Robyn review, Alexandra Palace, London: Exhilarating, practically perfect show

Record labels are desperately searching for the new Robyn. Clearly, though, this one isn’t done yet

Alexandra Pollard
Saturday 13 April 2019 10:55
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The stage is a mix of serenity and clutter but the 39-year-old popstar is all you can look at
The stage is a mix of serenity and clutter but the 39-year-old popstar is all you can look at

Robyn has stopped singing. Midway through “Dancing On My Own” – a track that barely bothered the charts on its release in 2010, but has since become one of the defining pop songs of the 21st century – the 10,000-strong crowd at Alexandra Palace are doing it for her. Most popstars would take back the reins after a line or two. Robyn, scraping her hands across her face, visibly overwhelmed, lets us carry on. And on. It is one of the most exhilarating moments of a show that is practically perfect.

The stage Robyn arrives onto is a mix of serenity and clutter. Dry ice cascades around her; a thin white gauze flutters over the entire stage – but behind it, a giant, desperate hand reaches up, and a mess of other fabrics hang like creepy, chaotic cobwebs. Robyn – who starts off stock still and stiff, a pained expression on her face, her eyes clamped shut – looks tiny among it all. But she is all you can look at: so eerily present in her own body that she seems both unaware of what’s going on around her, and overawed by it.

As opener “Send to Robin Immediately” – a track from last year’s Honey, Robyn’s first album in eight years – gives way to that record’s title track, her body relents. She unclenches, and begins to caress herself. The song, just like the set, is beauty and ugliness colliding: “At the heart of some kind of flower / Stuck in glitter, strands of saliva / Won't you get me right where the hurt is?” she begs, shaking her head like a wet dog. It is a triumphant, lonely anthem. As is Robyn’s forte.

While a single dancer writhes around the stage, Robyn changes out of her silver dress into a blood red suit – a flared matador outfit, which she rips open during “Don’t F**king Tell Me What to Do”. Nine years since its release, that song – in which Robyn lists all the things that are “killing me”, before defiantly chanting the title line over a thumping house beat – still feels dangerous and thrilling. She does a sort of mooncrawl across the floor. Then a move that I can only describe as a head-stand press-up. By this point, she is unbound.

Robyn turns 40 this summer. It shouldn’t be relevant, but in an industry where even a 28-year-old like Julia Jacklin tells me she can see a ticking clock, it is. Record labels – the same ones that couldn’t quite handle Robyn as a wilful teenager a few decades ago – are now desperately searching for the new Robyn. Clearly, though, this one isn’t done yet.

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