Photo: Maximilian Ho
My favorite electronic-pop crossover act from 5th grade, college, and today is on her second major career comeback of my lifetime. Last weekend, I got to bear witness to the debut of Robyn’s new tour at Red Bull Music Festival LA, so I’m taking a moment to appreciate what an anomaly she is. Standing in the historic Hollywood Palladium, I found myself amidst a crowd ranging in age from early high-schoolers to middle-age, all of us dancing our asses off and belting out the lyrics to her biggest hits. Even Adele herself was in the thick of this multi-generation-spanning party — she posted a video of herself reeling with joy on Instagram while singing along to “Dancing On My Own.” If there were any doubt as to how impactful Robyn’s musical legacy has been, the voracious Adele co-sign ought to dispel that notion forever.
Robyn’s first international hit singles “Do You Know (What It Takes)” and “Show Me Love” were introduced to me at the local roller skating rink in elementary school, and then she all but disappeared. Following the success of her first album and those singles, she was diagnosed with exhaustion and forced to stop touring and return to her home country of Sweden to recover. Her next album wasn’t released in the US at all, and we were still on AOL dial-up back then, so there wasn’t much readily available access to music online. She became disillusioned with her lack of artistic control at her home label BMG and left to go to Jive Records in 2001, which should’ve put her back on the map in the US. But that deal only distributed her music in Europe, then ultimately dropped her in 2004 after her sound began to take its now legendary electro-pop turn. Then and only then was she free to start her very own label, Konichiwa Records, and the seeds of the first international Robyn comeback were planted.
By the time she hit my radar again with new music in 2008, I was a legal adult at the very beginning of my raving career, and she came back to me in the course of pursuing my newfound rave lifestyle via a dance collab with Kleerup called “With Every Heartbeat.” As an American fan from childhood who hadn’t seen or heard her name in a decade, I was positively floored when I saw her name appear on my SiriusXM car radio unit. A few years later, the first bombshell single “Dancing On My Own” off Body Talk Pt. 1 hit and the international comeback officially began. Body Talk Pt. 2 came out a few months later, which contained yet another massive dance-pop crossover hit “Hang With Me.” It also boasted a left-field Snoop Dogg feature on “U Should Know Better.” And that same year, for reasons I’ll never understand, she performed the deadmau5 remix of “Dancing On My Own” with him at the VMAs in 2010, and a month later released yet another club-smashing, one-of-a-kind crossover single, “Indestructible.”
At that point, Robyn could’ve disappeared from my music-sphere for another 10 years and I would’ve been okay, because she’d left me with so much jaw-droppingly satisfying work. But instead she turned around and did it to us again; right before going on tour in April 2011, she released “Call Your Girlfriend,” a heartfelt anthem with an unusual yet deeply humanizing subject matter that set Robyn apart in my book — who makes a song about gently letting down your new man’s soon-to-be ex? It’s so thoughtful and promotes integrity in relationships in such a cool way! That impressed the heck out of me, aside from the fact that it’s an absolute heater of a song. Both “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Indestructible” were contained on the third and final installation of Body Talk, which is now on streaming services as a singular, hour-long album, its final and most glorious form we’ve taken the liberty of embedding below.
I finally got to see Robyn live for the very first time that summer in 2011 at LA’s Hollywood Bowl, and it was my first time experiencing a truly hybrid rave and rock ‘n roll show. I’d seen her collaborators Röyksopp, who also appear on Body Talk on a song called “None of Dem,” earlier that same summer at EDC Las Vegas, and that was much closer to a straight-up DJ set. Her show combined the most powerful live elements of a rock show with the quick change-over format perks of a DJ set; it felt like her songs could turn on a dime and morph into the next. The adrenaline-rush nature of the show’s structure made the moment she played a stripped-down version of “Show Me Love” during the encore all the more intimate. It’s likely to be the one and only time I ever get to hear one of her old singles played live, and because her delivery was so acoustic it was nearly acapella, it hit that much harder compared to the rest of complex, highly orchestrated production.
Robyn’s 2019 return to the stage in LA was much more of a concert than a hybrid show, but she still managed to start a rave from the very first songs. She opened with “Send to Robin Immediately” and “Honey,” which are far from being bangers, but her fans came ready to dance and we weren’t going to waste a minute. It felt like I was dancing in slow motion in a sea of bodies, who all looked like they were doing some kind of interpretative dance. Whilst being swirled and high-fived and embraced by a swell of loving strangers, it soon became apparent we were all warming up for the impact of the first big banger drop that came on the third song, “Indestructible.” No one stopped moving the entire show, whether she was singing a ballad or a banger, and not a single person I saw was staring at their phone! I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Robyn, up there looking out at a city she hasn’t performed for in nearly a decade, and feeling the degree of love and camaraderie we were beaming back at her.
When you’re a young pop star, as she was when her early singles first blessed my ears at the skating rink, people tell you there’s a short window for your career, that you’ve got to hurry up and become a huge star before you get old and no one cares anymore. Lost in the joy of her songs new and old last weekend, surrounded by all sorts of different people who were clearly dedicated, lifelong fans, it’s obvious that old way of thinking is completely false. If your music is great, it doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are, and how much time passes between albums and tours. Granted, Robyn looks and sounds incredible: her last album Honey is spectacular and stands up next to all her biggest releases, and she’s going to be able to tour for the rest of her life, even if she waits another eight years between albums.
Her stage production was so elegantly simple, with white fabric hung and tied in different ways, and a few white faux-marble sculptures that were realistic with deliberately surreal nuances. When she pulled down the transparent piece of white fabric that ran around the front of the stage and it floated for a moment over the crowd, for a second it looked like a skinny little cloud suspended in mid-air, waiting for the beat to drop. The crowd went totally wild, just as wild as I’ve seen people go at big-budget arena shows, but Robyn’s production was no doubt laughably cheap compared to someone like Lady Gaga. The music was the sole focus; the show production was merely a functional container for our collective joy to spread out in.
Plus, all ride-or-die Robyn fans know there’s something innately cathartic about her music and that’s what we really came here to see. A Robyn concert isn’t just a few hours of distraction to take a break from our lives: the mix of emotion and straight banger-dom contained in her songs have the alchemic effect of facilitating actual release. I feel like I left every crusty remnant of old heartache on the dancefloor and it was better than therapy. She’s on tour in the US right now and if she’s coming anywhere near your city, do yourself a huge favor and catch this show; it sparks so much joy, Marie Kondo would need a flamethrower to even begin to compete. Check those upcoming dates here.