Robyn: Honey

Image Courtesy of NPR

Image Courtesy of NPR

By John Martin

It has been eight years since the release of her most recent album, but the queen of heartbreaking dancefloor anthems has finally returned. The chart topping success and critical acclaim that much of Robyn’s work has enjoyed speaks for itself. Though it is practically unheard of for a pop artist of her caliber to go nearly a decade without releasing new solo music, it’s clear that she spent the creative process behind Honey ensuring that her return would be triumphant. During the long stretch since 2010’s Body Talk, Robyn was engaged to videographer and frequent collaborator Max Vitali, before they separated and finally reconciled some time before Honey’s release. Over a compact set of nine songs, she guides listeners along her journey from heartbreak back to love again, using her personal life as a creative launching point. Once again, Robyn proves herself to be an enduring force in pop music.

The first track and lead single “Missing U” is quintessentially Robyn – another impassioned, bleeding love song, but this time glistening with arpeggiating synths to give the track a dreamlike quality. “Missing U” evokes past songs like “Call Your Girlfriend” “Be Mine,” all marked by her distinct fusion of desperation and emotional catharsis. For much of the first half of Honey, Robyn fixates on those feelings. On “Human Being,” she underscores the necessity of her love, pleading “I’m a human being” over an icy dancefloor groove. The tracks on this album are not discrete, as emotions flow like honey from one song to the next. “Send to Robin Immediately” rises from the ashes of “Baby Forgive Me” with building synths and strings as a steady kick drum emerges.

Robyn commands more creative control on Honey than ever before, even producing some of the tracks herself. The result is an album informed by house (“Between the Lines”), disco (“Because It’s in the Music”), bossa nova (“Beach2k20”) and an assortment of other dance-worthy genres filtered through Robyn’s creative lens. Gone is the high-energy electropop edge that made Body Talk so irresistibly danceable. Instead, she slows the bpm and trades robotic soundscapes for a sound that’s more vulnerable and intimate. It’s probably just a coincidence that the second track on Body Talk is “Fembot” and the second one on Honey is “Human Being,” but it’s a pretty poignant one.

This remarkable musical shift for Robyn is paralleled  by a thematic shift as well. With songs like “Dancing On My Own” and “Don’t F*****g Tell Me What To Do,” Body Talk was an album for celebrating radical independence. In contrast, Honey brings sensuality and desire to the forefront of her emotional arsenal. Robyn packs this album with daringly seductive lyrics like “baby I got what you want/come get your honey” from the the album’s title track. Additionally, she shows more skin on the album cover and promotional artwork than ever before. With a career that spans three decades, Robyn has reached a peak point of talent and creative freedom where she can virtually do anything she wants. This current iteration of Robyn is more powerful, more vulnerable and ultimately, more free.

This independence is especially noticeable on the back third of Honey, where Robyn allows herself to let loose. From the sun-soaked samba of “Beach2k20” to the rubbery bass on the Prince-inspired “Ever Again,” she brightens her instrumentals to reflect her outlook. Liberated from emotional struggle, Robyn’s joy is infectious as she expresses her passion through explosive dance breaks. One of the most important lyrics, “never gonna be brokenhearted, ever again” is repeated on the chorus of the album’s final track “Ever Again.” For a woman who built a career out of heart-wrenching love songs, this conclusion doubles as an end to Robyn’s emotional journey and a statement of purpose for the future. Confident and self-assured, she has found peace.

Honey is the the perfect, fitting title for this sweet, viscous and emotionally-rich statement album. Considering the amount of influence she’s had on current artists like Ariana Grande, Rihanna and Lorde, she still finds a way to retain that unmistakable “Robyn” feeling of crying while dancing your heart out. Robyn’s shares her emotional release with listeners as she traces through the emotional struggles she has faced. Fusing classic genres with current trends, Robyn continues to perfect her trademark style and shows off her uncanny talent for writing music that is deeply personal yet widely relatable.

Steven Norwalk