Saturday, June 5, 2010

The First Coming of Robyn: Looking Back

The reasons Robyn appeals so greatly to even the most elitist anti-pop music critical community (e.g. Pitchfork, Rolling Stone) as well as to the more in-tune major pop music devotees (e.g. PopJustice, Idolator, and this humble upstart) center of course on her consistent, unique and inventive qualities and talent as an artist, but also on the indisputably rocky road she has followed (often not by choice) in terms of the business side of the music industry (which makes her artistic and commercial success that much more impressive, as if it needed the help). The length of her busy and occasionally tumultuous career, along with the broad stylistic array of material she has produced, can easily make Robyn seem as though she must be older than her mere thirty years - a convenient kind of misconception of which she has wisely taken advantage throughout her fourteen years as a professional pop musician.

Robyn first signed with RCA Records in 1995, at sixteen years old, and her first singles "You've Got That Somethin'" and "Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect)" came out later that year. The former made the top 25 on the Swedish charts, but the latter proved to be Robyn's breakout success - the first of a number of breakout successes over the next year and a half in various countries, and with various breakout singles, too - peaking at the number 2 spot. From these successes followed a full-length debut album, Robyn is Here, released in Sweden in October of 1996.

The third single released in Sweden was the only track of the thirteen on the album to be cowritten and produced by Swedish producer Max Martin, who was at the time relatively unknown, and had been working on the debut of a new American boy band called the Backstreet Boys, but the album hadn't yet been released in the US despite strong success in Europe. Martin worked with Robyn, who has writing credits on every track of her debut album, on the single that would launch her into the top ten in Sweden, the US and Australia, "Do You Know (What It Takes)." When a U.S. launch was planned, one track was added to the otherwise merely shuffled track list, also co-written and produced by Martin. In hindsight it is little surprise that this second collaboration, "Show Me Love," which was released as the second U.S. single, matched its predecessor's chart peak at number 7 around the time the Backstreet Boys' third single "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" - a Martin production - was peaking at number 4 in the US and charting for 22 weeks.

Note the sexified cover art - the late 90s were all about mild pedophilia (girls)

After these successes, "Do You Really Want Me" was released internationally as well, but it was ineligible to chart on the singles charts in the US under eligibility rules (since abandoned); it did, however, hit the top forty on the Airplay charts (which surprised me to learn, because frankly I don't remember ever hearing it - and I listened to a lot of KIIS FM back then). Robyn was also tapped to go on tour opening for - can you guess? - the Backstreet Boys. However, in the very early days of the tour, the singer withdrew from the tour and was diagnosed with "exhaustion," (often understood or used as an entertainment industry code for complications for a little too much partying, which is not to imply such a thing in this case) at which point she retreated to Sweden...and disappeared from the US pop consciousness forever.

\"Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect)\" Robyn

You think I'm exaggerating? There's more to Robyn's industry bio leading up to 2010, and it has led to a rather exciting point for the Swedish virtuoso, but for today, I've gathered a few more tracks from Robyn Is Here to show how much talent and natural knack for pop recording the inexperienced teenage Robyn had to begin with - it's considerable. While I don't as much care for "Do You Really Want Me," I do happen to be very fond of several other tracks on the debut, particularly the opener "Bumpy Ride" (which is less useful as an example as it has many of the same traits that make "Do You Know (What It Takes)" easily the best cut of the bunch, and probably of her early career overall) and the groovy pop-RnB infusion "Don't Want You Back," which sounds positively like throwback hip-hop/R&B to today's ears, which have forgotten that that is how a good deal of pop was sounding at the time, and continued to sound in between the brash dance maelstroms and synthesized power ballads of the standard teen pop album.

\"Don\'t Want You Back\" Robyn

And, of course, everyone pretty much loved "Show Me Love" (I much preferred "Do You Know," and still do, but then I generally favor uptempo songs over ballads or midtempo lovey-dovey songs), the music video for which is below. Stop by over the coming week for more of Robyn's story and the music that has won so many over and yet not nearly enough. Welcome back to 1997!

All tracks in this post from:
Robyn Is Here
(RCA, 1996/1997)

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