Building a set almost entirely from unfamiliar material when you're one of the headliners isn't exactly part of the festival playbook, but that's exactly what Robyn did this past Friday night at Governors Ball. Dressed in a silver leotard and shiny pants (that, in true Robyn fashion, included one fringed leg), the Swedish pop star played a set of remixes of her classic hits along with some new material, threaded together like one excellent, continuous dance mix.
Opening with a slow, shimmering cover of Joakim's remix of Kindness's "Who Do You Love," which featured Robyn's guest vocals, she moved into a glitchy, slo-mo version that gradually revealed itself to be a remix of her "Hang With Me." Afterward, she played what sounded like a new song with an energetic disco beat that bore a striking resemblance to Michael Zager Band's "Let's All Chant." Many of the reworked tracks favored down-tempo arrangements with remixes like The Mekanism's "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do" and Cassius's "Dancing on My Own," retaining the core vocals of Robyn's originals while revamping their punchy, robotic pop into cooler, synth-washed rhythms. Robyn brought out guests throughout the set, further restaging and remixing: vocalist Maluca, who is featured on Robyn’s "Love Is Free"; the Swedish singer/Konichiwa Records signee Zhala; and several dancers who shook and vogued across the stage as Gov Ball's stage cameras spun around them.
Rather than a concert, the show felt like a Robyn-themed club night with a particularly deft DJ, a glorious reward for the true stans. But as great as it was, it also left the sense that Robyn was extending the tether even further. In the five-ish years since touring on 2010's Body Talk, she has found other paths — her Do It Again collaborative tour with Röyksopp, her Love Is Free EP with La Bagatelle Magique last year, and founding Tekla, a tech conference for girls. It’s clear that Robyn is creatively charged by collaboration and also works at an incremental pace that's out of sync with the churn and schedule of popular music. She may be working in pop, but she is also challenging it — which is a huge part of why she is so captivating.
Despite this, the Gov Ball audience seemed to be largely made up of folks who wanted the hits, and wanted them the way they remembered them. A young man near me repeatedly screamed “play the hits, bitch!" throughout the show. Members of the crowd began to bond over how they couldn't recognize a lot of the music, while others left clearly frustrated.
As more and more concertgoers began to complain around me, I was struck by how ironic the audience's disdain was. Robyn wants you to come to her dance floor looking to lose yourself, not to find her. She might be the personality leading the show, but on Friday night it felt like she was down on the floor, in the music, like one of us. Giggling alongside her guests, thrashing to her reflection in the many mirrors on stage, grooving behind her microphone (which was adorned with a silver ponytail), Robyn was in her own zone. The remixes took the spotlight off of "Robyn, The Pop Star," letting her share the stage with the glitter-dusted dancers and other artists, ultimately upholding just dancing as the star of the event. This is exactly the environment to play this kind of set: at the end of a sweaty festival, faded and fucked-up, desperately searching for something to move to as The Strokes blast from the other side of the festival grounds. How could such a disco-swept Robyn crowd have such grim vibes?
I was reminded of her latest release, Love Is Free, as Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique. She performed two songs from the five-track EP during the show, "Love Is Free" and "Set Me Free," unremixed. Both were insane to hear live, especially with Maluca working the stage alongside Robyn. Love Is Free is not the Top 40–aimed electro-pop of Body Talk, but pure house music with Robyn as MC. It's a record entirely about power and control. There is no narrative, no star at the center of a story of heartbreak and love; Robyn is telling you, the dancer in the crowd, what to give and take from the music, with an emphasis on the beats. "Imma give it you baby, Imma give it when I'm ready," she sings on "Love Is Free." "You never know where you get it, ’cause you can't control it and you can't unfold it, slow down … slow down ... slow down," she repeats.
Music festivals demand that artists be accommodating, even to the concertgoers who don't especially like them. You're supposed to play all the hits so that a crowd who maybe didn't really pay to see you can feel good about their festival-ticket investment. But Robyn did the opposite, instead choosing to challenge the people who wandered over to her stage at the end of the day. At the end of her set, culminating in a Joakim remix of "With Every Heartbeat," a much smaller crowd remained, grousing that Robyn hadn’t performed "Call Your Girlfriend." It felt so powerful, to withhold that song from an audience that clearly didn't appreciate what she was giving them. "Is she serious?" a young woman asked, exasperated, on the edge of the crowd. Yes, she is. Slow down.