Or: How Robyn Released Three Albums in a Year And Kept Them Interesting.
When I look back at 2010, it will probably have been the Year of Robyn. It was the Year of Pop Music for me, really, but I came back to Robyn again and again. Part of that was accidental—I finally sat down and listened to Robyn, really absorbed that a really great dance-pop track was as brilliant an achievement as a really great, multilayered indie rock song.
But also, Robyn's on track to have three albums out before the end of the year. Body Talk Part One hit this spring just in time for me to have worn out the songs from her self-titled record of a few years back. (Yeah, I was behind, shut up.) The centerpiece and best track on Part One was "Dancing on my Own," but the record closed with a lovely little ballad called "Hang with Me," which even months later manages to squeeze my heart a little.
When stripped back to just her voice, all the sincerity in Robyn's songs shines. It doesn't come off as a gimmick as it does when, say, Lady Gaga sits down at a piano and belts Elton John-style. Her words are simple, direct, and they punch you in the gut. It might be possible to ironically like Gaga or Beyonce, but it is impossible to like Robyn without loving Robyn.
Having hooked us with a track that reaches into our hearts and makes even the most cynical of us sing along, she then sets it to a dance beat.
["Hang With Me" official video]
"Hang With Me" was the first single from Body Talk Part Two and it came with this soft, pretty video of what it might actually be like to hang with Robyn. Suddenly the song, which seemed almost sad, is a celebration—Robyn on a rollercoaster, white-blonde hair blowing in the wind. It's a track you can't resist.
Part Two might even be better than Part One (and you will be hearing more from me on at least one track on it), but most importantly for now, it also contained another heartwrenchingly lovely ballad, "Indestructible." Bragging is an essential part of the Robyn persona, but this song isn't about bragging—it's about admitting to having been hurt, having lost, having screwed up—and jumping in again. "I'm gonna love you like I've never been hurt before/I'm gonna love you like I'm indestructible."
I've actually skipped this one once or twice when I was particularly emotional. It's almost too raw.
And once again, she's done it. The first single from Part Three hit this week, and it's a full-on dance version of "Indestructible." And once again, what was a crying-on-my-own song is suddenly joyful.
I almost wonder if she'll close Part Three with an acoustic version of "Dancing on My Own," revealing the depths of sadness too in that song.
The test of an "album," I'd say, rather than a collection of songs, is if you can hit Shuffle on iTunes on that record and get the same feeling. The two parts of Body Talk out so far mix perfectly together; they could be one long album instead of two. There's little filler, and only a general overarching theme perhaps of loneliness but of dancing in the face of it. I'm assuming Part Three will be very similar: a short, tight collection of pop songs, some brilliant, some merely fun.
Once the Body Talk trilogy is complete, it'll be tempting to snip half the songs and turn it into a blinding full-length album. But assuming you're happy to buy into the experiment, these quick-turnaround releases are fascinating by themselves.
We're in a media age, after all, where we're on to the next thing before the first thing is even half over, where record reviews are churned out on half a listen and songs aren't even downloaded so much as they're YouTubed, listened to, forgotten. So Robyn's "three albums" could've been a more tightly curated one album with some fun B-sides, in an era where seven-inch or cassette singles still ruled.
But instead, maybe she's figured out a way to hold our attention longer, to make us look at more than one thing about each track. By releasing three albums, multiple versions of the same track leading us from record to record, she keeps us following her along, wondering what she's up to next.
I've already caught one Robyn show this summer and have tickets for another in November, and I wonder if she can keep up this pace or if she's going to wear herself out—but perhaps Robyn's figured out a possible solution to putting out music in a rapidly shifting music industry.
Or maybe I'm just obsessed.