Saturday, August 07, 2010

konichiwa, robyn

Carnegie Hall, 1998. I’m backstage, ready to hit the big time after all those ‘practices’ we were told would get us here. It’s the finals of the National Collegiate Championships of A Cappella, and my gals and I are about to sing four songs in a bid to be named best collegiate a cappella group in the country.

I’ll cut to the chase: we don’t win. (Though, being the only all-female group in the finals, we’re happy to call ourselves the best all-female group in America for that year.) I’m thrilled to have sung the lead on "Mysterious Ways," which I guess I nailed in each of the previous two rounds to help get us here! But, most importantly for this post, it’s the first time a tune by the Swedish sensation Robyn has been sung within the hallowed walls of Carnegie Hall. “Show Me Love” never sounded sweeter, if I do say so myself! And now, let's fast-forward.

Twelve crazy years later, my knees and back are #killingme. I’ve been standing among sweaty boys for the past four hours, waiting for Robyn to make her grand entrance at Webster Hall. It has got to be 104 degrees in here—so hot that Robyn’s co-headliner Kelis decided in the previous set to do away with her 70s-style wig of flowing glittery locks and just finish the show in her natural cropped coif. In the dozen years between Midtown West and East Village, Robyn has gone from wannabe R&B pop diva to veritable synthpop darling, with her two most recent albums, 2007’s self-titled Robyn and this year’s Body Talk Pt. 1—one of three albums she’s releasing in 2010—garnering serious props from music critics major and minor.

And now, I cannot wait to dance.

Robyn is a bit of an enigma. She’s Swedish, which might suggest bulky blonde. She is in fact quite petite, but she does pack a punch, both in her vocals and her stage presence. She clearly loves the interplay of technology and music; in the past few years she’s released tunes with titles like “The Girl and the Robot,” “Fembot,” and “Robotboy.” And these songs do tend to incorporate the beeps and drones of robot-sounding machines. But Robyn’s the kind of artist who’s just as happy to whip out a rap or reggae track, like the playful “Konichiwa Bitches” or the trippy “Dancehall Queen,” or a sweet ballad such as the acoustic version of “Be Mine.” She’ll even throw in a Swedish folk song now and again! But the heart of her repertoire is electronically-infused dance music. Lest you think that sounds like any old pop star’s lineup, think of Robyn’s as a wall of ear candy, with a spray of lush minor chords and unique arrangements coming at you from all directions, with the Swede’s strong yet quirky voice carrying whatever melody or rhythm she lays on top of it all.

So, back to the night in question... Finally Robyn hits the stage, and it is awesome. Singing and dancing ensue, and the audience and I don’t stop until after her two encores, which come about an hour after she first appears. She performs a slew of oldies, most of the tracks from Body Talk Pt. 1, and even unveils the first-ever performance (“in the history of the world!” she says) of “Hang With Me,” the lead single off of Body Talk Pt. 2, due out next month. She dances so hard, she has to take most of an entire song out to breathe. Other standout numbers include “Dancing On My Own,” “Dream On,” and the mesmerizing “With Every Heartbeat.” The audience is left begging for more, but it’s been a dreamy, if sweaty, night.

The next day, Robyn has a brief in-store performance uptown, just a few short blocks from Carnegie Hall. And of course I’m there, front row! But no dancing this morning. Admittedly a bit hung over from the previous night, Robyn performs lovely acoustic versions of three songs, including the first one I ever heard her sing, “Show Me Love.” And then, wonder of wonders, I get to meet her. I tell her about her Carnegie Hall debut, and she laughs and remarks how cool that is as she signs my album. And that, ladies and germs, is a keeper.

Top two photos by Kolored via BrooklynVegan. Bottom photo by 20tauri.

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