Pop stardom is ephemeral, transitory. Stars live and die by their streaming counts, their relevance preordained by methodically calculated release dates and Twitter announcements, a symptom of competing in an oversaturated, creatively stifling marketplace.
The breakneck pace often creates diminishing returns and a challenging competitive environment, particularly for women. The narrative is as follows: once-revered ingénues indescribably become “flops,” and just as quickly as they rise, we as casual listeners enable their steep declines, finding blemishes in the sheen we were once so readily intoxicated by on our 5.5-inch smartphone screens. You don’t have to look much further than any number of recent releases in the past few years from the biggest names to see precipitous declines in sales. These are, unfortunately, the corroded cogs shipped en masse from the pop factory.
For Swedish would-be teen sensation Robin Miriam Carlsson, this trajectory is an all-too-familiar workplace hazard.
At age 15, the young woman (now mononymously known as Robyn the world over) signed to RCA Records, collaborating with Max Martin, all but destined for success and its trappings after a string of hits in the ’90s. 1997’s “Show Me Love” managed to breach the Hot 100, sandwiched in between the weeks of *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys.
But what seemed destined wasn’t meant to be in the stars forever. Craving creative control, Robyn rejected a deal with Jive (who rebounded by signing Britney Spears). RCA shelved her second album, My Truth, partially due to her inclusion of songs about her abortion. Similarly, her 2002 LP Don’t Stop The Music was only released outside the United States.
Still, Robyn’s autonomy and determination gave her staying power. At 24, she bought herself out of her contract, created Konichiwa Records, and slowly carved out a blueprint of success for others in an industry that doesn’t know what to do with women with agency.
She does only what she wants, when she wants; you may get three albums in a year, or you may get nothing at all for eight. Still, in her absence after 2010’s critically adored Body Talk, her star did not fade. It became a beacon.
Her fans see themselves in her heartbreak and her euphoria. The LGBTQ community looks at her unconventional, quirky persona and finds redemption on the dance floor. Women dance out their private desolations, energized by their pain, not debilitated by it.
At the first of two sold out shows at the Fox Theater in Oakland in support of her latest album, Honey, Robyn has finally achieved ascendancy, her steadfast patience paying in dividends.
On a set that looked like Greek ruins in the clouds, the singer brought her sharp pop songs to the fore. But this time around, the club music influences that filtered into Honey allowed for a softer Robyn to appear. Where she used to punch up, here she receded behind the stage’s sheer material, allowing for her solo supporting dancer to gracefully move across the stage during an interlude.
Not subscribing to the standard templates of pop music allowed for a more nuanced Robyn to make her indelible mark. A new confidence and resiliency was on full display. And it did not go unnoticed by her audience. Abruptly stopping before the first chorus of her biggest hit, “Dancing On My Own,” fans filled joined in unison, blissfully singing back to her. It was a cathartic release that was palpable, the packed theater never stopping their cheers as Robyn smiled endearingly, enjoying the tapestry she’s been sewing all these years.