she gave to The Evening Standard where she talks about how she fought against issues and spent some time away from the industry. It is a very brave and honest interview and one that proves Robyn is a survivor and inspiring soul. I think that is one area of appeal that many people overlook. Since her debut album, Robyn has been through some tough times and doubts and, with every album, she amazes and drops jaws. I think it is that sense of honesty she puts into the music and the fact that, with everything she does, you feel this sense of wonder and reveal. By that, Robyn packs in so many different ideas and layers. So many of her peers stick with flat beats and processed compositions. Their lyrics are often pretty stilted and samey and you never get this sense they are attempting to be different and stand out. Robyn, instead, brings magic and textures to every song. Whether it is an outright banger or a track that has more emotional candour, she never stands still and is always looking to tackle new ground. So many artists do stand still and they continue to churn out songs that will get into the charts and are pretty simple. We are seeing Pop artists emerge that are Robyn-like in terms of their qualities and sense of adventure. Still, there is this mass in the mainstream that keeps on talking about love and heartache in a pretty ordinary and predictable way. You never feel like you’re hearing something different or there is any real intent to captivate the listener. With Robyn, one can imagine every album is a chance to improve on the last. With Honey, she provided something warm, forward-thinking and satisfying. Look back at 2010’s Body Talk and that was a slightly chillier record in terms of its themes and sounds. Maybe, as I will investigate, personal circumstances and changes meant there was this gap between records; a shift in sound that was quite necessary.
PHOTO CREDIT: Heji Shin
Every review you see for a Robyn album seems to highlight her forward-thinking attitude and approach. Rather than copy everyone else and stick what is perceived as ‘needed’, she changes between records and gives the world something fresh. I feel those who make these switches between albums will remain in music longer than artists who simply trot out the same thing. I have a lot of respect for Pop artists in general and the variety available but I do think few are capable of evolving and trying something different with albums. It is hard putting your own stamp on the industry and being this pioneer but, as Robyn shows, when you keep moving then all these wonderful possibilities come to light. I shall move on from this subject in a minute but I am keen to exploit Robyn’s gifts and how she has remained at the top of the tree for decades. Honey gained such warmth and applause because it is an album that gets into the head and does make you feel warmer. It is not always joyful and positive but, for the most part, it is a sensational album that brings together some of her previous aspects but has this whole new perspective running through.
Maybe, having taken a bit of a break and addressed some personal issues, the response to that was an attack of positivity. At a time when so many artists are reflecting something negative and haunted, artists like Robyn are very much needed. I am not saying everyone writes only upbeat songs but, if you look around, there is so much struggle and anxiety coming out. I do think we need that balance. Robyn is this leading light who always surprises us but, at a time when we need something quite positive and energised, she is here to comply. Robyn’s continued lust and pioneering spirit is deeply impressive and so many of her contemporaries could learn from her. Robyn has influenced so many artists performing now and, with no signs of her slowing, she will do this for many more years.
PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Huynh
We often hear artists’ struggles and personal problems through their music but we do not really get much from them in interviews. Maybe artists are reluctant to interview or they do so many that the answers all sound the same. How often does one hear a genuinely compelling artist who speaks openly and really makes you stand to attention? I cannot name many but, with regards that need, Robyn is a different case altogether. When she spoke with The Evening Standard whilst promoting Honey last year, she talked about this sense of rebirth and revival. The interview is worth checking out in full but I have selected a couple of passages that sort of prove what I mean about Robyn. She is very candid and open regarding her state of mind previously and how she coped with challenging times:
“But for a long time, Robyn didn’t want to engage with music or the world at large. She stayed home in her Stockholm apartment watching TV (“Game of Thrones!”) in her pyjamas. She also spent a lot of time in LA, saw friends, went clubbing, read a lot of books. “And I went to therapy three times a week.”
No medication, or self-medication? Robyn shakes her head. “Well, I think psychedelic drugs are definitely useful,” she clarifies, “in those periods of your life.” Does she mean microdosing?
It was all about rediscovering her purpose. Or, the purpose of her music. “I thought: ‘What is so special about me that I have to take up all this space in people’s consciousness and tell them about my feelings? What can I offer them?’
“Maybe that’s why I like people like David Bowie and Prince. I seriously feel like Bowie was an astronaut who went into space and experienced things and brought back these... treasures,” she says, beaming”.
It is wonderful reading interviews with Robyn because she is very engaging and revealing. I like the fact Robyn has regained her spark and is putting that into music.
Another interview I wanted to bring in, with The Guardian, talks about the building anticipation and excitement; how she has remained relevant and popular these years and how her personal life has never been a major factor regarding her appeal:
“The anticipation around Robyn’s new work couldn’t be greater, but in 2018, at 39 years old, she feels she has nothing to prove – especially not to an ageist industry that, despite being imprinted with her image, may not continue to accommodate her. Two days after the party at Pikes, I met Robyn at the villa she was renting at the top of a slalom-like path through the densely wooded Ibiza hills. As we talked, overlooking the pool and a raked gravel garden, friends emerged from their rave cocoons to receive a plate of eggs from her confidante and collaborator Adam Bainbridge (AKA British producer Kindness). The air smelled like hot cedar. Despite the 31C heat, and having spent the past week clubbing and working, Robyn, wearing a white smock over a complicated white swimsuit, looked unfairly like an embodiment of the surrounding calm.
Unlike most female pop stars subject to mass idolatry, Robyn’s personal life has never been part of her appeal. (She shrugged off a question about the band on her ring finger.) Instead, her songs function as talismans affirming the nobility of heartbreak and the importance of standing by your convictions without needing to know anything about hers. “Even when she’s being vulnerable, you feel safe being taken on the journey with her,” says comedian and fan Andy Samberg. In a Robyn song, you have the right to desolate heartbreak and the perfectly valid urge to stalk your ex to make triple-sure it is over. This connection is how Robyn always wanted fans to relate to her music, as she did with Kate Bush in the 1980s. But her new album necessitated personal revelations.
Emulating Robyn’s sound is possible; maintaining her creative control is harder. Long after she had proved herself, the micromanagement from industry executives could still reach absurd lows. “When I did the video for Handle Me [in 2007],” she said, “I had quite strong eyebrows, which now isn’t a weird thing at all – everybody has eyebrows – but back then it was, like, considered being super unsexy, and I remember my American label wanting me to redo the video.” (She refused.)
PHOTO CREDIT: Liz Collins
Selling an attitude of independence has been crucial to the allure of most major female pop stars since Madonna, but there is a chasm between the carefully curated appearance of sovereignty – a mainstay of branded feminism – and actually running your business. “Getting that control takes a lot of stamina, and a lot of drilling, drilling, drilling,” said Robyn. Daring to ask questions and revealing your lack of knowledge makes you insecure, even vulnerable. “It’s not a sexy process, although the result is, of course, something that’s very desirable for people. I think getting there has been something that I’m admired for by the industry, but people that have been very close to it, they haven’t been very impressed”.
I have dropped in a lot of other people’s words there but it helps to illustrate where Robyn has come from and what she has had to endure. Honey was one of last year’s best records and we are excited to see where Robyn ventures next. Ever Again is the final track from Honey and, whilst the album has been out a while, I was keen to cover this latest single because it is sort of the end of a chapter. Robyn will be looking ahead and seeing what comes next. I will go on to talk about European influence in music but, from an intellectual stance, Robyn’s music surpasses most of what is out there. Not only is she a very wise and compelling interviewee - but you can hear that intelligence in her music. Her melodies and choruses have a warm heart and are definitely catchy but there is nuance in there so that you come back time and time again. Rather than spew out the same lyrics as everyone else and limit her imagination, Robyn is much freer with the pen and takes you something unique. That is a hard thing to do in modern music and yet Robyn has been doing it for years. It is testament to her talent and determination that this Pop leader is striking and surprising nearly twenty-five years after her debut album.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Peckmezian
I am keen to review Robyn’s new single in a minute but the fact she was born in Sweden makes me think about European music. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, European artists made a huge impact on Dance and Pop music. In fact, I do feel they were on a level par with the artists of the U.K. and U.S. Their naturally upbeat disposition gave the music scene this spark and colour that has not quite been rekindled. From great Pop bands to Dance innovators, there was this period of great joy and togetherness and, right near the front, European artists were there and adding their weight. I do think Sweden has always been vital and I associate the nation’s artists with a sense of upbeat you do not get anywhere else. Maybe that is a reflection of the quality of life one experiences in Sweden or the fact the people are more optimistic. Whatever the reason, one cannot deny that Swedish artists have given music so much. Look at Norway, too, and new artists like Sigrid are producing seriously intoxicating Pop. Like Robyn, she can create very intelligent and long-lasting songs that have big waves and thoughts. Sigrid can write in a very personal way but she does not weigh her music down with gloom and anxiety. I think, as the U.K. heads out of the E.U., we are becoming disconnected but we cannot ignore the relevance of European artists. I am not sure whether Robyn is actually still based in Sweden but she definitely has this natural way with choruses and words that reminds me of that great Pop and Dance from the 1980s/1990s. I shall move on to reviewing territory now because, I hope, I have explained enough about Robyn’s charm, wonder and unique edge. Ever Again is a fantastic song and one, I feel, that did not get singled out enough when people were reviewing Honey. I guess the next step from her will be another album but, right now, I am keen to assess this wonderful dollop of Honey.
PHOTO CREDIT: Björn Borg
From the opening beats and drive of Ever Again, it seems Robyn is not messing around. Her voice remains composed and disciplined as she takes a lover to task. Rather than scorn and put a lot of hatred out there, she is keen to get things out in the open. Maybe the two had an old rhythm that has been lost and it seems like the heroine does not want the same old s*it to dominate the relationship. Robyn is in control and she switches between tender and tense. There is a sense that things have sort of taken a turn for the worse in a relationship but Robyn is looking to embrace positivity rather than turn in on herself. It seems that Ever Again is this declaration of intent: Robyn is not going to be brokenhearted again and, instead, she will embrace love and wants to feel happy. It is almost an alien message at a time when so many artists are heading in a different direction. I am not sure whether the sweethearts are on the same page because, whilst it is clear there are issues, Robyn does not want to feel sad and broken down. She is making her feelings known and ensuring that all of that crap does not ruin things. As the song continues, Robyn explains that there is that possibility things can go wrong and, if they do not communicate, the relationship will break. She wants things out in the open and that passage of conversation to open. The sound of Ever Again will be familiar to fans of Robyn. There is that stunning beat and physicality but a vocal that mixes sweetness and determination. The electronics/synths are warm and bubbling and one listens to the song first time around and, after a while, it keeps coming back and you find yourself addicted. There are not that many different lyrics on Ever Again. Instead, there is more of a mantra that runs through the song.
Robyn wants this love to remain and endure because it is a very good thing. She knows there are issues and problems underneath the surface but they are quite minor and should not compromise what they have. Robyn wants her lover to be who they are and not hide things away. It is inspiring hearing a song where the artist wants their lover to be open and not change who they are. Rather than embrace and fixate on all the small things and the issues that could burst to the surface, Robyn wants them to tackle this ahead of time and have a more open and stress-free relationship. We do not hear this type of song often and the positivity that comes from every line is to be admired. Ever Again is a peach of a song that ends a rather fantastic album. I think it is the singularity of the album and the fact there are very few collaborations that gives it such focus. Rather than stuff too many people in the mix, Robyn comes from a much more personal place. The music, as always, is exhilarating and you cannot help but feel lifted listening to Robyn. If you have not discovered Honey then make sure you go out and get the album. It is full of positivity and warmth and comes from an artist who has made changes in her life. I am not sure whether she is in a relationship right now but this sense of openness and freedom is very pleasing.
The fact she approaches love with a very open-minded and mature stance means the songs, I think, make you feel better. That sense of joy is more powerful than catharsis or unhappy release. There are few artists in music that are as consistent and wonderful as Robyn. She is always amazing and keeps on making these albums that surpass everything out there. It does make one wonder where she will head next and, given she is in a more positive space, there is a lot of cracking music to come. If you need a jam that will get you moving and put a smile on your face, make sure you check out Ever Again. Although the Honey album was released last year, Ever Again’s video is fresh and warrants a lot of praise. Robyn is one of my favourite artists in music and I think there is nobody like her. Long may she reign and compel.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jonas Unger
Robyn is busy touring at the moment and has recently played in the U.K. This review from The Guardian shows why Robyn is one of the most celebrated live performer out there regarding how she makes people feel and what she puts into a show:
“Tonight, she makes the 10,000-strong heaving mass wait. In fact, for the first 90 seconds of the gently pulsating Send to Robin Immediately [sic], she isn’t even on stage. She appears only as the beat starts to throb, and even then she stands stock-still as gauzy, white fabric billows around a giant statue of caressing hands. The tension doesn’t snap until the third song, Indestructible, initiated by an expertly timed clap. From that moment on, the crowd are in the palm of her hands, as each song bleeds into the next like an immaculately crafted DJ set aimed at puncturing and then suturing the heart. The coiled frustration of Be Mine, during which Robyn yanks down a sheet that had acted as the final barrier between her and her sweaty disciples, rubs shoulders with the upbeat Ever Again, while the disco-tinged Because It’s in the Music (“and it makes me want to cry”) is healed by the groove-lead balm of Between the Lines”.
It seems like Robyn is loving music right now and is excited to be on the road. I think she is revitalised and you can tell she is entering a new phase of life. There will be some in the industry that say, as she is forty, her music is going to be relegated to certain stations and is lacking necessary cool. The fact that she continues to make some of the best music around proves that age is irrelevant. I do think that ageism is an horrible thing and is a reason why so many great artists are overlooked when it comes to airplay and festival bookings. Robyn has been changing the game for many years and we owe her a lot of respect. If you can catch her on the road, make sure you check her out. In any case, go and get Honey and experience her wonderful music. She has been making music for a very long time and I know she will carry on for many more years. There are few artists who continuously stun the sense and subvert expectations. For that reason, Robyn is someone we need to hold dearly because she absolutely is…
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Peckmezian
A true original.
ALL UNCREDITED PHOTOS: