Robyn: Body Talk Pt. 2

"Motherfuckers parlez on the M-I-C." That's nice, dear. Another biscuit?


Body Talk Pt. 2

Numerical Rating: 6
Label: Cherrytree / Interscope
UK Release Date: 2010-09-06
US Release Date: 2010-09-07
Artist Website

When Robyn appeared back in 1997 (crikey!), nobody was surprised when that heartless fiend we call "The Dumper" beckoned and consigned another soul to the ghostly netherworld of the bargain bin. Mixing Europop and R&B? This does not compute. A "lay-dee" telling record company bean counters how to sell records? Preposterous! This feisty Swede yelled "Non!" to flowing locks 'n' Cinderella frocks and "Oui!" to Mozzer-high quiffs 'n' Doc Martens. To the cells! Fast-forward a decade, and she emerged from the depths clutching a triumphant homemade marvel called Robyn. Payback time.

Empowered by her Lady Lazarus resurrection, Robyn has decided, Betty Big Boots-style, to unleash not one but three albums this year. That'll show them! Muuhahaha! (Rolls fingers maniacally). I think it's called "a stealth attack". Alas tragically it's also called "a birrova mess". Part Deux slightly disappoints after the solid Part Un. But hey, birthing 24 pups in one year was always gonna get messy.

Bad News Bears first. "Include Me Out" is an underwhelming stop / start roll call for Robyn's army of outsiders, loners, cleaners, etc. "If your world should fall apart / There's plenty room inside my heart," she coos. Aaah. If only she'd included "Tunes" on the list and scratched off "Dodgy Rapping". I'm sure I heard "This one's for the Granny, take a bow" too, a tad cruel considering the commonality of octogenarians with bad backs.

"Criminal Intent" meanwhile finds a randy Robyn hauled before the judge amid a hail of sirens, "Somebody alert the authorities / I've got criminal intent". On paper it sounds daring, edgy but in reality it's basically Black Eyed Peas. Robyn plays the scrappy tramp rapping about "Ripped up Pantyhose" and threatening to "Wind it / Grind it" sending the comically unhip 'Daddio' Judge all a flutter. She pleads with the jury (comprising no doubt of curmudgeonly, player hatin' old folk) not to send her down for being a saucestress's all massively embarrassing. This whole scene is wrong your honour! Seriously, I pray this is some post-ironic pastiche that's gone over my head. But I doubt it.

The main offender is "We Dance to the Beat". Imagine an idea so fearsome it would've been rejected from Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 as "too pretentious". After some cyborg mutterings, we're treated to a list of things "we" (ie. Ver Kidz) dance to. "The beat...of silent mutation / Of raw talent wasted / Of bad kissers clicking teeth / Of an eviction next door". It sounds like an escaped mental patient, high on morphine, dribbling the first ideas that enter their head whilst a rabid chimp bashes a Bontempi. It had to be the longest track too. It's HORRIBLE and sent me into a spasm which climaxed with me accidentally on purpose shaving my ears off.

But!...should you survive those sledgehammer blows to the knackers there are redemptive signs this is the genius Robyn behind the heavenly "Who's That Girl?" and "Be Mine". Praise Above! "Hang with Me" is easily one of 2010's highlights. I love it! I want it! I need it! A majestic elysian kiss of synth alchemy, a fairytale ending with a cheeky tip o' the cap to career peak "With Every Heartbeat". It's Robyn the sweetheart, "When you see me drift astray / Will you tell me to my face?". In other words, kid if you want rainbows you gotta handle some rain. Tag n' bag as evidence for the Holy Grail of pop. When she cries "Just don't fall / Recklessly / Headlessly / In love with me" you'll feel immortal. This is why you can get addicted to pop music.

The lush, string soaked "Indestructible" sits beside "Hang with Me" at the top of the mountain. Classy, romantic, passionate, the stuff dreams are made of. It's narrator once again holding out on hope against the odds, "I let the bad ones in and the good ones go" she mourns. It echoes the haunting melody of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary" and will likely get the full Queen of the dancefloor makeover on Body Talk Pt. 3. Can't wait. It also packs the switchblade to the heart pay-off "I'm gonna love you like I've never been hurt before." I'd claw my way through a thousand "Wind it / Grind It"'s to hold a diamond like that.

Amidst the pearls n' swine there are other modest charms. "In My Eyes" tempers rib-shaking drums with snuggably warm analogue synths. It's a veritable disco duvet with Robyn in full huggy bear mode, "Hey little star, come take my hand / I've got ya, you'll be OK". Whilst if "Hang With Me" was the drive into the sunset, "Love Kills" is the getting pulled over for speeding. A square jawed Robyn warns "There's a penalty for love crimes" over moody Moroder pulses and acid 808's. "Don't go messing with love it'll hurt you for real" she threatens from behind mirrored shades whilst chewing on a matchstick.

"U Should Know Better" is more bad attitude amid bullet train beats. Robyn waves her fist and reminds various establishments -- the Vatican, LAPD, the French (??) -- "to know better than to fuck with me". If the threat of Robyn's steely stare wasn't scary enough, she's brought Snoop Doggy Dogg (obviously) to help hammer home the news. Unfortunately Mr.Dogg is about as threatening as a newborn kitten, "I got a table at the coffee shop / If you knew better you would do better". Of course, it's preposterously brilliant and once again I call Snoop for President!

Robyn is a sharp, sassy star capable of making heartbreaking, cutting edge, electro-pop seemingly with ease. Her determination to do things her own way and challenge the conceptions of how records are made and released in the 21st century should be applauded. Planet pop is a brighter place with renegades like Robyn. "Having said that" (thankyou Larry David) can I be a pain and just have all the imperial pop classics from the Body Talk trilogy on one ten track album? That'd be grand. Much love, thanks!


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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

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Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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