It is dark in the room; low ceilings and red lights that make our faces glow feverishly. Bodies are squeezed in tight, flesh touching flesh — ripped fishnets and lipstick smeared by sweat. Before the DJs press play there is a beat of silence, then suddenly Robyn’s voice is all around. Come get your honey. I grope through the dark hot air, searching for my friends, swimming underwater. We find each other as the chorus starts.
And the waves come in and they’re golden
But down in the deep the honey is sweeter
We join hands, twirl, close our eyes. The room — the people in it — are glittering. We sing the lyrics as loud as we can, sway to the sound of the bass. We float. There are certain moments of pure happiness that we are afforded occasionally in which no doubts can enter. I realise that this was one of them, a moment of euphoria inside a sticky Catholic-themed drag bar, beer bottles stacked next to stained glass. Each time I listen to Honey I feel it wash over me again.
Rather than straying boyfriends and doomed romances, the club has always acted as the great love-affair in Robyn’s music. The highs and lows of blinking strobes, sweaty foreheads, the voices of ballroom-house luxuriating over the speakers — Honey is a paean to the salvation offered by house and disco and techno; by kick drums and synths. It’s a distinctly queer form of worship; one that’s practised by communities that had to forge their own faiths, their own families. In ‘Between the Lines’ she pays thanks to this background of references, her voice stretching like chewing gum over a 90s-staccato-synth beat. She moans, sighs, sings ‘you get massages’ to her lover. She sounds weightless. Her words are echoed by a pitched-down version of herself, a Google-translate- twin, joined by a man’s voice — feels so good, he purrs in ecstasy. Is this high sexual, musical? It barely matters. What Honey is clever enough to know is that they’re all the same, that the euphoria from drugs, sex, dancing, music is why they’ve always been inextricable. It’s acknowledged at all points on the album, down to the Euro-samba voicemail conversation of ‘Beach2k20’, a breezy sext of a song about Robyn inviting her crush to the beach. What you wanna do, baby? … Come through, it’ll be cool, she coos. There’s an effortless sexiness, a coolness, that feels blissful rather than try-hard.
I’m right back in that moment
And it makes me want to cry
There’s a euphoria, too, in grief. Crying is the ultimate expression of abandon; a public exhibition of something we seek to keep private, with the following light-headedness a perverse come-down. Despair and elation are inextricably linked in their intensity, by their fleetingness. It’s this that Robyn — and anybody who’s ever sobbed in a club, tears falling down their face as the sub shakes the floor — knows so intimately. ‘Because It’s in the Music’ is an evocation of this, with Robyn’s voice, low and intimate, acknowledging the pain and pleasure of the ephemeral:
I remember feeling like
This is never gonna end
Nothing lasts forever.
It’s witnessed again on ‘Missing U’, Honey’s opening track and mission statement. The synths are gleaming, mesmeric, relentless; paired with lyrics desperate in their grief, they take on a painful beauty. Robyn’s voice for the first time is plaintive, casting off the blunt Swedish pronunciations she favoured on Body Talk.
Now your scent on my pillow’s faded
At least you left me with something.
She stretches out the last syllable as if it might shatter. Before the final chorus she cries,
I’ve turned all my sorrow into glass
It don’t leave no shadow.
It’s just her and the synths, the bass stripped away for a second. She is, for a moment, alone — alone in the euphoria of her pain before the mass of bodies closes in again.
Heavenly bodies moving, Robyn sings of the pulse of the crowd in a disco. Honey is a symbol of want and need inextricably linked to exaltation, worship, sacrifice. It is central to acts of religious devotion; it is godly. It’s this — queered and warped and fed back through a synthesiser — that Robyn imbues her Honey with. It is concerned with the transcendent, its title track full of the kind of soaring, fluttering synths that feel like a first kiss, like a falling in love. The type of rush where your heart beats in your ears.
It sounds like ecstasy.