By now, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s declaration that there are no second acts in American lives has been so roundly discredited that even non-Americans are granted an encore or two every now and then. Take, for example, Robin Miriam Carlsson, the Swedish pop singer better known as Robyn. She scored two Top 10 hits in the U.S. in the mid-’90s before succumbing to record-label politics and fading into dance-pop-compilation purgatory along with the likes of Ace of Base and Robin S. (what would a Robyn article be without a reference to the similarly-named ’90s house diva who, like Robyn, scored a hit with a song titled “Show Me Love”?). These days, Robyn’s music is a little more left of center, and—though there’s no good reason for it, really—you’re unlikely to hear her new single, “Handle Me,” on Top 40 radio despite contributing to recent albums by Britney Spears and Jordin Sparks and appearing on a Snoop Dogg remix. Instead, her second act is comprised of bucketfuls of well-earned praise from the indie sect and lots of love from metropolitan gays in the know.
Both factions were on hand for Robyn’s performance at the Grand Ballroom in New York City last night, and the crowd was perfectly willing to test the durability of the Manhattan Center’s seventh floor, stomping in 4/4 rhythm to the singer’s largely uptempo set, which included all but three tracks from the new North American version of her near-perfect collection of pop songs titled simply Robyn. She threw in a few abbreviated covers from the ’80s (Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” and Prince’s “Jack U Off”) and even tossed in a stripped down rendition of her 1997 hit “Show Me Love” and a second, acoustic version of “Be Mine!” as an encore. Still, the show clocked in at a tidy one hour, long enough to sate Robyn’s avid fans, who seemed to know every word of every one of the songs and were more than happy to prove it, but short enough to keep them wanting more.
The show was completely no frills, almost to a fault. The lighting wasn’t just minimal, it was uninspired, particularly for the venue space—unworthy of the star it was attempting to illuminate. Then again, on this particular night, Robyn had an intensity all her own, as if she had harnessed all of the electricity in the building into that flat-ironed shock of anime-style platinum-white hair, lambasting some loser who thinks he’s hot shit (“Handle Me”) and the state of the music industry (“Who’s That Girl”). If there was any question about whether Robyn is just another pop “singer” who lacks the chops to hold her own in a live setting, she’s obviously putting those suspicions to rest on her North American mini-tour: Her voice sounds almost identical to what you hear on record, with backing tracks used only for harmonies. At turns coy and bombastic, she seemed to blush at one adoring fan’s mid-song proclamation of love, and she managed to simultaneously praise both the audience and herself by capping a litany of compliments with “…and you have good taste in music too.” As if they didn’t already know.