Robyn committed a crime last night and I’m here to tell you about it.
The 39-year-old Swedish pop star had already gone through two costume changes and 11 songs at Madison Square Garden when she broke out “Dancing On My Own,” off of 2010’s Body Talk. The crowd, which was one of the most excitable I’ve seen in New York, totally lost it. When the chorus hit, Robyn put her mic down and motioned for the audience to sing for her and the band, a cappella, which we did. “I’M IN THE CORNER WATCHING YOU KISS HER/ WO-OH-OH,” everyone screamed.
We expected Robyn to sing the next bit, but instead she just stood there smiling. “This is your time,” she seemed to say. And so, an audience of a zillion people sang the chorus of “Dancing On My Own” for Robyn, in its entirety, until we were hoarse. I’ve seen a lot of musicians do that move, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone but maybe Bruce Springsteen do it so effectively.
Right after “Dancing On My Own,” Robyn transitioned into “Missing U,” the lead single off of last year’s Honey. Though that album is the most subtle she’s ever made — largely composed of humming dance tracks that sound-off to ‘90s house and disco — “Missing U” is a banger about loss. Robyn wrote much of the album after her friend and close collaborator Christian Falk passed away, and she plays with negative space throughout the lyrics on “Missing U,” which initially reads as a break up song. “I’ve turned all my sorrow into glass/ It don’t leave no shadow,” she sings right before the chorus crashes in.
Those two songs back-to-back are a lethal combination, but Robyn didn’t stop there. As the glittery outro of “Missing U” faded, the staticky beat that opens “Call Your Girlfriend” overtook the arena. At that point, people were jumping up and down, waving their arms around, pitching their voices upward to reach the high note when Robyn sings: “‘Cause youuuuuuu just met somebody newwwwww.”
I turned to my colleague, James Rettig, and said: “I think it should be illegal to do these three songs together?!”
“Dancing On My Own,” “Missing U,” and “Call Your Girlfriend” are sing-along-with-your-best-friends-at-karaoke songs, and to hear them all performed by their maker in one fell swoop after an already spectacular set was enough to make even the most lukewarm Robyn fan feel something bordering on profound.
Arena shows are often derided for how impersonal they can be; if you’re paying a reasonable amount of money for seats, then you’re probably in the upper bowl, looking down at an artist you love who might as well be a speck of stardust on a massive stage. Most of the time, you’re experiencing the show through a jumbotron. Robyn’s Honey tour presentation is relatively straightforward, but it promotes a sense of intimacy. The stage was draped in white sheets, one of which Robyn yanked down midway through her set, as if to physically break the barrier between herself and the audience; the two dancers who joined her wore tighty-whities and seemed to be making up their choreography on the fly. The overall illusion was one of spontaneity. Over the course of the night, Robyn sang Honey cuts like “Beach 2K20,” “Between The Lines,” and “Because It’s In The Music,” but she also did favorites “Indestructible,” “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do,” “Be Mine!,” and “Stars 4-Ever.” She also brought out New York native Maluca to perform their collaborative track “Love Is Free” in honor of International Women’s Day.
It was a stacked setlist, but the high of hearing “Dancing On My Own,” “Missing U,” and “Call Your Girlfriend” within the same 10 minutes carried over through two encores and spilled out onto the sidewalk after the show. As I climbed the stairs to the A/C platform of the 34th Street Herald Square subway station, a mob of people had gathered, and they were all bouncing up and down in unison. “Call Your Girlfriend” was playing out of a boom box. Spectators were singing along and taking video, and though half of the station had been at the Robyn show, the half who hadn’t knew most of the words, too. In the 30 minutes it took for the A to show up, the mob had cycled through Robyn’s greatest hits. They were still dancing when I got on the train.