After a long absence, the musician returned in 2018 with an excellent album and an ongoing tour that hits Express Live this week
After releasing a trio of 2010 dance-pop LPs under the title Body Talk, Swedish pop star Robyn all but disappeared from public view, save for the odd live gig and a one-off collaborative EP.
Otherwise, Robyn spent a bulk of the decade away from the limelight before re-emerging in 2018 with Honey. During those difficult years, a relationship fell apart and the singer experienced the death of a close musical collaborator — events that informed album tracks like glittering break-up song “Missing U.”
“Now that it’s over/The space where you used to be,” Robyn sings atop a beat that sounds like a disco ball fragmenting, its silvery reflective shards whirling around the club. “Now your scent on my pillow’s faded/At least you left me with something.”
At the same time, Robyn, born Robin Carlsson 40 years ago, is hesitant to say that the time out of the spotlight was necessary for her healing process, because, she said, that suggests that life involves a degree of fate, “and I don’t know if I understand that way of thinking about things.”
“It was just one way that things happened,” Robyn said matter-of-factly by phone from her dad’s house in Stockholm, Sweden. “The things I was dealing with and the things I was going through were very painful, but at the other side there were things that I learned from it that of course now I don’t want to be without.”I've already spent too long trying to think of a passable Batman and Robyn reference: Sign up for our daily newsletter
During this downtime, there were occasions Robyn questioned if she wanted to resume a music career, though she said that tends to happen anytime she’s not working. “You go on vacation and it’s like, ‘I could just do this,’” said the singer, who headlines a show at Express Live on Thursday, Oct. 10. “Or you’re really looking forward to vacation and then two days before you go you’re like, ‘I really wish I could just be at my house and have a week off at home and not go anywhere.’ And then you go and you’re two days from flying home and you’re like, ‘I don’t want to go home. I just want to be here where I am right now.’ I think I’m just the kind of person who values where they are, if that makes sense.”
Eventually, though, Robyn started to feel the pull of the recording studio, embarking on the nearly four-year process of creating Honey. Early on, the sessions felt more like work, with the singer forcing herself to write, knowing that inspiration can be slow to arrive, akin to firing up a coal-burning locomotive.
“I was trying to heal myself, and I knew music could do that, but I wasn’t inspired when I started writing the album, at all. I just knew I had to start because it takes a while for it to really become something of value, and if I didn’t start it would take forever,” she said. “I don’t recall the exact turning point, but it was maybe four to six months into the practice where I started feeling inspired. I still didn’t have a clear idea of what I was doing, but I started to understand how I wanted it to feel, at least.”
As on past albums, the lyrics throughout feel intensely personal and confessional, Robyn working through stages of grief even in those moments when the music pulsates with the energy of a packed dance floor. Witness “Because It’s in the Music,” which finds Robyn singing about how everything ends even as the synthesized beat introduces sunlight, the music shimmying and swirling as it arches ever skyward.
As the album ends, Robyn even introduces something akin to hope, or at least it seems so on the surface. “I swear I’m never gonna be brokenhearted ever again,” she sings on the album-closing track.
“I still don’t know what that song means,” Robyn said. “Love is very strange, and it’s an important part of our life, a really precious thing that maybe only happens a few times, where you pour every part of yourself into that. … For me, ‘[Ever Again]’ takes on different meanings, but I did want to open up the ending so that [the album] wouldn’t get boring or too self-assured, otherwise it would almost become a religious record, like I found Jesus or something, and I don’t think that’s my style.”