Robyn’s Big Fat Club of Palatial Tears at the Top of North London
The Swedish pop star's Alexandra Palace shows were near-perfect, the peak of what pop can do outside of an arena.
Photo by Heji Shin
Why is Alexandra Palace. It’s a good question, and one that echoes on every cursed step toward the peak of the north London hill where the venue is located. Yes, I know it was built by the Victorians as a recreation and entertainment centre (one that burned down just 16 days after opening). But this “new” version of Ally Pally has been around since 1875 and it’s still really fucking far away from anything.
Still: distance is no obstacle for the Robyn fan. On Friday 12 and Saturday 13 April, approximately 75 percent of London’s gays, pretty much every music journalist, at least five Tinder ghosts, your ex, the guy from Voodoo Rays, and a whole load more all made the trek to Ally Pally to witness the emotionally cutting Swedish pop star in the flesh. Because why not. You would travel for love (0.7 miles from the Palace station; 1.2 miles from Wood Green), wouldn’t you?
That’s 10,400 Robyn fans journeying up on two separate nights, by the way. So about 20,000 in total (you know some people would've gone on both nights). And tickets for the event sold out within minutes too, months in advance. See: Robyn is a confirmed, universally adored pop act with a faithful allegiance. But unlike Rihanna’s Navy, Gaga’s Little Monsters, the Arianators and so on, the 39-year-old pop star inspires a different kind of devotion. You don't see many teenagers here (though the age limit is a mere 14+). Merch is barely given a look in. Instead these nights are about several thousand people getting their life, to music that’s likely evocative of, been played in reaction to and perhaps has even soundtracked some of their most formative adult memories.
Be it heartbreak, loneliness or the resulting and often misdirected hedonism, Robyn makes expansive yet nuanced pop with resonating depth. She’s a club kid with a fractured heart; a star soaring towards middle age who still has so much to say, entering a new phase of her career. Eight years passed between the release of Body Talk and her most recent album Honey, bringing with them death, a sense of unease, yet more heartbreak; a whole load of very adult problems basically. And so these two nights at Alexandra Palace feel like a very different kind of pop show, one that’s still replete with costume changes, backing dancers and all the rest of it, but one that’s also a lot more heavily weighted than the stuff you’re more likely to see while munching a Rollover hotdog at The O2.
The reviews are already in, and most of them are glowing. ‘Exhilarating, practically perfect show’. ‘Robyn… soars to new levels of dance-pop perfection.’ ‘A glorious return for disco’s queen of heartbreak.’ I went on the Friday night – although I’m sure Saturday was as good – and to be there was to was to be in holy matrimony with one of pop’s patron saints of singledom, or to be reminded how the club can feel a sacred, emotional space; a cathartic experience where the darkness is lifted, words are sung in unison, demons are shushed for a minute.
Drinks and ticket prices were no different to any of London’s superclubs (or even clubs), but the power of Robyn’s music and the sheer joy of her crowd birthed the kind of wholesome experience that so can severely lack in venues with any kind of numbers in the city. If anyone shed a tear, odds are of them being of happiness; tears shed at how meaningful this show must have been to Robyn after all the years of work put into Honey (see her tweet here), or the ability to dance away bad memories in a big room.
It’s a wonder what Robyn will do next. These shows at Alexandra Palace, and in particular the latter end of them, proved she has banger after banger after banger ("Dancing On My Own" into "Missing U" into "Call Your Girlfriend"). She’s got the crowd support too – cue the moment when she stops, mid “Dancing On My Own”, and allows the crowd to sing along, for, like a whole verse, before bringing things back at full gut-wrenching volume. As trajectories go, she’s gone from playing the 5,000 cap Brixton Academy in 2012, to doubling up for Ally Pally this year, and so a festival headline slot or big arena seems the next logical step. You hope she’d pull it off. For now though, these shows felt just right: large vessels yet strangely intimate too. A big palace pop show.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.