There comes a point when you doubt that they are going to come back. The singers you love release their album, promote it, probably go on tour, and then disappear to craft their next big works. Though the disappearance is part of the cycle, a musician’s return is never guaranteed.
When Robyn released “Body Talk” in 2010, she had been releasing music since the mid-’90s. She started at age 15 and never really stopped. By 2010 she was ahead of the game.
“Body Talk” was innovative in both its content and its release. The hit singles from the album, “Dancing on my Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend,” are the genesis of the mainstream sad dance pop trend we are experiencing now. It was the seeds of Dua Lipa, Lorde and more. Lorde and her collaborator on “Melodrama,” Jack Antonoff, are not shy about their love for Robyn. They covered “Hang With Me” together and Lorde posted on Tumblr that “Dancing on my Own” is the song she would select to send out into space.
It’s a simple concept: a thumping bass, a sweeping synth and raw emotion. But it is hard to meld these elements into pop music magic. Something intimate and honest, but also widely relatable and anthemic. Robyn took sad dance pop to a new level and hit the nail on the head every time. As many Swedes before and after her, she can’t seem to help but craft pop music magic.
“Body Talk” was released in three parts. Though fresh and intriguing at the time, it is much closer to release strategies these days for artists trying to compete for attention in the streaming world. John Mayer and Bea Miller are examples that immediately come to mind.
After “Body Talk,” Robyn experienced a new level of fame and success. “Dancing on My Own” became her signature song, and was covered by amateurs and professionals alike. Her music video for “Call Your Girlfriend” was spoofed on “Saturday Night Live” the week that she performed on the show. Then, she stepped back.
For seven years, Robyn didn’t release any original solo material. She did a couple of collaborative EPs and popped up for a DJ set at Boston Calling. In this time a whole new group of fans came to know Robyn, including myself. Still, there were no signs of her returning to pop music.
Then last year, during an episode of the final season of “Girls” there was the first signal that she might return. A new Robyn song entitled “Honey” was handpicked by Lena Dunham for her show’s final season. The song didn’t receive an official release, but the rumblings of Robyn’s return started.
Last week, the return became official. A mini-documentary from Robyn was released on the internet. “Robyn – Missing U – A Message to My Fans” is about a regular club night that features all-Robyn music. The creators, DJ Choyce Hacks, DJ A Place Both Wonderful and Strange and DJ Cherry Magdalene, call it “This Party is Killing You,” a twist on the track from “Body Talk.” In the documentary, the party’s creators encourage fans to leave voicemails for Robyn trying to get her to come to the party. Robyn talks about how much she appreciates the support from her fans and talks about how the new song is in a way a message to them. She ends up going to the party and her fans obviously are shocked and surprised and in awe.
This was the prelude to the official release of the single “Missing U” Aug. 1. Sonically, the song picks up exactly where she left off with “Body Talk.” It starts with a swirling arpeggiator that circles around a vast space. A stinger hist just before Robyn’s voice hits. It feels like a proper beginning. Then comes the four-on-the-floor beat. On top of that, a stuttering synth subdivides the beat to keep it interesting. That’s two out of the three elements: a thumping bass and a sweeping synth.
The third element is what is different about this track. Yes, “Missing U” is still chock full of emotion, but the subject of that emotion is approached from a different perspective. Most Robyn songs are vignettes of relationships becoming something different. Take “Dancing On My Own.” Her boyfriend has left her, and now she is watching him in the club with a new girl. “Call Your Girlfriend” is about the sidechick replacing the girlfriend.
In “Missing U,” the relationship becomes nothing. That absence of something occupies all the lyrics of the song. The “empty space”, the “picture incomplete, the “residue.” There are many songs about a person exiting your life, but Robyn’s ability to hone in on the absence rather than the person that left is what makes the song so ingenious.
Elements of the track drive home the premise of absence. Though all the instrumentals could potentially work together to create a fierce wall of sound, they never all appear together and the track is pretty sparse throughout. The closest we get is when the two main synths crossfade at the end of the second verse. The two synths are in different octave ranges too. If only for a moment, when they trade off your ear is pulled to the range that is not longer present. Somehow the arpeggiator implies a distinct circular shape. It feels like it’s a circle in thick red marker trying to get your attention. “Here, right here. This is what’s missing.”
Probably, the best part of the song is that it feels age appropriate. As women get older in pop music it feels like they constantly are trying to act younger (cough, cough, “Bitch I’m Madonna”). Robyn, 39 now, has created a song that doesn’t feel like it is supposed to be sung by a woman of a certain age. It’s just a relatable song.
I could go on about how incredible this song is, but I won’t. Robyn has returned to reclaim the throne of her pop music niche. I’m very excited to hear the rest of the album, which is due before the end of the year.