Robyn’s Dancehall Queen video, Swedish pop reggae, and the Magnetic Fields

by MV

I have an internet again! After rather a long time. I don’t think I’ll be fully reawakening Instant Hits ’til the new year, but in the meantime there’ll be the odd post here and there, and of course my annual top 50 tracks. Here’s a post that’s definitely odd, to kick things off.

One artist who I’ll struggle to choose a representative track from in 2010 is Robyn. With her Body Talk sort-of-trilogy, she’s produced more than a handful of my favourite ditties of the year, exemplified by the majestic run of singles taking in Dancing On My Own, Hang With Me and Indestructible. This cut from Body Talk pt. 1, released way back in the spring, is – to my mind – the one that got away.

Produced by Diplo and featuring a bravura performance from Ms. Carlsson, it was panned by many as a limp and somewhat mystifying attempt at reggae, which was deemed somehow inappopriate for a white lass from a cold country. A shame, as in reality it stands out as proving Robyn is capable of delivering heart-destroyingly uplifting choruses over beats other than 4/4 floorfillers.

What really got me interested though, kind of bizarrely, was a passage in the excellent 33 1/3 book on the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, in which one of the band mentions Stephin Merritt’s insistance that ‘It’s a Crime’ sound like “Swedish Reggae”. Now, if the genius that is Stephin Merritt can try and “do” Swedish Reggae (albeit poorly – It’s a Crime is hardly a 69LS standout) then why not bona fide Swede Robyn.

So it led me to do a bit of digging, initially inspired by Merritt’s quote here:

“I think of it as that small genre of Swedish reggae. Ace Of Base have done reggae, sort of reggae, ABBA has done sort of reggae. I’m sure a-ha have, but I don’t remember.”

And if I’m honest, it’s kind of nice to place a song within a tradition, of sorts. Is doing so likely to change the mind of ‘Dancehall Queen’ doubters? Not really. But if it’s not my favourite Robyn track of 2010, it’s certainly the most musically thought-provoking.

Here’s a bit of a video journey through my mind’s ramblings on this one…

1. Abba – Tropical Loveland

Abba do better pop than Robyn right? Generally, but how about their own forays into ‘Swedish pop-reggae’ (imagine a Scandinavian Joe Strummer barking that, right?) I’m fairly sure Dancehall Queen is a better stab at it than this 1976 lost, um, song…

2. Abba – One of Us

OK, so by the 80s they had a better grasp of how to incorporate a bit of it into a genuine classic…

3. Peps Persson – Oh Boy

Sweden also produced reggae of a more authentic type, once upon a time. Peps Persson dabbled in political music, and was occasionally labelled prog, but he was also (according to the internet, who you can always trust) once described by Bob Marley as the only white dude what could do reggae. You can’t help thinking that this barking, bearded, kind of silly affair is more what Merritt had in mind when instructing his minions to get their Svenskareggae on.

4. Ace of Base – The Sign

… though Robyn may well have been thinking more of this 90s classic.

5. Liondub – Running For Gold

And so it continues. Liondub are a Swedish reggae collective, still going strong. They’ve previously been produced by Christer Björklund, who’s also been known to play in Robyn’s band.

6. The Magnetic Fields – It’s a Crime

Not a Swedish pop band, nor a Swedish reggae band. It kind of shows.

What was the point of this exercise? Who knows! What Swedish reggae classics have I left out of this mini-mix, pop fans? That’s the question for today…

[DISCLAIMER: Parts of this post are heavily indebted to a 2005 post on the fantastic Stephinsources blog. Parts aren’t.]

Anyway… the Robyn video is pretty cool. It’s supposed to be modelled on a “VHS karaoke tape” or something. SWEDISH REGGAE. I’m going to bed.