‘Robyn Is Here’ Turns 15: Backtracking
Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
When a pop star continues to grow and get better at what they do, it’s always interesting to look back and see how their early work sounds in light of their later peaks. And if said tunesmith is Robyn, well, it’s all the more fascinating to cycle back to the beginning of her bumpy ride. Our favorite Swedish pixie’s debut, Robyn is Here, was released 15 years ago this week (on Jun. 24). And guess what? Upon a listen in 2012, the record holds up rather decently. Of course, it helps that this first LP is a hit-filled trove of ’90s rhythmic pop that predated the turn-of-the-century bubblegum explosion.
Ready to show Robyn’s early days some love? If so, head below, pop pickers!
It should be noted that by the time Robyn Is Here was, er, here, in the United States, Robyn had already had some success with it in her native Sweden. Her first two singles there were career-making hits in her home country, and although “You’ve Got that Somethin'” and “Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect)” (more on those later) made it to the slightly re-jigged American release, they were both passed over, stateside, for the album’s lead single.
We’re talking about the sassy, bumping “Do You Know (What it Takes)”, a Denniz Pop/Max Martin collaboration that went on to peak at number #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Yes, the same Max Martin who now crafts smashes for the likes of Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Usher.
Robyn, “Do You Know (What It Takes)”
Entirely co-produced by Robyn with a cadre of Swedish pop maestros, Robyn Is Here clearly displays signs of the “Cheiron sound” that would come to dominate the airwaves in the next few years via artists such as Britney, Backstreet Boys, and *NSYNC. (Cheiron being the studio founded by Denniz Pop, who would become Max Martin’s musical mentor before passing away at the age of 35 in 1998.) Yet the LP also features Robyn’s own distinctive brand of songwriting: infectious pop songs at once both vulnerable and tough, framed by contemporary dance beats.
In the US, the album’s second single “Show Me Love” was a late addition to the American release, and it followed its predecessor into the Top 10. Peaking at number #8 on the Hot 100, this bombastic plea for amour gave the world a video seemingly inspired by ads for Clavin Klein’s CK One fragrance. In turn, it also gave the world the endearingly confusing line, “You’re the one that I ever needed.”
Robyn, “Show Me Love”
Having made significant inroads into American, Robyn had nowhere to go but up from this point. Appearances on shows like All That and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch made her a household name among the pubescent, music-buying set, and a third hit single was naturally in the cards. The singer’s label, Jive, decided to go back to her second Swedish single, “Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect)”, for her next offering to US radio.
Robyn, ‘Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect)”
Despite being another winning slice of R&B-influenced ear candy, “Do You Really Want Me” was never released as a CD single in the States, thereby hindering to dent the Hot 100. (This was the time period when the industry was trying anything to goose album sales, including killing off physical singles.) But, fear not, those seeking chart validation for Robyn — the song received enough airplay to land at #10 on the Pop Songs list. (Hey — it’s better than nothing!)
Sadly, this would be the last of Robyn’s American radio presence in North America until 2008. She did, however, manage to eke out one last single in the UK: originally her debut single in Sweden, “You’ve Got That Somethin'” could sit easily on any playlist containing whatever else was out at the time by Janet Jackson or Mariah Carey.
Robyn, “You’ve Got That Somethin'”
Although she never abandoned the pop sheen of her debut, Robyn’s songwriting became more personal on her second effort, My Truth — which, sigh, perhaps sheds light on why it never saw the light of day on these shores. After that, she concentrated on releasing music in Sweden, writing for other artists and establishing her own label, Konichiwa Records. All for the better, as the time out of the American spotlight only made us appreciate her more.
A decade later, by the time we met up with Robyn again, her mastery of the heartbreaking dance track afforded her a wider audience — and established her as an icon of electronic pop music. Her role on the cutting-edge of pop didn’t take shape overnight. But in 1997, Robyn Is Here lived up to its title, and declared definitively that Robyn was indeed in it for the long haul.