If you listen closely, and I mean really press your ears to the wall, you will hear a throbbing heartbeat vibrating beneath the synth-laden, bass and beat-orchestrated productions of Swedish singer, songwriter and original musical saint of the sad and forlorn, Robyn. From the backbone that holds up the 90s blueprint How, the anatomical prologue of Underneath The Heart, a drifting ballad of unrequited longing, to the more robust build-up of With Every Heartbeat, the rhythmic lub-dub pulsates confidently, searing deep into your conscious before making you relent to the progressions and gutting lyrics that has in one way or another, defined a chapter of your life.
LET’S TALK BODY OF WORK
Even as the Scandinavian answer to the thriving and diabetes-inducing pop scene in the 90s, where she was obviously and admittedly a vocal plug-in to a formula of snares, piano pounding, pre-Thought Catalog-era lyrics and sneaky intrusions of hip-hop and R&B elements, Robyn’s truth was always attempting to break free. Show Me Love, Do You Really Want Me, Electric and Not On The Inside, throbbed with an electro, synth-dripped paean to wearing the heart on one’s sleeve and loneliness even before it became what others are touting to be a generation-defining sound of this day and age. She was already on it and even then, she had us gripping our hearts despite being taken by the melody.
Careening out of the typical Top of the Pops that enveloped the 90s and the new millennium, Robyn came into her own with her self-produced and self-titled outing in 2005. A re-introduction, Robyn (the album, as with the person it came from) was a bolstering electro-pop narrative—biting, latching on with sharpened talons that gave us a baring of soul unlike before with songs such as Be Mine, Crash and Burn Girl, Who’s That Girl and Handle Me. Even with scintillating synths and rousing bass bumps, the human connection wasn’t lost. Here she was, assertive with her music and her feelings. This would carry on with the penultimate Robyn album, Body Talk. Released in parts over the year of its release, it was a portioned unraveling of a magnum opus unforeseen. Aggressive and in-your-face, with cornerstone hits such as Fembot, We Dance To The Beat, Indestructible, Call Your Girlfriend, Hang With Me and Stars 4-Ever, this offering was the racing beat of the heart that halts, calls in a sudden restraint that tightens its grip, making you ache with memories and emotions you’ve long relegated to the recesses of your heart and mind. Equal parts, angry, sensual, tripped out and of course, lonely and insulated in isolation, this was the Robyn that filled many a void of desire and despair.
It was from this release that we were blessed with Dancing On My Own, the unapologetic musical (and dance) purging to a once-upon-a-time love. Perhaps unbeknownst to Robyn, this sad sonorous staple has seen many people run from different states of sobriety and inebriation from the calm of curb to the sweaty, skin-grazing and hard-to-breathe dance floor of Today x Future, a local bar that has witnessed broken hearts and crushed dreams upended by end-of-the-world type of dancing that may or may not have ended in tears and eventual exhales of relief—myself very much included.
YOU WERE MISSED
There comes a point in any agitated or provoked circumstance where the spiked heart rates and beats would wind down to a settle. From the throb and thump comes a comfortable and mellow staccato that allows you to introspect and take in the brush with heightened emotions prior. This is precisely what Robyn has done over the past years in what some would like to call a sabbatical of sorts. While she never really completely went away, perhaps shying away from the spotlight at best, she took the time to come up with music that was in the way she describes, worthy for her fans, and of course, herself.
Eight years since Body Talk, Robyn reveals that she is in final stages of putting her latest effort together. “When I wrote this album, I think I was quite tired of myself writing sad love songs,” she divulges to DJ Annie Mac of Radio 1. “But I did anyway and looking back on that now, I think it’s okay for things to be sad. Combining it with something that’s bright and strong and powerful is a way of finding your way out of the sadness.”
First out of the gate is Missing U, a much-needed respite from the tired and typical sort of music we have been saturated with as of late, of course in the vein of the melancholic pop that she is akin to. It is a device of deus ex machina proportions that doesn’t quite hit you in full force until you lock in the music or as I have done the night prior, danced out to with cares and worries thrown from the edges of my fingertips.
An evocative lament of what is apparent to be an introspective exploration of the chasm left by a something, or someone detaching from the puzzle you have so painstakingly put together, Missing U opens up to a glitzy sequence of dream-like beats that gets interrupted by the careful banging of percussions. “Baby, it’s so real to me,” she breathes on the opening verse, quickly taking us back in to her world, as if no time had gone by. Assured on its own, there is a restraint that plays out beautifully over the course 4 minutes and 51 seconds, allowing you to get a full grip of the narrative. “Can’t make sense of all the pieces, or my own delusions. Can’t take all these memories, don’t know how to use them,” she continues, the glow of the song building like the golden embers from a timid cackle of fire source. A message to her most ardent and fierce of followers, Missing U is a gift that opens up to many possibilities—platonic, familial, romantic. It is universal yet personal as its sediments settle.
The chorus is a confident catharsis, building on honest, no-holds-barred truths that not many are able to verbalize. “I keep digging through a waste of time, but the picture’s incomplete. ‘Cause I’m missing you. I miss you,” Robyn bursts, encouraging you to get lost in the moment, baring her soul without any fear. You are moved to do the same, closing your eyes, feeling every singe of beat seep into your very being, confronting whatever emotion you are waylaying to the side. This is very much your truth, too. She is but a spark, a conduit to letting it light up and consume you—as it very well should.
“This part of you; this clock that stopped; this residue—it’s all I got. It’s all I’ve got,” she breathes, tracing out the final transition before closing out the curtains of the song. “There’s this empty space you left behind, all the love you gave, it still defines me.” A painful, haunting punctuation as it may seem, it is also hopeful, hitting the stride we all eventually will—if we only care to admit it to ourselves. That’s the thing, she will never leave things at a state of stupor. Like the bold orchestrations of her songs, she will prop you up where and when you need it to be. (We suggest a cold wall by the periphery of the dance floor.)
Subsequently, this comeback, if you want to call it that, makes it apparent that Robyn is the voice we need, as she tells the stories that need to be heard. She needed to tell this at the time when we needed the most. But once stripped off the reverbs, synths and bass lines, you will get primal heartbeats—a firm grip on the emotions that threads to the very core of humanity today. An exposition of what it means and feels to love in this day and age, the story of Robyn is just beginning.
We just need to listen. And I mean, really listen.