The music of pop’s heartbreak Laurette Robyn is many things – emotionally savage, honeyed and unbelievably good fun to dance to – but you wouldn’t necessarily call her work a laugh a minute. Tonight, though, performing until 3am, she pulls off the best visual gag of Mad Cool, Madrid’s four-day festival, which is drawing to a close. After an uproarious ‘Dancing On My Own’, undeniably one of the top 10 pop songs of all time, which saw thousands belt out the devastating lyrics (“I’m in the corner / Watching you kiss her”), she let the beat play out, turned her back to the audience and did that thing school children do where you wrap your arms around yourself and pretend to snog someone.
There was, of course, a massive roar of approval from the crowd; it’s this impish charm that’s endeared the Swedish icon to millions. Back in the early ‘teens the hugely influential ‘Body Talk Pt. 1’ and Body Talk Pt. 2’ mini-albums established Robyn as an off-kilter figure who partied a couple of steps left of the mainstream – they were eccentric in both form and content, the spoken-word banger ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’ a fine example of her iconoclasm – while last year’s comeback ‘Honey’ refined the style into a more mature, textured sound that retained her sense of eccentricity.
Tonight she opens with ‘Send To Robin Immediately’, taken from that recent record, white sheets draped elegantly across the stage. Video screens depict the action in black-and-white, the first third of the set a muted, stately affair, as she breezes through the show with the air of someone for the whom the phrase ‘effortlessly cool’ could have been created. Yet the moment at which this transforms from an impressive spectacle to a truly unifying experience comes when those white sheets dramatically collapse to floor, punctuating the opening strains of 2005’s ‘Be Mine!’, and the stage becomes as bright white as the burst of a flashbulb. At the song’s end, the instrumental plays out and a dancer scythes across the stage, her jagged moves as angular as Robyn’s take on pop.
When Robyn returns, her slicked-back hair teamed with an androgynous leather jacket, she crawls and shimmies to the louche keys and glassy synths of the ‘Honey’ album track ‘Because It’s In The Music’. From here she throws the closing party we sorely need after half a week at Mad Cool: the housey ‘Between The Lines’ (which features a cowbell riff that receives its own round of applause) blurs into the booming dance salvo that is ‘Love Is Free’, the bassy sass-fest she released with her side-project La Bagatelle Magique in 2015. The final third of the set makes up a dream Robyn show.
For ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’, she appears in a killer purple suit, pumping her fist to the Balearic beats that this version swells into. At one moment during ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ she does a backwards roll across the stage, just in case anyone was in any doubt as to how much Robyn’s putting into this performance. In this context, the ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ lyric “Say it’s not her fault / But you just met somebody new” somehow sounds even more devastating than normal; call it festival exhaustion, call it being awestruck at this incredible show. Either way, it’s clear that Robyn will maintain her pop’s heartbreak Laurette title for the foreseeable future: no-one else makes sadness this much fun.
‘Send to Robin Immediately’
‘Because It’s in the Music’
Between the Lines’
‘Love Is Free’
‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do’
‘Dancing on My Own’
‘Call Your Girlfriend’
‘With Every Heartbeat’