Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Robyn – Fembot

Which is another way of saying that Robyn’s about to release a new album…


Martin Kavka: In 1988, the American folk singer Christine Lavin wrote a hilarious parody of Suzanne Vega that contained the couplet “I want to be a mysterious woman/I hate being so easy to read.” It’s an apt description of Robyn. For while most of “Fembot” is predictably icy, when the chorus comes in with its synthesized high-hat, lush harmonies, and breathy moans, it just melts gloriously all over my ears.

Alex Macpherson: Were this by a random new pop singer, someone without the built-in knowing wink that Robyn stamps on every product she puts out like a trademark, it would be trashed — and rightly so. It’s a cliché of a meme that was dull to begin with atop a beat that sets new lows in weediness. Pretty much every line elicits a wince, but it’s the computerised “reboot!” interjections which grate the most; does anyone really think this is clever, witty or in any way worthwhile? Robyn herself is, as ever, completely insufferable. Her smugly twee “rapping” shows her up as the Diplo of Scandopop when it comes to thoughtless, gimmicky appropriations of black music (she has a song called “Dancehall Queen” on her new album, you say?); she conveys no emotion except that of being inanely pleased with herself.

Martin Skidmore: The colleague I feel most in tune with here is generally Alex Macpherson, but we have been on opposite sides re Robyn — her self-titled album is among my favourite handful of the last decade. Terrific pop tunes, slickly produced, with her voice providing a great balance of vulnerability, strength, sweetness and so on. Sadly on this one I am on Lex’s side: it strives for sexiness at times, but strives too hard, and most of it is robotic and lacking in fun, and I am, belatedly, sick of this robot schtick.

Edward Okulicz: Your mileage will vary along with your tolerance for Swedish white-girl R&B — this is not completely objectionable, but the titular refrain completely ruins the song’s momentum, not to mention its internal consistency. And while I like Robyn plenty, she’s trading pretty heavily on “cute” schtick here.

Doug Robertson: Man, the future sounds amazing. Forget the failures of the modern world to provide monorails, silver suits as everyday wear and all food coming in the form of differently flavoured Tic Tacs, at least we now have music that sounds like the 21st Century feels like it should sound. Now all they need to do is perfect hoverboard technology and life will pretty much be everything I ever dreamed it would be.

Jonathan Bogart: More twee sci-fi not-quite-hip-hop pop, please.

Katherine St Asaph: Robyn’s generally been knocking her singles out of the park this year, and although this isn’t quite as massive as “Dancing On My Own,” it’s still pretty damn great, all rapid-fire whirring and technobabble that makes just enough sense. Sure, it’s more fizz than substance, and it’s a tad short at two and a half minutes, but there are far worse problems to have.

Jonathan Bradley: Last year when Robyn teamed up with Norwegian duo Röyksopp to create “The Girl and the Robot”, I commented: “DID YOU KNOW ROBOTS AREN’T HUMAN, AND SO DON’T HAVE EMOTIONS? THIS MAKES THEM A USEFUL METAPHORICAL DEVICE FOR HUMANS WHO WANT TO DISCUSS SITUATIONS IN WHICH THEY FIND THEMSELVES EMOTIONALLY EMPTY. LIKE LOVE.” Can you guess my reaction to Robyn doing exactly the same thing again this year, only with a flow that sounds like a girl version of the Bloodhound Gang’s Jimmy Pop? Extra demerits for the cutesy ad-libs on the chorus, which sound like Young Jeezy re-imagined as a My Little Pony.

Iain Mew: Beautiful Small Machines, Marina and the Diamonds and Robyn herself have all previously taken the angle on robots as metaphor for absence of feelings and/or self-determination. The token gesture towards the same in the chorus is the weakest bit here, with the idea looking well past its prime. Luckily elsewhere it gets jettisoned in favour of a stream of silly sex puns. There are misses as well as hits (and I was a little disappointed to realise that it was “No glitches, plug me in and flip some switches” rather than “Now bitches…”) but the speed and verbal dexterity with which they arrive atop neat electropop is enough to make all enjoyable.

Pete Baran: This introduces a new twist in the “singing about robots” genre, and not just the somewhat unfortunate line “initiating slut mode”. Usually the robot metaphor is one for a cold singer, trying to hide their emotions. But here Robyn plays through with the fantasy that she is indeed a robot whose heart has been broken. But Robyn isn’t a robot, as emotionless and cold as this track is, and so the push at a rhyme in “once you’ve gone tech you’ll never go back” seems wholly pointless.

Michaelangelo Matos: Lyrically deconstructing the archetype you spend your career trying to subtly undermine isn’t going to help you with anyone but indie fans. But I like the vocal melody a lot, which helps the lyrics get over, and the Auto-tune gives it a bright boost I wouldn’t have imagined without hearing it. Then again, I’m also an indie fan.

Alfred Soto: Here’s where I get ornery and wonder how the hell a Swede’s interesting haircut makes her more worth Pitchfork’s time than Ciara, who has done this I-am-a-robot shtick ten times more convincingly. And I’m pretty sure PFM would have also ignored ABBA and Roxette in 1991. So what about Ms. Fembot? Her gyroscopes, out of alignment, register no serious sonic disturbances. Beside, Shania Twain’s the only artist I can think of who would have ridden the fembot thing all the way to number one in 1998.

Chuck Eddy: This schtick was done to death before Robyn was a teenager, but somehow routing those freakazoid planet-rock electric chords through “Boom Boom Pow” and AutoTuned Britney gives it a fresh spin. Doesn’t quite make the cyborgs breathe air though.

8 Responses to “Robyn – Fembot”

  1. Deeply sad I wasn’t able to throw in my two cents as I really rather love this.

  2. Guh?! Only one 9 for this brilliant bit of electro-pop? I expect such middling grades for, I dunno, Broken Social Scene, but this is one where I expect we’d actually be in agreement. Surprised/disappointed am I.

  3. Time to fire up the Controversy Index spreadsheet again. I really rather loathe this, personally, and am glad to see galvanized scores. “Stale” about covers it (which is to say that I think I agree entirely with Chuck on this one but it still doesn’t pass the “5” threshold, since the tiredness of the conceit is actively annoying rather than just so-what for me). And the lyrics are even worse than Marina with 10x less of a tune. GUESS WHAT I AM NOT A FEMBOT.

  4. Robyn clocks in at #5 with decent score of 2.38. Here’s the rest of the top 10 (or 11):

    1. The Knife – Colouring of Pigeons (2.72)
    2. Jonsi – Go Do (2.44)
    3. MGMT – Flash Delirium (2.43)
    4. LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls (2.41)
    5. Robyn – Fembots (2.38)
    =6. Die Antwoord – Enter the Ninja (2.33)
    =6. Vampire Weekend – Giving Up the Gun (2.33)
    7. Tim McGraw – Still (2.33)
    8. Ke$ha f. 3OH!3 – Blah Blah Blah (2.24)
    9. Waka Flocka Flame – O Let’s Do It (2.22)
    10. Train – Hey Soul Sister (2.20)

  5. Yeah, I love love love this. Better than “Dancing on My Own.”

  6. “Swedish white-girl R&B” – the problem with this is when I see people pay more attention to this and give greater respect to it than American black-girl R&B. As Alfred notes, there’s no reason why Ciara shouldn’t be held in as high critical esteem as Robyn. I’d love to see someone try to argue this.

    This song gets worse every time I hear it. Cut from my blurb – the woman may as well sing “tee hee! aren’t I cute! on loop. It wouldn’t be noticeably more annoying, and at least she’d cut to the chase about what she really wants to convey.

  7. i like this song, along with “cry when you get older” (which i like more) and “dancing on my own” (which i like less). basically none of my reasons for liking any of these songs have anything to do with robyn, though: they’re good-to-very-good songs sung averagely.

    and in fact robyn’s personality/delivery/engagement all seem to me to be so very flat and average and dull that i can’t help but think all those boring us-v-them thoughts: is this stuff regarded as Serious Music (over, say, ke$ha, who has worse songs delivered better; or the now-probably-a-cliche-to-even-mention ashlee, who has better songs delivered better) [i]because[/i] of its flatness and averageness and dullness? like is the half-assed disconnection robyn has from all the ironies and contradictions and hiccups of emotion that even low-level pop stars learn early on to inhabit and play with somehow the very quality that clues people otherwise disinterested in pop music (which disinterest is, per se, totally fine) into the conviction that this stuff is deserving of their special attention?

  8. as much as i love “dancing on my own,” i would’ve given this about a [1]. i feel like for this song to be a success it would’ve had to have been written like… 20 years ago and sung by someone who can convince me that they sympathize with fembots/robots. robyn: i don’t believe you, you need more people robots.