Matson on Music
City Arts Fest and Robyn's mature dance pop
Posted by Andrew Matson
Image from Robyn's video for "Who's That Girl"
Swedish pop star Robyn stands out from musical peers like Britney Spears and Katy Perry — who all make digital-confetti club music and empowerment anthems — because her songs are more mature than Britney's club-drug sexcapades or Katy's pass-out parties.
With Robyn's stylish, soulful, electronic dance jams, you don't have to cringe and boogie at the same time.
The short-haired, blond dance machine performs Thursday at the Paramount with Portland electronic group YACHT — headlining the second annual Heineken City Arts Fest thrown by City Arts magazine, an ambitious multi-arts celebration happening at multiple venues Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 20-22. Other big names at the Fest: alt-country star Ryan Adams, Seattle rap group Shabazz Palaces and Pacific Northwest indie rock royalty Built to Spill. But Robyn is the coup, a star whose choreographed stage show deserves KeyArena, but whose music will sound much better in the Paramount.
She broke through anonymously enough with smash 1997 single "Show Me Love," released a year before Britney's "...Baby One More Time." The songs sound similar, with rope-skipping drums and elastic bass from Swedish producer Max Martin, who still works with both artists.
Robyn's vocal take on "Show Me Love," set her apart as a superior singer, comfortable with R&B phrasing in a way Britney wasn't. And where Britney naively used her body to attract interest (not that there's anything wrong with that), Robyn's music and videos to channeled the cool spirit of turn-of-the-millennium Aaliyah and Missy Eliot, American R&B/rap stars who were mainstream and sexy, but also futuristic and weird — and in their lyrics, always warning women against giving it up cheaply.
The same agenda is obvious from the titles of Robyn's first singles: "Show Me Love," "Do You Know (What it Takes)" and "Do You Really Want Me (Show Some Respect)."
In 2005, Robyn began using harder and more humorous feminist language in her music — "One right, one left, that's how I organize 'em," she sings, joking about her breasts, "You know I fill my cups, no need to supersize 'em" — and favoring a slightly darker electronic sound. Thus began the era of Robyn we have today. She hasn't released an album since 2010's excellent "Body Talk" and has no single on the radio, but can tour because she has loyal fans.
Sweating it out on the dance floor or hunched over an elliptical machine is ideal for listening to "Body Talk," which can be a healing experience: beats thump through your spinal cord, lyrics massage your brain with positive messages. If you have an electronic dance music bone in your body, you should listen, because what Robyn says is true: you don't need cosmetic plastic surgery, it's OK to dance on your own — and pop music doesn't have to be stupid.
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