Tuesday, October 19

Robyn: How her banana-eating antics redefined my concept of punk | Robyn

TThe sun was setting when I heard it: the sound of a party in the distance. It was 2011 and I was working at Bestival as an Oxfam delegate. I had just completed all my shifts and was ready to lose myself at the festival. A distant bassline dragged us through the mud onto the main stage and there, under heart-shaped lights that looked like Haribo candy, was Swedish pop icon Robyn. She was dressed in silver from head to toe, like an alien or a ball of glitter, shaking her fists like an aerobics instructor, her white blonde bowl cut bouncing to the beat. I found myself in the middle of the crowd, hands up, utterly speechless, paralyzed.

Then Robyn grabbed a banana. She twirled with him like a dance partner, held it over her head to peel it off, and popped it theatrically into her mouth, taking such greedy bites that her cheeks puffed out. And he kept dancing: the dance floor of strokes ran through his entire body as he lifted his shirt and rubbed his stomach in an elaborate performance of satisfaction. He was so powerful, so sexy, so cheeky, so silly. I have probably told more people about this banana than the story of how I met my partner.

If it sounds hyperbolic to say that one fruit changed everything for me, you should know that I grew up in a very small town. This town, a main street, a traffic light, extremely sporadic public transportation, had made me anxious for a different kind of community, something that seemed like it was mine. Then I discovered a copy of Kerrang! In our little store, the first and only time they stocked it, I found exactly what I wanted: punk bands from the 70s that seemed like the coolest bands I could imagine; Emo from the 2000s who mixed rocking microphone tricks and backing vocals with a vulnerability that fascinated me.

Robyn: Dancing on my own – video

He was desperate to be the “right” kind of music fan for the male-dominated world of alternative rock. I wanted to fit in so badly that I internalized a lot of rules. I put the rest of the music aside to show my loyalty, ridiculing my past pop favorites as “guilty pleasures.” I rehearsed before the concerts, determined to know every word on every B-side just in case they challenged me. I pushed myself headfirst into the mosh pits and held my ground even when the guys accused me of ruining it. I tolerated too much, preventing strangers’ hands from slipping where they shouldn’t, without even making a fuss. I accepted it all as conditions of entry, but also assumed that if the bands themselves knew about it, they would defend my right to be there, realizing too late that the often misogynistic content of the songs I’d been singing back to them. Years later, when Jesse Lacey, a member of my favorite band, Brand New, was accused of sexual misconduct and apologized for his past behavior with women, I was less surprised than I could admit.

The alternate scenes may have a snobbery that transformed a shared love of music into a fear of excommunication, and he was terrified of losing what he had found. That side of me had ruled out Robyn before I even heard her: too mainstream, too pop, something for other people. But in that muddy field it gave me an intoxicating vision of a different future: what if fear and guilt had no place alongside love?

After the festival, I learned that the banana was a familiar part of their Body Talk tour, a ritual in the dance break between We Dance to the Beat and Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do. It was both a mid-rave snack and a flag of autonomy. I learned that she had redefined her own image after being labeled a teenage sensation, that she had started her own label and fearlessly pursued the music that moved her, regardless of genre. In short, I came across a whole new definition of punk, and one that spoke directly to me when I was a teenager.

Robyn showed me that I could discover joy on my own terms, without the deformed sense of self, fun house and mirror based on what I thought other people thought joy should be. It was a freedom, not from the bands of my teens, many of which I still keep around, but from the pressure that had been put on me. Ten years later, as a music journalist, people regularly criticize my taste, and it’s fair enough! Men still challenge me at concerts, even Googling my credentials in front of me. But thanks to Robyn, I have the confidence to be the music fan I’ve always wanted to be: open my heart, love music with my whole body, know that pleasure should never be guilty.


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