May 15, 2019

On Honey, Robyn proves she's the wisest phoenix of pop music.

Written by @arnaudmarty / 8 mins read

I've been a fan of Swedish popstar Robyn for many years now so what you're going to read is anything but objective. I remember I was pretty excited to see her video clip of “Keep This Fire Burning” before going to school in 2002. At that time, I did not know anything about her music and career yet. I actually thought she was just another ephemeral artist with a one-hit wonder. During these years, I was also starting my music business career, if I may say so, by hosting my own show on a local associative radio. As a real sucker for mainstream pop music, I was dissecting the European music charts each week. It's probably how I learnt that this song was the lead single of her third album and that her career was almost one decade long.

The Long Path To Victory

Robyn's career could definitely be a movie or, even better, a Netflix series (a movie is maybe too static, and I like to think that her career will still go one for many seasons). In 1995, at only 16 years old, she was already charting in Sweden but also in the US and the UK. And it's actually no surprise when you discover that two of her first singles, the very R&B “Do You Know (What It Takes)" and "Show Me Love", were produced by none other than Max Martin, well before the debut of Britney Spears (funny fact : Robyn guested on Britney's song “Piece Of Me” years after). Even if the music industry likes this kind of early success stories, it's never easy to become a superstar during your teenage years. A few years after her debut, Robyn had what we would call today a burn out and came back to Sweden to recover. Then, she successfully released two pop albums before stopping her collaboration with Jive Records in 2005. Indeed, the Sony imprint was not believing in her music evolution anymore or maybe they did not want to grant any creative freedom to the now-adult popstar - Where most of the popstars would have signed their death warrant, Robyn decided to turn this scission into an opportunity. In early 2005, she then created her own label Konichiwa Records and released her fourth album which was named Robyn to mark this new artistic control and liberty. Before Jive even had the time to regret their decision, Robyn was number 1 in Sweden for the first time ever and charted in a lot of countries with her Kleerup collaboration “With Every Heartbeat”. Like a phoenix, Robyn's career was gathering some new momentum with the iconic Body Talk trilogy, which became an essential album for every indie pop fan and gave birth to an endearing cult about the Swedish songstress - While she was at the peak of her popularity, Robyn had to face a series of personal hardships, including a painful breakup and the death of one of her closest friends and collaborators Christian Falk. If you are familiar with Robyn's music, you know how highly-emotional and vulnerable her songs are. You can also deduce that she is a popstar who doesn't fake her feelings. Devasted, the artist started a psychoanalysis of half a decade and could not work on any solo material.

Robyn's comeback is certainly not what you were expecting

She was not totally gone, though. The die hard fans could try to cope with her absence with one of her many side projects: She asked a lot of producers to remix her tracks, she collaborated with Royksopp, signed Zhala on her label and also created a band called La Bagatelle Magique. But the truth was that she was emotionally too weak to release any new Robyn material for eight long years. So, when she teased a new track, “Honey”, in the final episode of HBO's series Girls in 2017, she simply broke the internet. Greedy and selfish fans that we are, we started to harass her on social media hoping to get a piece of Robyn: Where is the track, where is the new single, when do you release an album? We did not care about what she was going through. But Robyn decided to remain silent and to keep her precious secret until the end.

Overcoming a breakup and sending love to her fans

Robyn actually started to work on Honey in the summer of 2014 and crafted the whole album as an intuitive diary. The songs are listed in the order in which they were written. They also detail her whole recovery process. The album opens with “Missing U” which definitely links to her Body Talk era in terms of sounds. It is both a breakup song and a love declaration dedicated to her desperate yet dedicated fans. In eight years, I did not forget Robyn either: She was part of all of my parties and I was screaming, dancing and crying on her anthemic choruses. The second track of the album is named “Human Being”. I personally interpret this song as an explanation for her lengthy hiatus. Even if she's a goddess to us, Robyn is just a human being and she also has her own weaknesses. A few years ago, she was singing in “Fembot” that female robots have feelings too. No one is unbreakable: Her breakdown could have actually happened to any one of us.

A personal record about love and human connections

For this album that is for sure her most introspective and personal so far, Robyn surrounded herself with friends and musicians: Joseph Mount of Metronomy, Klas Åhlund, Mr. Tophat and Zhala amongst others. While “Missing U” still sounds like an extension of Body Talk, the rest of the album explores new soundscapes, even if that means disappointing a part of her audience. Most of the people who belatedly connected with Robyn are not aware that a big part of her music culture is rooted in R&B and house music. “No, you're not gonna get what you need / But baby, I have what you want”, she sings in the title track. A chorus that you can actually read as “Oh gurl, you're not going to get another Body Talk album, I'm here with something else but I'm sure you'll like it too”. And indeed, Honey is a whole new chapter. Her epic Scandi-Pop has almost totally disappeared, leaving room for balearic-esque, sun-kissed and retro house-soaked pop music. On Honey, the danceability of Robyn is still here, but it sounds smooth, sensual and quiet. It is tailored for a romantic dance with your lover on a beach or for a trip to Ibiza with your loved ones whereas Body Talk was soundtracking a collective and ecstatic moment in a club full of strangers on ecstasy. Listen to “Beach 2K20” or watch the video of “Between The Lines” if you don't get the idea.

Growing up as a human and an artist

As said earlier, Robyn's new album details her recovery process after eight years of emotional turmoil. From the feelings of abandon and lack, to the acceptation of her own vulnerability to her request for forgiveness, Honey is a short yet powerful testimony about breakups and human connections, with her lover but also with her fans. The last track of the record “Ever Again” acts as the moral of her story. In 9 tracks that each represents a step of this period, Robyn overcame her depression and has grown up, both as a person and an artist. “I swear I'm never gonna be brokenhearted ever again”, she sings. I don't know if this means that we will never get songs like “Dancing On My Own” in the future. I actually don't care: she never disappointed me and I like to trust her on blind faith. She sounds happy and serene and I feel the same when I listen to Honey. As a fan, that's the most important thing to me.