Friday, August 10th, 2018

Robyn – Missing U

If you liked anything on Body Talk, you’ll most likely like this!


Vikram Joseph: Folding a dense, profound vein of sadness into a glittery package isn’t exactly terra nova for Robyn, but “Missing U” amplifies both the sweetness and the pain to unprecedented, almost deafening levels. The spray of synths that dominate the song are sparkling whitecaps on a vast, cold sea, alluring enough to mask the savage depths below. Melodically, it shares its unresolved two-chord throb with “With Every Heartbeat”, but while that song pulsed like a dull headache, the Robyn of “Missing U” feels more viscerally devastated, seeing the person she’s lost everywhere and in everything. She finds some striking ways to express the sense of waste and loss; it’s “residue,” “a slick washed up onto the beach,” a “clock that stopped.” To her, it’s a half-finished novel with the author cut down in her prime; to them, who knows, maybe just a short story, readily forgotten. And maybe no one thing means the same to two different people. There’s a brutal permanence to the closing line, “All the love you gave, it still defines me.” To channel that into euphoria, well, that’s a special kind of alchemy.

Ian Mathers: Robyn hasn’t been gone, not really, just working in different ways, different registers, and without any real drop in quality (her EP with Mr. Tophat last year was a lot of fun, for example). But I’d be a goddamned liar if I didn’t admit it still feels so good to have her back in this form, and that “Missing U” sounds just as sadly rapturous as ever.

Alfred Soto: As usual she has a killer instinct for the pathos-laden ululation, this time choosing “residue” as the word on which she lingers. Yet the rest of the track’s prettiness and Robyn’s half-hearted performance doesn’t connect. 

Katherine St Asaph: There’s a music game, started on ILM, about artists releasing their “New Jersey”: “a huge event album that ultimately feels a bit hollow & signals a career decline.” (Examples: the eponymous Bon Jovi album, Born This Way, Dangerous, Black & Blue and Encore.) The game doesn’t quite work for an artist whose success has come in quick bursts almost two decades apart, or for, y’know, a song. But man, does “Missing U” feel like a New Jersey.

Julian Axelrod: Fuck Seinfeld — “Missing U” is a literal song about nothing. There have been a million songs about adjusting to a partner’s absence, but few examine emptiness on such an elemental level. In Robyn’s lament, heartbreak changes the very fabric of the world around her: time slows to a crawl, space warps and disappears, and even a piece of beach glass promises a clue that never comes. It’s all tantalizingly real and maddeningly abstract at the same time, a meditation on the void that hints at a universe just beyond our reach. But no one grounds our intangible emotions in reality quite like Robyn, and so “Missing U” is really a song about everything. It’s about the never-ending search for the pieces of yourself, and the small reminders of who you used to be. But actually, at its heart of hearts, “Missing U” is a song about a synth: one perfect, undulating sequence of notes, twinkling like a million pieces of glass in the sun, reaching its arms into space toward a resolution it will never find. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Julian Baldsing: Robyn can make the music she makes because she understands how deeply different emotions can coexist at the same time — fuelling each other as much as they clash together. “Missing U” in particular hits like it does because it plays on this hard; moments of cliché tussle with brief clarity, while Robyn spins in circles, looking forward in one instant, and then back in another. That one, magic lyric “I’ve turned all my sorrow into glass / it don’t leave no shadow” is only bolstered by the fact that it’s nestled between two lines that say the opposite. And that’s what pain can feel like; this crashing wave that draws back just long enough for you to catch your breath, to have a second to decide you want to fight for something different — until it slams into you again, and all those feelings are brought together as they battle it out until the next lull. “Missing U” is a song about grief that desperately wishes it wasn’t, but with every confession at the end of each chorus comes the sinking realisation that none of these emotions would exist if there still wasn’t love.

Eleanor Graham: The fact that Robyn has already released this decade’s defining searing, soaring synthpop anthem may well prevent “Missing U” from becoming the searing, soaring synthpop anthem it’s gorgeous enough to be. It doesn’t end with a chorus, it doesn’t grit its teeth and head back out on the dancefloor. It’s windswept and obsessive. “Finding clues in my pockets and/opening boxes and/going places we went/remember to forget” is straight up agonising. Don’t even talk to me about “this part of you/this clock that stopped”. Such is its unique beauty — no other Robyn song has captured quite so acutely the tragedy of unfinished business, and in a world without “Dancing”, it might have defined her. Destined to make the sidebar in a few of our broken hearts.

Will Adams: I understand why so many are still talking Body Talk — it was a landmark moment for Robyn, one that truly cemented the still-perfect formula of synth arpeggios + crying-on-the-dancefloor dramatics. But what “Missing U” really gives me is “With Every Heartbeat.” It’s there in the production, how the rhythm track amounts to little more than an insistent kick and light skitters. It’s there in the unconventional structure, where the verses keep spilling over bars until it completely unravels by the last chorus, threads and harmonizing vocals splayed out until the song peters out into nothingness. This is the true excitement of “Missing U”; how it begins to bridge Robyn’s more adventurous work on the Royksöpp and La Bagatelle Magique EPs with the dazzling pop of Body Talk that we so fixated on.

Rachel Bowles: Just in case you’ve forgotten sometime in the last 8 years (!) since her last album, Robyn is the Queen of danceable heartbreak. “Missing U”‘s title suggests the intimacy of a text or DM, maybe one sent but never read, whether through ghosting or grief. The music may seem sparse in comparison to ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ or ‘Dancing on My Own,’ but those sonic synth layers are still perfectly built up and stripped back to punctuate that heartache. There’s something defiant against the absurd, the seemingly irreparable loss in “your love still defines me.”

Matias Taylor: “Baby it’s so real to me/now that it’s over” begins Robyn’s first single from her first album in eight years, as the twinkling synth backing gives way to a pounding dance beat. The transition is seamless and happens in the perfect spot, just like the melancholic chord that comes in as she starts to reminisce (“all of the plans we made”). It’s a worthy continuation of her 2005 self-titled and 2010’s Body Talk; just as in the best from those albums, she’s in supreme command of her song craft here, seamlessly meshing forward-thinking electro-pop with poignant, frank sentiments of heartbreak. It doesn’t reinvent her wheel, but it doesn’t need to; no one does cry-on-the-dancefloor quite like Robyn.

Claire Biddles: Robyn’s magic stems from her ability to transform repetitive platitudes into something otherworldly. In the hands of a lesser singer, the repeated refrain, “and it hurts with every heartbeat” would fall flat, but Robyn injects it with thousands of years of romantic disappointment; each word a stab in an already broken heart. For the first few listens, “Missing U” doesn’t quite reach the heights of her best work. But then, one by one, her repeated stabs finally penetrate our flesh, and we’re there with her: finding reminders of lost love in old coat pockets, remembering plans never followed through. It all leads up to the kicker: “All the love you gave/it still defines me”, sung with the same resignation and melodrama that elevated “Dancing On My Own”‘s last-chance statement of intent: “I just came/to say goodbye”. Robyn only really tells one story, but it’s a fair reflection of real life: the gaps between them might get bigger, but we’ll always circle back to these familiar crises of loneliness.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Those shimmering synths and their utility are a good foretaste of what’s to come. They depict a sort of glamor that quickly recedes once Robyn announces “that it’s over.” Their departure is a nonevent, and it feels particularly insignificant after the blasting crash cymbal and kick drum. It’s apt: a sudden ending to A Good Thing doesn’t mean the world stops moving, and realizing that you’ll have to continue trucking through life on your own doesn’t come with any satisfying consolation. One would hope that the synth pads that appear would overpower the listener to provide some sort of release, but they’re too low in the mix–obviously present but ultimately inconsequential. They serve more to dull the effects of those initial synths upon their return in the chorus, and the flatness of all the instrumentation acts as the perfect backdrop for Robyn as she announces that “there’s this empty space you left behind/now you’re not here with me.” Dancefloor heartbreak is nothing new for Robyn, but this is a song for people in an indefinite period of sadness. “All the love you gave/it still defines me” is a hell of a line to cap everything off, and it captures that feeling of numbness well. But at nearly five minutes, this hollow shell of a song comes off less like a frozen-in-time, contemplative meditation on loss than it does an endless wallowing that grows more purposeless by the second. I’m all for that in theory, but Robyn’s performance and the bloodless instrumentation don’t convince me that such excess was necessary.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Missing U” is all about balance — between the constantly alternating synth riff that undergirds the song and Robyn’s descending vocal lines, between the feelings of longing and hope that she conveys, between the rush of the chorus and the open space of the verse. In a less adept artist’s hands, this would be boring — it’s almost too controlled, with none of the explosive climaxes that came with her Body Talk singles. But Robyn is Robyn, and she makes “Missing U” into perfect sonic alchemy, the purest form of dancefloor anthem.

William John: Robyn is characterised by many as the empress of a monolithic, melancholy disco, but her dominions are multifaceted. She’s recounted to us the particular torments of being variously alone and self-sufficient (“Dancing On My Own“), alone and frustrated (“Be Mine!“) and alone but resolute (“With Every Heartbeat“). But on “Missing U” she’s just…alone, with nothing but a glittery synth for company, no punchline to shatter the glass she’s formed from her sorrow. It’s interesting to consider criticism of this song as retreading old ground (especially when Robyn has spent the better part of this decade making EPs with quasi-experimental dance producers), when to my ears no other Robyn song is as extreme an example of lamentation as this, of conveying the sheer agony of an “empty space”. She’s developed a canon of songs to dance to with friends and then hug through tears afterwards, but once “Missing U” fades out, you might need to hug that friend just a second or two longer. 

Stephen Eisermann: The best songs transport you to another world, whether it is to witness a heartbreak, to relive one of your own, or, in this case, to commiserate with the artist. Robyn here does some of her best work, using her voice and the production to call to mind all heartaches from before, while relaying her own story. It sounds like stars are falling throughout the song and it’s so fitting, considering how ethereal Robyn’s voice comes across throughout, that it’s almost unsurprising to think Robyn’s tears would be stars. Lay down, close your eyes, and let this blast, because everyone needs a good cry every some times.

Alex Clifton: Nobody does emotions + club beats the way that Robyn does. Does this sound like every other Robyn song I can think of? Yeah, but that’s not a bad thing; I love it when artists know their sound and you can hear their musical fingerprint with every song they produce. “Missing U” is a delightful return to form, vulnerable and delicate but impossible not to dance to. “I turned all my sorrow to glass” is such a gorgeous line; I’m going to be stuck on that one for a while.

Scott Mildenhall: “Unrelenting emptiness” almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not: it’s “With Every Heartbeat”, it’s “Dancing On My Own”, it’s “Be Mine!”, and it’s this. Each time Robyn finds a new sound as piercing as the last: pummeling sadness, sadness lurking like a fog, and now sadness glistening like uncut diamonds (or sorrow-blown glass), in unremitting view of the ostensibly unwitting self-laceration of “all the love you gave, it still defines me”. Unrelenting emptiness might even be a tautology, if the emptiness is limitless; unending. And if it is, it would follow that it can grow to such a size and probably further, without ever quite bursting.

Reader average: [7.46] (13 votes)

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3 Responses to “Robyn – Missing U”

  1. Some arresting writing on display here. “[T]he gaps between them might get bigger, but we’ll always circle back to these familiar crises of loneliness.” – I wasn’t intending on getting this choked up on my Saturday morning, yet here we are.

  2. “’Missing U’ is a song about grief that desperately wishes it wasn’t, but with every confession at the end of each chorus comes the sinking realisation that none of these emotions would exist if there still wasn’t love.”

    so many feeellllzzzz

  3. also v surprised no one mentioned the “message to my fans” video, which was so heartfelt and weird and just showed so much footage of her being adorable and uncomfortable as her gay cult pummeled her with love