Nobody dances like Robyn.
That’s not to say nobody could dance like Robyn. I doubt anything the 39-year-old Swedish pop singer-songwriter did with her body last night at a truly ecstatic, sold-out Palace Theatre show was beyond the capability of any trained dancer. Her moves certainly didn’t require the martial drilling of arena-pop choreography that flaunts its precision, effort, and might. Sometimes, they required nothing more than a willingness. You never thought of moving your arms just like that. Why have you never thought of moving your arms just like that? You totally could, you know.
Robyn started the show, however, by not dancing. Not even moving, really. Her five-piece band (two drummers and three keyboardists, one of whom popped a bass when needed, another who doubled on guitar) began “Send to Robin Immediately,” from her latest album, Honey. As the song’s electronic crests nodded to Lil Louis’ house classic “French Kiss,” Robyn stood more or less still, bare legs and futuristic silver boots fully visible, the rest silhouetted behind a diaphanous sheet, and remained so through the new album’s title track as well.
Robyn stepped downstage for “Indestructible,” from her 2010 album Body Talk, and with a pair of hip juts startling in their suddenness and simplicity, entered into motion for nearly two hours. She excels at the small yet effective gesture: During “Be Mine!” she pulled down the sheet that had previously concealed her with just the slightest tug. This sense of drama was never self-aggrandizing—rather than claiming power in these moments, it was as though Robyn herself experienced their emotional pull alongside the audience.
When “Indestructible” was released, hits like Le Roux’s “Bulletproof” and Sia’s “Titanium” were insisting that love was such a soul-bludgeoning feat of endurance you could only survive by encasing your heart in psychologically protective exoskeleton. Robyn’s chorus of “I’m gonna love you like I’ve never been hurt before/I’m gonna love you like I’m indestructible” rang out, intentionally or not, as a riposte to that guarded sensibility.
But the years since Body Talk seemingly tested Robyn’s faith in that generosity of will. Rooted in the dissolution of a relationship and the death of her friend and collaborator Christian Falk, Robyn’s first album in eight years, Honey, took three years to complete. Listeners whose felt their individual traumas embodied in its grooves experienced Honey as a transcendent balm. The rest of us heard a thoughtful, wounded artist enacting a truism—music helps us heal—in real time, even if often we had to take Robyn’s word that the process was a success.
Last night, Robyn performed much of Honey, songs that are lyrically simpler than her last batch. On Body Talk, Robyn told us what she planned to do despite how she felt; on Honey she tells us how she feels, and keeps dancing till the pain ebbs. But live, tracks that were merely pleasant when percolating through my earbuds at home or at work were brought fully to life by a vital element: movement. Ours, of course—by the third song, even most of the often-sedentary Palace balcony was up, where they’d remain for most of the night—but also, again, Robyn’s, as she explored the possibilities of how a body could respond to her band’s Euro-galloping beat.
Robyn’s dancing isn't a display of power or prowess, it’s rarely sexualized, and its idiosyncrasy is less about self-expression than self-discovery.She moves as though she’s just heard her favorite song, which she just so happens to have written and recorded and, what do you know, is performing in front of 2,500 people. Much of the night she also interacted with a male dancer, and often they mimicked each other, more approximately than exactly. When he held out a jacket for her to spin herself into, the slight imperfection of the feat made it more effective.
But to say that Robyn is “just being herself” onstage is inadequate, just as resorting to terms like “star power” or “charisma” are mystifications of her appeal. Robyn finds her own space within a world of unyielding sounds—the formal strictures of pop song, the rigor of electronic dance rhythms—without submitting to their discipline, her voice, small but sturdy, never overpowered or overpowering. Sometimes she makes a deliberate show of stiff-leggedness when she dances, hardly awkward and not quite willfully robotic, but like a woman who lives a life among machines, as we all do.
The stage set, which featured a sculpture of interlocked fingers, had a calmative vibe. First a celestial white, then pulsing with pink and purple, the lighting soothed in both cases, where it could have been respectively chilly or overstimulating. Robyn didn’t say much aside from reminding us that we were “Minneapolis-St. Paul,” though later in the set she thanked us for permitting her to wear a (presumably Prince-respecting) lacy purple top and matching slacks. “I couldn’t help myself,” she said.
The chugging synth intro of “Dancing on My Own” was an invitation to collective rapture, which reached its peak when the music dropped out and Robyn allowed the entire theater to sing the chorus. It’s a familiar concert ritual, sometimes a lazy one. But something about the song itself, which captures a moment of public humiliation Robyn insists on enduring—going to the club to see her lover kiss another woman—raised it above the routine. Maybe it was just hearing her faith that dancing would inevitably release her from the heartbreak expressed through our own voices made that belief feel truer.
The electronic ripples and kick-drum-driven lurch “Missing U,” fed into the climax of “Call Your Girlfriend,” a control freak’s open-hearted exercise of supreme empathy, Robyn hates feeling pain so much she can’t bear to inflict it on someone else, and so she instructs a man she’s helping to break another woman’s heart to guide that woman through the healing process, impossibly suggesting that she can fast-forward to future happiness.
Robyn's second encore began with the Honey track “Human Being,” a telling title from the self-proclaimed “fembot” of 2010, during which she performed an intimate routine with her dancer. She closed with “Who Do You Love?” as though she had to ask, she blew us multiple kisses, and made clear why we love her. She never assumes that being Robyn makes her better than us. She just assumes it makes her more Robyn than us.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Robyn at the Palace
Send to Robin Immediately
Hang With Me
Because It’s in the Music
Between the Lines
Love Is Free
Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do
Dancing on My Own
Call Your Girlfriend
With Every Heartbeat
Who Do You Love?