Oh 'Honey,' listen to these 11 essential Robyn songs
Robyn owns pop music. Can we say that? We're going to say it.
For music fans, Robyn's name is synonymous with two things: feeling everything and dancing anywhere. The Swedish singer is somehow both a massive musical force and a cult figure. She takes over one of Austin City Limits Music Festival's headliner slots from Weekend One artist Cardi B on Sunday. It's been a hot minute since she stopped by ACL Live in 2011 and 2012.
Robyn was a teen pop-R&B singer in the 1990s — remember seeing her on Nickelodeon's "All That"? After charting a couple singles stateside, her next two albums didn't made it to the U.S., partially because of song lyrics about her abortion. Feeling creatively stifled by her label, she founded Konichiwa Records in the mid-2000s.
In 2010, she dropped two EPs, later released together as the album "Body Talk," that made her the stuff of playlist legend. The songs on "Body Talk" — sleek, weird, futuristic hooks — are critical darlings and fan favorites; it's hard to describe a lot of dance-pop music that came in their wake as anything but "like Robyn." Would highbrow music outlets cover newer pop stars like Carly Rae Jepsen or Troye Sivan as seriously without "Body Talk"?
Robyn kept a low profile for several years after, suffering personal losses in the meantime. She came back in a big way with last year's rapturously received "Honey" album.
Not up to speed on Robyn's music? Listen to these 11 essential tracks of heartbreak, longing, defiance and incredibly catchy choruses. You'll be one of the first people dancing (or crying, or both) in Zilker Park come Sunday.
“Show Me Love” (from 1995’s “Robyn Is Here”)
If Robyn songs were the siblings from HBO’s “Succession,” this one would be Connor Roy. From her debut album, it’s the oldest on this list and very unlike its siblings. This juicy slice of mid-’90s R&B/pop is typical of the singer’s teen-idol output; peep credit for pop mastermind Max Martin. "Show Me Love" put Robyn in the Billboard top 10 in the U.S., and it still goes great on a birthday party playlist. (It should not be confused with 1993’s “Show Me Love” by Robin S., a coincidence that someone honestly should have stopped from happening.)
“Be Mine!” (from 2005’s “Robyn”)
Quite simply the saddest song Robyn has ever recorded, which is saying something. And in true Robyn fashion, it is the catchiest thing this side of influenza. Contains the most relentless strings this side of a 2005 high school orchestra practice room and the most heartbreaking spoken-word interlude ever committed to modern recording: “I saw you at the station/You had your arm around what's-her-name/She had on that scarf I gave you/And you got down to tie her laces/You looked happy, and that's great/I just miss you, that's all.”
“With Every Heartbeat” (from 2005’s “Robyn”)
Either there’s no chorus or it’s all chorus. I can’t think of many pop songs that better capture the trippy delirium of pain, the way it feels like a friend is driving you home when you’re drunk. You stare out the window trying not to throw up; the streetlights race by but they all look the same. "With Every Heartbeat" evokes the same sensation.
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“Dancing On My Own” (from 2010’s “Body Talk”)
Robyn's big Swedish meatball. If you know a single Robyn song, this is the one that you know. “Dancing On My Own” glitters and sulks in equal measure, gliding along with outer-space twinkles and Death Star menace in lock-step. It’s the ultimate happy-sad song, with pitiful, voyeuristic lyrics about seeing the person you love making out with someone else: “I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her,” Robyn wails. “I'm right over here, why can't you see me? I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home.” The grand irony of “Dancing On My Own” — and all of Robyn’s music — is that it reminds you that you might be lonely, as NPR's Sam Sanders wrote this year, but you’re not alone.
“Call Your Girlfriend” (from 2010’s “Body Talk”)
The slightly smaller Swedish meatball. The only song that rivals “Dancing On My Own” in its power to fill a dancefloor in a gay bar at the speed of light. The themes are dang similar; on “Call Your Girlfriend,” Robyn imagines a conversation with the man she wishes she could have, were it not for that pesky girlfriend. Under penalty of death, you are required to watch former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Taran Killam’s viral recreation of the dance from this song’s single-shot music video.
“Hang With Me” (from 2010’s “Body Talk”)
Robyn’s known for pining, but she’s just as good at playing defense, like on this track. This is the ultimate hard-to-get anthem, with the singer pretending like she’s not on the precipice of falling “recklessly, headlessly in love” with the dude she guesses can hang with her, if he does her right.
“Don’t (Expletive) Tell Me What To Do” (from 2010’s “Body Talk”)
One simply does not become a beloved pop goddess without having a middle finger with a healthy upward trajectory. This joint is a trance track with repetitive lyrics about the various things that are “killing” our heroine: her drinking, her smoking, her landlord, her PMS, your nagging. One of the finest examples of Robyn as an alt-discotheque queen who can dominate the room at any video bar at midnight.
“Do It Again” (from 2014’s “Do It Again” with Röyksopp)
Listen, the mid-2010s were a tough time to be a Robyn fan. She got us all excited with the “Body Talk” era, and then we had to subsist on occasional drops of new material, like her 2014 collaborative EP with Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp. The song “Monument” best heralds the coming “Honey” era, but I've always thought it's ponderous. The title track is the best of the bunch, a sweeping jolt of cybernetic rave fuel.
“Honey” (from 2018’s “Honey”)
Not to throw around the word “masterpiece” all willy-nilly, but this song is Robyn’s masterpiece. (The New York Times agrees.) After keeping a low profile for 8 years, she returned with a sexy, vibey new manifesto. There was no way to make a new “Body Talk”; minus a couple earworms, "Honey" found Robyn staring back at recent personal losses with her chin up and her eyes a little bleary. The title track is warmth incarnate set to a quiet tick-tock beat, Robyn alternating between spare chants and pure, golden ecstasy. "Look down in the deep, baby," she urges. "The current is stronger."
“Missing U” (from 2018’s “Honey”)
One of the aforementioned earworms. This was the first single off “Honey," and it bridges the gap between the two Robyns: the one you listen to as you try to keep from sloshing a double vodka soda at 2 a.m. and the one you listen to when you’re sad about an ex and walking to Walgreens at 2 a.m.
“Between the Lines” (from 2018’s “Honey”)
Opener “Missing U” is the pop bop, the title track is the climactic opus and closer “Ever Again” is the cigarette in bed. But in-between those peaks on “Honey” are six tracks heavy on atmosphere and low on karaoke potential. “Between the Lines” is the best of the bunch, a house-pop track that you can imagine a millennial Parker Posey shimmying to in a warehouse party somewhere cooler than where you currently are.
Bonus tracks: “Do You Know (What It Takes),” “Cobrastyle,” “Handle Me,” “Indestructible,” “Stars-4-Ever,” “Fembot,” “Monument,” “Ever Again”
AT ACL FEST
Catch Robyn at 8 p.m. Sunday on the Honda stage.