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Robyn - Honey Music Album Reviews

Robyn presents her first solo album in eight years subtly, with slight builds and light hands. But her masterful command of emotions on the dancefloor slowly reveals itself across another enthralling record.

Robyn’s work urges on our braver selves. Without sermonizing, she shows us the dignity in our sorrow—throwing her heartbreak onto the dance floor, gulping in its neon glow like photosynthesis. Through her music, we discover our loneliest moments are no longer just valleys to suffer and endure: They are deeper, even beautiful, glimpses into our humanity. It seems possible that these moments are essential turns in our own journey, and that we are indestructible in them after all.

Throughout her career, Robyn has thrived by rejecting the pop music machine. Her genius was too great and too peculiar for the frothy Max Martin ditties of her youth, despite her early success with them in the ’90s. She had the prescience around the turn of the century to reject a deal with Jive Records, embrace her edgier club influences, and start her own imprint. (Jive’s rebound signee, Britney Spears, was never afforded the same route.) Robyn’s rebellion has made her pop’s avatar of exceptionalism: Her path whispers that we can be extraordinary, too, after rejecting the strictures that keep us docile. She cuts a powerful, needed figure in pop music, reasserting the autonomy of women in a genre that labors to keep them disposable; in particular, she subverts and updates the stereotypically male idea of the auteur, whose authenticity comes from a wellspring of self-reliance and removal.

And so Honey, Robyn’s sixth solo album and first in eight years, also carries the sheen of being created on purely individual terms, on a singular timeline. With its diaristic tracklist—sequenced in the order songs were written—the album builds a bridge from its predecessor, the bionic Body Talk, into a place of new conviction and warmth. It addresses several causes of the 39-year-old’s solo hiatus, from the death of her longtime producer and friend Christian Falk to her split and eventual reconciliation with her boyfriend, while extending the previous record’s conversation: What does it mean to forge human connections, to persevere, to be generous to yourself in loss and present for others in love?

But unlike the often frosty empowerment of Body Talk, these dialogues are presented casually, with slight builds and light hands: Airy house beats waft in benignly, a far cry from the martial four-to-the-floor of her past; snatches of chipper, tinny phone conversations unfurl over unhurried tropical house with the casual aplomb of a jam session. Still, Robyn presents them in a way that makes her resolutions feel both instinctive and deeply traveled; melodies and emotions resolve simultaneously, slowly, and imperfectly, without editorialized conclusions.

Honey opens itself gradually, as if in the half-life of Body Talk. The sterile, sober “Missing U” is threaded with fresh heartbreak, in the same school of cinematic beat drops that made her “Dancing on My Own” and “Hang With Me” such cathartic floor-fillers. It’s Honey’s most melancholy song, familiar in its duress, and Robyn’s voice carries the evolution: Where she once stripped her tone of cheeky inflections and small breathy affectations—singing with a sort of level sturdiness that amplified her plainspoken pain, Scandinavian to the marrow—here she is borderline gasping; her falsetto is sighing and acrobatic. Bewildered, she echoes in the vacuum between kickdrums, reaching blindly into “this empty space you left behind,” simply existing in loss. This realm is so eerie and empty it sounds post-apocalyptic, as synths interject like torturous memories, and the drums insist on their dull throb of grief, pushing home the devastating coda: “All the love you gave/It still defines me.” As she’s done so slyly in the past, her instrumental emotionally mirrors her words, deepening the cut of both.

Robyn’s path soon turns sunnier and softer; for an artist who brought such empathy to the ostracized role of the Other Woman in “Call Your Girlfriend,” there is no melodramatic, obsessive devotion to be found on Honey. On “Because It’s in the Music,” producers Joseph Mount and Klas Åhlund volley up a glittery, morose disco shuffle—like Giorgio Moroder after 10 spins of “Holocene”—as Robyn laments a song she shares with her ex-love, one she still spins with self-flagellating regularity to his empty side of the bed. But her compulsive behavior is more restrained now, quicker to ask for mercy: “Baby Forgive Me” is the rare Robyn song to ask something of anyone else. Her songs usually relay her experience of dancing alone without urging you do the same; she promises she’ll be “Indestructible” in love without mobilizing the masses behind her. By presenting how she processes her trauma alone, she opens a community to those who need it. (And an eccentric one, to boot: Hear the odd, yawping backing vocals here and marvel at the island of misfit toys Robyn can assemble at whim.)

”Send to Robin Immediately,” with its slow synthpop burn and sample of Lil Louis’ 1989 dance hit “French Kiss,” captures the tentative first steps of assertiveness after heartbreak. “If you’ve got something to say/Say it immediately,” she coos, not unkindly, over producer Kindness’ loping, snowballing pulse. But as it happens, Robyn and her beau won’t be doing much talking: “Honey,” object of so much fan beseeching, arrives next, like a sunbeam. This version, which Robyn labored over for years, is breezier than it was in its tentative debut on “Girls”; her throaty vocals, like her libido, command the room with full liberty. As she purrs her infatuation—“Every breath that whispers your name/It’s like emeralds on the pavement”—and follows it to the bedroom, the classic house beat gallops to match a racing pulse. The synths melt outward mirroring the euphoria of the lyrics; serene in her lust, she directs her lover to the flower “stuck in glitter strands of saliva.” It’s hazily gorgeous and excessively horny and dreamily decisive, with Robyn as the lone director and receiver.

Robyn and her love’s happy, third-act reunion feels inevitable after the thrall of “Honey”—though she briefly diverts to a ’90s house party on “Between the Lines,” and skitters off to the shore in an electro-samba ditty called “Beach 2k20” in which she basically speak-sings to a group WhatsApp thread about a waterside restaurant hang. (There’s also a sly, blink-and-miss-it vocal nod to her 1995 hit “Show Me Love.”) Its humidity nicely sets up the closing track, “Ever Again,” in which Robyn chirps she’s “Never gonna be brokenhearted/Ever again,” like Scarlett O’Hara clutching a drum machine. It’s as classic a Robyn narrative as any on the album: A passionate peak, full of loopholes, left to resolve offscreen with messy realism.

And so Robyn rides into the sunset, after nearly 15 years spent capturing the nobility of loneliness. It’s such an alluring idea that “Ever Again”’s bittersweet top-note (“Never gonna let it happen/Then it would be all for nothing”) leaves just a glancing blow. But here, finally, is the real romance of Honey: Instead of willing her relationship to be infallible, she’s banking instead that she can bear future pain without shattering. It’s a turn from the grand narrative of moving alone through the world, faltering a little less with each step until euphoria takes over. It’s joyful to hear that Robyn’s found this peace, and as ever, she champions us toward the same.


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