Pop Is Not A Dirty Word: why I danced on my own at a Robyn gig

Columnist Douglas Greenwood used to feel anxious about going to gigs on his own, but Robyn's Paris show offered an emotional exorcism that was absolutely life affirming – with or without a gig buddy

“Ugh, that shit’s so gooood!”. Across the stage of the legendary L’Olympia in Paris, Robyn writhes on the ground as the carnal vocal samples of ‘Between the Lines’, a happier, sexier highlight from her new record ‘Honey’, send a typically stoic French crowd wild. This is equal parts a concert, rave and emotional exorcism: a space where her fans have gathered to get close to a woman credited with revolutionising pop for a generation marred by heartbreak.

Robyn is sort of a connoisseur of sadness, isn’t she? Her biggest record to date, 2010’s magnum opus ‘Body Talk’, spawned a series of singles that slotted neatly into the playlists of people trying desperately to get over break ups, bad dates and shitty partners they were yearning to escape from. ‘Call Your Girlfriend’, ‘Hang With Me’ and ‘Dancing On My Own’; microcosms of grandiose feelings that are achingly personal to each person who hears them.

They’re songs we usually listen to in solitude, but when you witness them in a crowd setting, you get that slightly stupefying feeling when you realise that the depressing experience you once considered singular has actually happened to thousands of people, and they’ve all bounced back in the same way: with the same music, sung by the same woman. In that sense, going to a Robyn concert on your own is pretty liberating, because you know you’re in the company of truly likeminded people.

Turning up to pop shows solo is usually an ostracising experience because, by definition, ‘popular’ music is made to attract the largest audience possible. For a while, I’d be anxious to do that, because there’s something slightly weird (to others, at least) about letting loose and screaming along to your favourite musician’s work with no one to bounce off, while everybody else is holding hands and singing into the faces of their best mate standing next to them.

That’s not something you have to worry about when you’re going to a show that’s a little more chin-strokey, because the atmosphere is different, but Robyn occupies that really beautiful and introspective middle-ground. She makes high brow, emotional pop that you react to in the same way you would the music of, say, Laura Marling or Sufjan Stevens, and so standing in a sea of people by yourself listening to her songs feels right. You don’t have to act in a certain way; you’re free to express yourself however you want to.

People around me were crying; others were singing every word with their eyes closed; men and women passionately kissed their boyfriends and girlfriends to the songs about breakups because, for some inexplicable reason, these devastating songs about longing are still achingly romantic too.

Robyn isn’t like other pop stars, but we all know that by now, don’t we? If you want to go to her show and dance on your own, not only would I say it’s okay, I’d actively recommend it. Pop experienced in isolation is overwhelming and magical and, in the case of Robyn’s flawless Honey show, pretty much vital. Act however you want to around people you don’t know; this place is a safe space, and pop fans – particularly queer ones – don’t have enough of them.