Robyn’s ‘Missing U’ Proves No One Knows Heartbreak Quite Like Her
In pop, heartbreak often sounds simple -- but 'Missing U' is anything but.
Robyn’s fans have missed her.
It’s been eight long years since Body Talk, her trio of ‘mini-albums’ that catapulted the veteran Swedish pop-star to cult hero. And while she’s released two stellar collaborative EPs on the side, they weren’t quite what people craved — they needed another quintessential Robyn song, another ‘Dancing On My Own’, to sweat through their heartbreak to.
‘Missing U’, which dropped this week, is that song.
If every pop singer must have a point-of-difference — an identifiable, purchasable quirk — then Robyn’s is that she dances through pain, turning the darkest, loneliest moments into an awful joy.
And ‘Missing U’, with its twirling synths and drum line akin to to a fist beating against a wall — a constant pang of pain that, in time, subsides into a rhythm — is exactly that, a pining turned into a dance break.
While she didn’t invent emotionally-decadent pop, Robyn’s particular knack for holding heartbreak at a distance and revelling in its ridiculousness has left a massive mark on this decade’s pop music.
You can hear her influence across the charts (which, according to science, are getting sadder) and many cult favourites, like Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION and Lorde’s Melodrama. But no one quite does it like her.
‘At Least You Left Me With Something’
Last week, ‘Missing U’ was teased via a promotional video. It follows ‘This Party Is Killing You’, a biannual Robyn-themed night at The Brooklyn Bowl that made headlines in May when Robyn herself popped up and DJ-debuted ‘Honey’, an as-yet un-released song which we heard a snippet of last year on Girls.
Through the video, fans are interviewed and express their deep love of Robyn. Via her label, they send her voicemails, telling her how her music guided them through coming out, or gave them a wider sense of perspective. “Even her somber songs make you want to embrace the sadness in your life, and even celebrate it,” says RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and Robyn super-fan Detox. “Because it’s a crazy, interwoven story — and she tells it so well.”
‘Missing U’ is a pining turned into a dance break.
The official line is that ‘Missing U’ is a message back to those fans, though as Billboard notes, that reads mostly as marketing spin. But it’s true, to some extent — since the song’s a thrashing through a loved one’s absence and ‘the empty space [they] left behind’, you can see how super-fans throwing a biannual party connects. And most fans know why Robyn’s been (relatively) absent: in interviews, she’s expressed again and again that she has little interest in reaching stadium levels of stardom.
Perhaps that explains why she’s stuck to collaborations since Body Talk, rather than risk becoming a branded pop-star. In the meantime, fans have continued dancing, though not alone — her music permeates clubs and house parties across the world, and sometimes, an 800-person venue.
‘This Residue, It’s All I’ve Got’
In that same video, Robyn says ‘Missing U’ is “about the trip-y thing that happens when people disappear: They become even more clear, almost like you see them everywhere.” Like LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Someone Great‘, it’s a song that painstakingly celebrates connecting to someone through their absence.
Pitchfork’s senior editor Jillian Mapes suggests that ‘Missing U’ is partially about Christian Falk, Robyn’s friend and collaborator who passed away before the release of Love Is Free, their 2015 EP as La Bagatelle Magique (along with Markus Jägerstedt).
And that makes sense — as Mapes writes, the “respectful gravity” of lines like ‘all the love you gave, it still defines me’ suggests that this is not a case of simple heartbreak.
Then again, heartbreak never feels simple. But it almost always sounds simple, restricted to clichés — especially in pop, when you’re trying to connect to a wide audience. Robyn’s skill, (alongside the song’s co-producers and co-writers, Metronomy’s Joseph Mount and longtime collaborator Klas Åhlund) is that her heartbreak envelops every beat and sound of the song, stretching far beyond her lyrics.
Like ‘Dancing On My Own’ or ‘Call Your Girlfriend’, the pain of ‘Missing U’ exists in the tension of the synths, the cry of release and yet inherent restraint of containing a lot of pain into a five-minute song, or trying to dance it all out. Because that’s all you can do, really — part of heartbreak’s pain is not being able to articulate the weight of it. ‘Missing U’ is so affecting because it knows there’s a lot left unsaid.
At the songs’ end, the chorus stretches out. In-between lines, “There’s this empty space you left behind/I keep thinking you’re still right beside me”, the synths spin and twirl. Robyn dances in the empty space between words, where you can really feel the missing, even if you can’t quite say it. It’s a song that prompts you to press repeat: she says it better than you ever can.
Jared Richards is a staff writer for Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Tweet him your emotions at @jrdjms.