#4. Robyn – Body Talk
I’ve already talked about how I fell in love with Robyn, and how much I adored the tantalizing teases of her Body Talk Pt. 1 and 2 EPs, but I got a little flak from the non-believers. So, I figured I would just forego the abstract musical descriptions here and go through Body Talk track by track, telling you exactly what I love about each song. [NOTE: The import version adds “Fembot” as the opening track, but for brevity’s sake (ha!), I’ll stick to the 14-track domestic release]
- “Dancing On My Own” | The opening helicopter-chop synth gives me goosebumps every time, as does the chord change going into the prechorus of “Yeah, I know it’s stupid. I just gotta see it for myself.” When Robyn sings the third line of the chorus, “I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home”, and the bass note drops down, the combination is enough to get me choked up. I’ll be damned if I don’t feel like a girl frustrated to tears, dancing my ass off because its the only thing that feels good right now, my mascara starting to run down my flushed cheeks. So many emotions come into play here – anger, sadness, jealousy, betrayal, pure hurt and broken-heartedness – and it all busts out here in a beautiful dancing mess.
- “Don’t F*cking Tell Me What To Do” | This song may single-handedly illustrate why Robyn is such a captivating persona. It’s not the most musically enticing song, but she manages to be purely confessional and at the same time brimming with swagger, attitude, and outright sass. Sure, she’s willing to tell you all of the things in her life that are weighing her down, but that doesn’t mean she wants to hear your thoughts on the matter.
- “Indestructible” | Here Robyn effortlessly expresses the plight of the consummate romantic victim, unable to ever let their guard down again. Over a pulsing, bubbling bass synth arpeggiation, she makes a vow to herself, and a newfound potential lover: “And I never was smart with love \ I let the bad ones in and the good ones go \ But I’m gonna love you like I’ve never been hurt before \ I’m gonna love you like I’m indestructible”. If a girl ever needed a pep talk for entering a new relationship after a cataclysmic heartbreak, surely this must be it. This isn’t just girl power fist-pumping – this is like… Jedi love training.
- “Time Machine” | The verse here is more of an expository device, laying the lyrical framework while keeping the floor-on-the-floor club knock going. Robyn recounts a particularly ill-advised outburst: “Hey, what did I do? \ Can’t believe the fit I just threw \ Stupid \ Wanted the reaction”. And what’s the first thing any of us wish for when saddled with the crushing weight of especially embarrassing regret? Why, a time machine, of course! Over a neon firework-show of a chorus, Robyn wishes aloud: “So all I need is a time machine \ A one way track cause \ I’m taking it back, taking it back \ All I want is a DeLorean \ If I could go just like that \ I’ll be taking it back, taking it back”. Extra points for the DeLorean reference.
- “Love Kills” | The sequenced synth here sounds especially foreboding, adding to Robyn’s finger-wagging cautions, warning that “If you’re looking for love \ Get a heart made of steel ‘cus you know that love kills \ Don’t go messing with love \ It’ll hurt you for real, don’t you know that love kills”. She goes on to paint a picture of a “cold, hard world” where you need to “protect yourself”, “conceal your dreams” and “shield yourself” until “one kind soul reveals itself”. Sure, it sounds bleak, but for many single women, it’s all too familiar. Plus, despite the aforementioned bleakness, it also kinda sounds like you wanna dance.
- “Hang With Me” | This song begins with an effervescent warmth rarely seen on Body Talk, but soon you realize why. Robyn’s letting you in – provided you prove your worth: “And if you do me right \ I’m gonna do right by you \ And if you keep it tight \ I’m gonna confide in you \ I know what’s on your mind \ There will be time for that too \ If you hang with me”. The chorus soars as she voices her only hesitations: “Just don’t fall \ Recklessly, headlessly in love with me \ Cause it’s gonna be \ All heartbreak \ Blissfully painful and insanity”. This is about as good as euphoric dance pop can possibly get, and it scores extra points for making the heavy, complicated line between friend and “something more” sound completely weightless.
- “Call Your Girlfriend” | Here Robyn really achieves something uniquely special: She manages to play the part of homewrecker and come across sincere and matter-of-fact… even wise. She essentially gives a step-by-step instructional how-to for breaking it off with “the girlfriend”: “Tell her not to get upset, second-guessing everything you said and done \ And then when she gets upset tell her how you never mean to hurt no one \ Then you tell her that the only way her heart will mend is when she learns to love again \ And it won’t make sense right now but you’re still her friend \ And then you let her down easy”.She even cautions sharing too much: “Don’t you tell her how I give you something that you never even knew you missed \ Don’t you even try and explain how it’s so different when we kiss”. Look, nobody likes “the other woman”, but she sounds so captivatingly… level-headed.
- “None Of Dem” | Ever wonder how everyone else at the club measures up to Robyn? Well, long story short, they don’t. And this makes her really bored with everything and everyone. The dark, syrupy dancehall beat makes the sullen outlook that much more depressing. Read: Intermission
- “Weat Dance To The Beat” | Well, she had to get the tempo back up somehow. Might as well be repetitive with abstract stabs at profundity. I do, however, salute what seems to be an homage to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation.
- “You Should Know Better (feat. Snoop Dogg)” | Body Talk regains its footing here, although not assuredly so. The track is a caffeinated punch with a slithery synth bassline, but the Snoop Dogg cameo seems forced to the point of novelty, even if it does fall in line with the song’s overall braggadocio: “You should know better than to f*ck with me \ If you knew better you would do better”. Still, Robyn is no stranger to shit-talking, so no points lost for bringing in a rap vet (however tarnished his cred may be at this point) to bolster the swagger quotient.
- “Dancehall Queen” | What at first sounds to be a rehash of “None of Dem“‘s slow Reggae-skank rhythm soon reveals itself to be equal parts sultry and sugar-sweet. Continuing the boastfulness of the previous track, Robyn offers her claim to dancehall fame: “Now what, your jaw has dropped \ Until the music stop, you know \ I still run this thing like a dancehall queen \ I really don’t want no hassle”. That chorus hook is one of the most deceivingly potent earworms on the album, competing for brainspace with its club-thump counterparts.
- “Get Myself Together” | What initially sounded like one-dimensional club fodder slowly revealed itself as one of the more emotionally complex songs on Body Talk. Slighty cryptic, Robyn opines that she “can’t tell what’s going on” and needs to “get my head back on \ I got to get myself together”. In a particularly confessional but not necessarily revealing bridge, Robyn recounts a conversation with her father: “My daddy pulled me aside \ Like when I was a child \ He said ‘I trust you decide \ On what you know is right \ And for whatever it’s worth, \ I am on your side’ \ There’s no denying the mess \ That I got us in \ And I’ve been trying my best \ Not to make a scene \ Just can’t make a sense of it all \ It’s like my mind is gone.” Surprisingly, all of this uncertainty is delivered over one of the albums more energetic and compelling tracks.
- “In My Eyes” | In a very signature intro, we hear a sample of Robyn spouting “Konichiwa Records”, a puffed-up shoutout to her imprint of the same name, followed by another sample of her offering comfort: “It’s gonna be okay!” This seems to sum up the truly multi-dimensional persona of Robyn: Equal parts attitude and empathy. “In My Eyes” follows the trend of the latter, offering more consolation and motivation: “And though I bet you think it’s better on the inside, there with them \ We’re better off outside looking back in \ I know you think you’re lost but you think again \ When you look into my eyes”.
- “Stars 4-Ever” | The vocoder vocals repeating the song title phrase, combined with the squirmy synthlines and surging disco-hat and clap-snare club beat strongly evoke a classic Daft Punk groove, which, if you’re gonna send the party out on a high note, what better group to nick for inspiration? If nothing else, the song sends Body Talk off with an ascending, astral trajectory, carrying Robyn back into outer space, where she certainly came from. Actually, Daft Punk are probably catching a ride with her, no?