We Need Robyn More Than Ever

In the 20 years since ‘Show Me Love,’ she has proved herself a god among mortals

In the summer of 1997, we met Robyn for the first time.

After releasing a full-length debut in Sweden in 1995, the then-18-year-old singer dropped Robyn Is Here in North America two years later and ushered in the era of “Show Me Love” and “Do You Know (What It Takes).” And while the album didn’t conquer the charts, it left a big impression. We knew right away that Robyn was the kind of artist who could deliver bona fide pop jams whenever she wanted to.

Plus, she was as accessible as she was interesting. Robyn’s lyrics suggested that she rightfully held herself in high regard (see: the entirety of “Do You Know (What It Takes)”), but still didn’t shy away from being vulnerable. Like all 18-year-olds, she contained multitudes. Her complexity as both a writer and performer offered listeners a fresh brand of power anthems that some of us (hi!) used to fuel ourselves before school dances or meet-ups at the mall. And then she all but disappeared for about 10 years.

Of course, Robyn hadn't really gone away. She released three more albums before 2010’s Body Talk trilogy, and she opened for a Madonna tour after the release of 2005's Robyn. But these albums either weren't released at all in North America, or they weren't released until years later. So despite her years of writing, recording, collaborating, and performing, it took Robyn’s reemergence as an electro-pop force via “Dancing on My Own” for us to stand up again and take notice. Over the course of a decade she had reinvented herself dramatically — and what's most fascinating is that she'd nonetheless stayed true to her original mandate.

Ultimately, Robyn is and has always been a pop star who marries power with vulnerability, and uses sweeping hooks to lure us in before enabling us to act and make reasonable demands. (Enter: “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do.”)

And yes, she’d changed her hair, swapped out her mall-centric wardrobe, and performed with newfound sensational abandon, in contrast to the relative stillness of her '90s video persona. But unlike the kind of makeover-as-currency that sometimes shows up over the course of a pop career, Robyn’s evolution seemed more like an honest reflection of what happens as a person ages and grows. Arguably, she has settled into herself, and the artist we see now is the result of natural reinvention — quiet and subtle and not as a means of proving relevance.

And this is why she is both the artist we deserve and the artist we need right now. Over the course of the last two decades, Robyn has meticulously laid a blueprint for embracing one’s self while also leaning into change. She’s not the 18-year-old singer we met back in 1997, but it’d be righteously fucked if — at 38 — she were. Her music is still effective and catchy, but it’s louder and more deliberate in its delivery. And even the way she performs — active and expressive and aggressive (as seen on the Do It Again tour three years ago) — reflects the comfort she has in herself. She knows she is Robyn, and she’s here.

That message is very effectively sent, particularly in the way her crowds are so celebratory and welcoming. Without downplaying her past or throwing shade at her contemporaries, Robyn has built an ever-growing following defined by inclusivity — an extension of the happiness she evokes in being herself, which serves as an invitation for her fans to do the same.

Ultimately, then, Robyn Is Here was less a debut than it was the start of a long game. By using her brand of pop to establish the complications that come with relationships and being alive, Robyn delivered the message that it was OK to be conflicted, to be strong and vulnerable at once. And then, after laying that groundwork, she swung back to inspire everyone all over again, using Body Talk to encourage her fans to stand up and unapologetically bask in the glow of being flawed and romantic and powerful and great.

Which is the type of message we really can’t hear enough. So while Robyn clearly deserves downtime with room to write and to grow, it’s worth noting that our pop landscape feels noticeably smaller without her currently dancing in it. She should take her time in releasing a full-length follow-up to Body Talk. But as some other pop stars eagerly attempt to channel the energy that makes Robyn so innately herself, it's obvious how much we need her.