Saturday, February 11, 2012

Give Robyn the Grammy Already

The 2011 Grammy nominees for Best Dance Recording include Skrillex, deadmau5, Swedish House Mafia, Duck Sauce, David Guetta, and... Robyn? In a category long populated by dance-ish pop tracks (last year's trophy went to Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)" and Britney Spears won her only Grammy here, for "Toxic") "Call Your Girlfriend," the fourth single off Robyn's experimental time-release opus Body Talk, is the only nominee that looks comparatively pop-like. That in itself is an effect of the seismic shift toward electronic/techno, now lumped under the clunky but serviceable term "EDM," that popular music has seen over the past year. This is not to say a "Call Your Girlfriend" victory would be indicative of resistance to this trend on the academy's part, not only because Robyn's work is so extraordinary but because "Call Your Girlfriend" is closer to EDM than its credentials might suggest.


"Call Your Girlfriend" has the chord changes, the song structure, the melodic, narrative female vocal, and what David Guetta might call the melodic "drama" of a pop song. The premise is a bit jarring, going as it does against Robyn's established personality as the good girl usually on the receiving end of romantic betrayal, but the fact that Robyn has an established personality at all sets her apart from the rest of the EDM set. But the song also incorporates staples of EDM: the swirling, repetitious electronic accompaniment, and the sheer relentlessness in tempo and melody of a looped track played at a rave, a marathon of energy dramatized in the music video, a single shot in which Robyn rocks, writhes and rallies her indomitable energy around an empty gymnasium for four minutes that seem like hours (in a good way).


The effect of this inspired mixture is disconcerting enough to transcend the already fuzzy notion of generic labels by eliminating or disguising the usual stylistic indicators of one or the other. Though there is a relatively simple verse-chorus structure, the song sounds as though it's on a one-way trip down a long, winding road, while Robyn's consistently present vocal holds attention from start to finish instead of fading away or repeating nonsensically to allow the listener to surrender the senses to the beat.

Everything that makes Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" remarkable is the result of the tireless, intelligent performance by the Swedish virtuoso. And while the coronation of "Call Your Girlfriend" as Body Talk's biggest hit and Grammy nominee has more to do with timing than its superiority among the album's tracks ("Hang With Me" and especially "Dancing On My Own" both mop the floor with it), it's a fine vessel for the much-deserved and long overdue American critical and popular appreciation Robyn is finally beginning to receive.
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