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How Robyn’s Dancing on My Own reflects the anxieties of the decade

By KIANA KIMBERLY FLORES Published Jan 11, 2020 5:00 am

If you’ve been to a nightclub at one point in your life, I’m sure this scene is familiar: Dim, flashing lights. Your head pounding to the beat of whatever pop song is playing. You’ve been drinking one too many shots. You start to sway.

Suddenly: a jolt of adrenaline from a few beats. You notice this one’s different because people flock to the dancefloor, excited. And then, under a drizzling synth: 

Somebody said you got a new friend

Does she love you better than I can?

The clarification of a rumor at its most self-aware.

Released at the start of the decade, Robyn’s Dancing on My Own was not an instant commercial success despite its constant appearance in end-of-year song roundups, and being named best song of 2010 by The Guardian.

But then, in 2016, it was brought to the forefront when Calum Scott released a piano cover of the song, which steadily climbed the charts. I don’t know what happened in our collective psyche, but we started to recognize the power and appeal of the original song.

I first heard this song in late 2017 under cheap colorful halogen lights at a secret disco in Davao City. I was sweaty from dancing and drinking too much rum. When this came on, I didn’t exactly know the lyrics, but I was familiar with its rhythmic thump — that which registers even before Robyn sings and then becomes amplified at the chorus.

I’ve always believed in the intricate whirlwind of feelings that come at us during our teenage years; one of the few things we’ll carry with us even after we’ve moved forward to our 20s.

The beat gets distracting as the song registers and increases amplitude. Heads bop, hips sway, until all of it turns to dancing. That night when I first heard Robyn, I realized now that she made us dance to the point of not noticing, that we’re dancing to grueling pain as the chorus progresses: 

I’m in the corner watching you kiss her 

I’m right over here why can’t you see me 

I’m giving it my all but I’m not the girl you’re taking home

I’ve always believed in the intricate whirlwind of feelings that come at us during our teenage years; one of the few things we’ll carry with us even after we’ve moved forward to our twenties.

Robyn’s Dancing on My Own gives me that intricacy in scathing lyrics wrapped in a 118 bpm tempo. After every jab at the chorus, she — regretfully? joyously? — croons ‘oh, oh, ohh…’ 

Reminiscent of how we’ve grown forlorn in this decade, following the infinite stream of breaking news about political extremism that borders on Nazism in the United States. The Amazon and Indonesian forest fires — literal burning of the Earth which, if you’re not yet alarmed, I don’t know what will. Numerous kidnappings of women and children in Metro Manila. Rice supply shortage. The infamous SEA Games cauldron which cost us a hell of a buck — for what? Blatant rape jokes from the very mouth of our President smeared all over the television. Anti-poor propaganda. This list goes on and on.

Yet, we’re finding ourselves at the end of a chaotic decade.

The secret ingredient of the song that tricks us so much into dancing or bopping or swaying is its play of syncopation — of sadness and joy, the exuberance of a nightclub and the weakening drag of seeing an ex-lover boning somebody on a street corner.

Carly Rae Jepsen does this, too. I think if there’s one thing to note about pop music in this decade is that it taught us that emotions can be celebrated, even the most heartbreaking ones. For a generation whose parents learned to stifle heavy emotions for the sake of saving face and ego, it’s a crucial generational milestone.

Don’t we all remember our fixation with the world ending?

In 2010, a lot of talk resurfaced about how the world will end — some say our sun would burn us, quite possibly, while others narrated the specifics of the world ending in 2012. We survived it.

Somehow we’re still here, eight years after, with the world as one big nightclub, and we’re all dancing on our own.