Disappearing. It’s probably the most underrated strategy in pop music, but when it’s executed properly, it’s devastating. Robyn Carlsson mastered it when she single-handedly erased herself from the international (if not Swedish, where she continued to release music) music scene for a good eight years after charting with the huge hit ‘Show Me Love’ in 1997. Co-written by the same powerhouse responsible for the Britneys and Christinas of the world, the song made her instantly popular in the US when she was still a teenager. Exhausted and overwrought, she spent the next five years in continual battles with her record label, which didn’t release her subsequent albums internationally despite her obvious songwriting and performing ability, and excised herself from the relationship in 2004. By the time Americans, Australians like me and Brits heard the little pixie soprano again, she’d been out of their heads for nearly a decade. But when she came back, she did it with a vengeance.
In 2012, any bedroom producer can start their own label and distribute their material on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. Back in the dark ages of 2005, that wasn’t such an easy proposition, and for a dance-pop artist, it was even more unlikely that it would succeed. But Robyn, who has two actors for parents, was born with the entertainment bug and an uncompromising desire to do just that. Thus she poured her resources and energy in Konichiwa Records, sent a big ‘fuck you’ to her major and started writing the kind of stuff she wanted to. Robyn ditched her sugary sweet roots and went badass. She got The Knife, The Teddybears and other forward-thinking producers on board, whipping an album so good that she could only name it after herself. With uncompromising, beat-heavy attitude, bombs like ‘Konichiwa Bitches’, ‘Who’s That Girl’ and ‘Handle Me’ (teamed with a bitching new haircut) Robyn v2.0 had well and truly arrived. Two years later, Interscope put it out in the US, the Grammys nominated her for Best Electronic album and ‘Show Me Love’ probably had a huge spike of searches online as we all reacquainted ourselves with the dynamo who never really stopped working.
‘Hang With Me’ comes from my favourite Robyn release, Body Talk Pt 1. Though each of the eventual Body Talk records were supposed to be minor hits, they became far bigger than Carlsson anticipated, with the demand for singles meaning she found herself on TV and blasting out of the radio with alarming frequency throughout the year. It was an ambitious project that pulled in all the extended networks Robyn had collected over the years, included collaborations with Diplo and Savage Skulls, and features from Royksopp and Snoop Dogg. It also came back to square one with two numbers from Max Martin, the very same guy who’d penned ‘Show Me Love’. But there was only one song in the bunch so good that she chose to record it twice. That was ‘Hang With Me’, an absolutely pure and earnest ballad using only piano and strings which pushed Robyn’s message home far more impressively than a shaved peroxide haircut and geometric print sweaters. While it goes down the same path as ‘Dancing On My Own’, ‘Hang With Me’, which begs for platonic friendship with the warning ‘Just don’t, fall, recklessly helplessly in love with me.’ It’s about needing companionship in the most basic and real of forms, and accordingly, Robyn strips back the electronica and the beats to push out what I still believe to be the defining performance of her career. As the strings swirl upward and her voice soars up to the high notes, it’s all a bit emotionally overwhelming. That lump in the back of your throat?
That’s called brilliant pop writing.
Robyn – ‘Hang With Me’