Photo: Mark Peckmezian / Courtesy of the artist

Robyn’s ‘Honey’ Is a Lead Contender for Best Pop Album of 2018

Honey is primed in its fearlessness and repositions Robyn to reclaim her pop empire.

October 2018

The queen of pop music has finally returned. After releasing the critically acclaimed Body Talk, Robyn took an eight-year hiatus to contend with personal tragedy, professional upheaval, and general malaise. She simply wasn’t going to create new music until she was ready. It was clear that she was defining her own personal and professional conditions. The break is career suicide for mere pop-rucks, but Robyn is not any old musical mortal. She returned stronger, potent, and rectified. Honey is primed in its fearlessness and repositions Robyn to reclaim her pop empire.

A day before releasing Honey, Robyn took to Twitter to contextualized her return. She told her eager audience, “there was such a physical pleasure and sexuality to making music and creating this soundscape in which my body could experience those kinds of feelings again. That’s when I felt like I was coming back – but it wasn’t even about coming back, because I myself had really changed.” Indeed, Honey exhibits Robyn’s musical stamp yet moving her work into a transformative realm.

The title track, in particular, is significantly more sexualized and assertive than anything Robyn has previously released. She is unapologetically bodacious about her sexual prowess. As she confides, “No, you’re not gonna get what you need / But baby, I have what you want / Come get your honey.” Without question, she is in control. Her requests for pleasure are brazen and imperious especially when she sings, “Can you open up to the pleasure? / Suck it up inside like a treasure / Let the brightest place be your passion / I got your honey, baby / Let go of your doubt, say yes / Let it soak up into the flesh.” Gender norms suggest women should not be sexual, and if they are, they need to be meek or else be perceived as unfeminine. Robyn is immune to normative proscriptions. Her ardent and controlled approach to sexuality is unequivocally feminist. The quintessential title track, “Honey” fully encapsulates the album’s and Robyn’s triumphant return to pop music.

With the lead single ” Missing U,” the road from Body Talk to Honey is apparent. The opening synths drizzle down and create the same danceable spiritedness as heard on “Dancing on My Own”. Robyn’s vocal pitch is noticeably higher thereby contrasting the instrumental fortitude to a distinct docility. Her voice, though, matches the lyrical content, which illustrates loss and vulnerability. Especially when she laments, “And going places we went / Remember to forget / Thinking how it could been / I’ve turned all my sorrow into glass / It don’t leave no shadow.” This is Robyn’s trademark motility: heartfelt lyrics and vocals over computerized instrumentation juxtaposing the humanistic with the cyborgic. Here Robyn is faultlessly relatable as she engenders the initial impassioned response to heartbreak then demonstrates it is significantly more beneficial to remain self-possessed.

“Missing U” is a curtain-raiser. Positioned as the album’s opening track and released as the first single, the song slowly prepares listeners for Robyn’s transformation. There’s no better way to make an audience receptive to innovation than to first give them what they want then subvert the expectation. “Because It’s in the Music” relies on a distinct disco flourish emphasized by an unmistakable drum machines beat. The contrast works to give the track a resolute energy and move Robyn away from her standard shimmery euphoria.

The subsequent “Baby Forgive Me” is quixotic and mellow. Truly bittersweet, this track is one of the few songs where Robyn centralizes her accountability. “Baby Forgive Me” overlaps with “Send to Robyn Immediately” creating a study in contrasts. The distinguishable use of melismas and a lowered vocal register in “Send to Robyn Immediately’s” first moments signal a changed perspective. Considered in tandem, “Baby Forgive Me” depicts Robyn prostrating in front of her lover while “Send to Robyn Immediately” recaptures her agency. Whereas she accepts her responsibility in the failed relationship, she refuses to wallow in the heartache. “Send to Robyn Immediately” sees her moving on without retreating. Clearly, a lesson learned from her professional aperture.

Despite seeming unflappable, Robyn adroitly balances a fembot’s aloofness with a distinct humanity. The album’s heart is “Human Being”, as it typifies the emotional fragility Robyn so often literally and figuratively dances around. The emphasized percussion reinforced by the drum machine’s pulse collided with Robyn’s clarion call: “I’m a human being/ And so are you / My heart can’t stop beating / Don’t know what to do.” Robyn is backed by Swedish musician, Zhala, giving the usual crystalline vocals a heady sound. Together, the vocals evoke the soothsaying of an inner voice: “All these emotions are out of date/ I know it’s hard / No peace of mind, but don’t shut me out.” Listening to Robyn’s inner speech will certainly imbue the listener with a sense of empowerment.

There is nothing left to be said: Robyn’s Honey is the lead contender for best pop album of 2018.

RATING 9 / 10