If you mention Robyn, everyone knows who you’re talking about – even if they scratch their head and say ‘Oh yes, With Every Heartbeat?’ Admittedly, Robyn is far better known in the gay community for her music. Despite positive critical reaction, Body Talk - the follow-up to her eponymous album – did not match the commercial success of its predecessor in the UK. It’s likely that you all know that, however it is a collaboration recorded between the two albums which you really should know about.
‘The Girl and the Robot’ was the second single from Röyksopp’s 2009 album Junior, featuring Robyn as an uncredited vocalist. The first reason you should know about it is because, frankly, it’s the standout track on the album. That’s not to say that the album itself is not worth a listen in it own right; it stands out as much because it is so different to many of the other songs on the album – certainly far more up tempo than the lead single ‘Happy Up Here’, which was much more what you would expect from Röyksopp. Indeed, this track would be just as much at home on Body Talk, a project on which Röyksopp worked as producers.
Here it is Robyn who ‘makes’ the song, be it from the influence in the song writing, the vocal delivery, or her presence in the music video. The ‘girl’ herself is, as the title suggests, in love with a robot – and quite literally, if the video is anything to go by. Styled in her own inimitable fashion, Robyn is shown waiting late at night for the return of her lover, a robot who apparently works all hours day and night. The video shows flashbacks to Robyn’s initial purchase of the robot from its creators (Röyksopp themselves) through to her initial ‘romance’ with said mechanical creation, before returning to depict her disappointment when her pregnancy test has returned ‘not pregnant’. Did I miss anything? Oh yes, the section where the robot performs its own dance, complete with lens-flares and funky moves. Quite apart from the obvious quirkiness of the video itself, which suits all the artists concerned, the whole idea of making the robot an actual robot and not an analogy for some work-obsessed (human) boyfriend adds to its originality. Making an analogy to it would, frankly, be boring.
Another interesting thing about the video is that it serves to divert attention away from the robot and back to Robyn herself. Put simply, why on earth is the girl in the love with the robot? It cannot love her back. So instead of considering why a random male is so aloof we actually wonder why the girl herself is so obsessed, bringing us back to her and her obvious loneliness. This in itself is heightened by the vocal delivery and Robyn’s skill with lyrics that speak of sadness in such an affecting manner ‘In the night, call you up and / Wanna know when you’re coming home / Don’t deny me, call me back / I’m so alone’. As with songs such as ‘Be Mine’ or ‘Dancing On My Own’, it is the delivery of the lyrics that make them powerful, but in this case as part of a chorus that sours to an emotive climax.
This leaves, last but not least, the instrumentation. As clichéd as it may sound, ‘The Girl And The Robot’ is a pure-at-heart floorfiller. It is a tremendous dance track; from the initial synth intro through to the chorus of strings at the end, it projects itself with a sense of being ‘epic’ in a way in which many dance tracks of the last ten years fail to do. There is barely any let-up from the beat and where it does pause for breath, this is simply to set up the build towards a new peak to the song. Thanks to the expertise and experience of Röyksopp, it works perfectly.
In effect, this is one of those rare moments where all the separate elements come together to produce something rather special; a killer dance track, good songwriting, impeccable vocal delivery and a noteworthy video. There were only two things which ‘The Girl And The Robot’ lacked here in the UK; airplay, and the commercial success it deserved. Mind you, these seem to be two things which, inexplicably, continue to dog both Robyn and to some extent Röyksopp themselves.