Saturday, April 2, 2011

Best of Women: We Dance To The Beat

Achievement in Music: Robyn
Oh man, remember Robyn? Back in like grade seven, when she had that single and she was blonde and Swedish and then she sort of, uh, disappeared? I have a soft spot for one-hit wonders, specifically internationally successful artists who occasionally break through to North American listeners. Chumbawamba? Primo example. We were all "I get knocked down! I get up again! This....this is basically a drinks menu! Awesome!" for a summer, and then they disappeared back into their European hole, back to being anarcho-punks with serious lefty leanings that weren't easier conveyed to radio listeners.

Robyn hasn't gotten serious press since '95, but last year she came out with a blistering triad of synth-dance albums that were an experiment in post-Napster album production. She released acoustic versions of dance songs she hadn't written yet, collaborated with Snoop Dogg and Royksopp, and sort of came back. The culmination album, 2010's Body Talk, is ridiculously good. I mean, dancefloor jams aren't for everyone, but for folks who like their sugar with synth and 808s, it will rock you.

I especially dig the fact that she got experimental with her album structure. In the pop music world, it's rare that we're allowed a glimpse behind the production curtain. Can you imagine Britney releasing her works in progress? Her albums, even if they're released to mixed reviews, are touched by the hands of a thousand producers and a million tweaks, all before fans get their hands on the finished product. Robyn was like, "Ehhhh...eff that. I'm not perfect. Some of these songs will be better as acoustic jams, and some will rock the dancefloor. I'll take it as it comes." Love that! It speaks to a vulnerability, a willingness to be imperfect, that is extremely rare in pop music. The most we're usually offered is an acoustic outtake of a pop princess in sweats, tickling the ivories in an unconvincing bid to show us they are the authors of their own successes, instead of an army of A+R, marketing, production and support people.

Anyone who can release a song with the lyrics, "We dance to the beat of a million bad kissers with clicking teeth" is aces in my books. Her songs are funny, making pop culture references (Deloreans!) while still retaining the nuttiness of an actual honest emotional expression. I know pop music can be personal, but when Robyn belts out the instructional chorus to "Call Your Girlfriend," I get the sense that homegirl might have been there.

Best of all, the video for the hit "Dancing On My Own" is unabashedly angry, which is terribly cool to me. I feel like women in the entertainment industry rarely give themselves permission to express rage, much less through dance. She has fucked-up snaggle teeth and a deconstructed soccer-mom hairdo. I love it. I love that she is honestly human in an industry that does its best to present the world in glossy three-minute chunks. I love that she embraces her damage instead of denying it. I admire her for trying her things, for sticking to her roots, and for expressing herself in a medium that usually only expresses a love for the dancefloor. Tack så mycket, Robyn.

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