A few of my friends and I have coincidentally found ourselves spellbound for the past few months by Robyn, the Swedish pop singer. She became a sort of neo-whitegirl-soul star back in the 90s with “Show Me Love,” but that didn’t seem so special to me at the time. Funnily enough, I got turned onto Robyn’s new material last September by a tweet from Spencer Ackerman, a writer on national security who is a big punk rock fan. Another tangential benefit of social media! Here is Robyn’s killer performance on Saturday Night Live in December:
My whole family and I have gotten into Robyn in a big way. Amy and I put her on to do fitness videos together and mute the oppressively annoying Jillian Roberts and her lame-ass faux-dance tracks. And the girls have all enjoyed learning the songs and admiring Robyn’s ability to dance (albeit weirdly) on five-inch platform shoes. So I really love her, OK?
But…for all of Robyn’s nonconformism to the stereotypical dance music chick persona, she still seems like a basically rational person, putting her own compelling and mature (like me! or maybe I’m just old) spin on the awesome house+Prince+Michael Jackson toolbox she picked up in Sweden. I happened across a YouTube of Robyn covering Bjork’s hit “Hyperballad,” done as a tribute with Bjork in the audience when Bjork was awarded some Swedish prize, and while Robyn sang her Swedish heart out there was an essential piece missing. I don’t know if it is the voice–massive, on the verge of breaking in the high notes–or the craziness behind the voice, but I still find that Bjork and P.J. Harvey, my two main singer crushes of the 90s, exert a more primal draw on me than Robyn’s irresistable beats.
For sure, in terms of pop songs and boyfriend characters, no would-be playa can “handle” Robyn. But I never doubt she can handle herself and that she is in perfect control of the tough-freak persona she has made for herself. With Bjork and PJ, on the other hand, I get a kind of Sylvia Plath feeling of intense craft being used to put a hex-line around incredibly powerful emotional forces that would otherwise split singer and listener into a million pieces.
I am a totally uninformed hack when it comes to the Classics, but for some reason in thinking about this PJ/Bjork vs. Robyn distinction, the two crazier singers were reminding me of Jim Morrison, and then my thoughts turned to the Apollonian (no relation to Prince’s girlfriend) vs. Dionysian dichotomy of Greek drama. In crude terms the Apollonian tendency is towards order and rationality in the face of chaos and fate, whereas the Dionysian tendency is towards immersion in nature, chaotic forces, and the irrational or that which is beyond reason.
So bringing it back to Robyn: is it appropriate to label her as essentially rational and looking to exert a supremely danceable order upon the chaotic forces of bad boyfriends and jealous b*tches she encounters in her pop world? Or should I go back to my knitting (I’m doing a nice warm corset for Robyn in Amherst purple and white)?
Here is a mind-blowing performance by PJ and Bjork of the Stones’ “Satisfaction”: