A platinum-blond proponent of Scandinavian efficiency, the Swedish electro-pop singer Robyn wasted no time getting to her point Friday night at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood. “I’ve got some news for you,” she sang less than a minute into her hour-long set, “Fembots have feelings too.”
Friday’s sold-out concert kicked off a joint U.S. tour by Robyn and Kelis, the adventurous R&B star best known for her 2003 hit “Milkshake.” Both women have new albums to promote, but a shared sensibility — one defined by that line from Robyn’s “Fembot” — unites them, as well: At a moment when Lady Gaga has found huge success dealing with big themes in a larger-than-life way, these two keep things smaller, using their club-derived sounds to explore more intimate, human-scaled ideas such as loneliness and motherhood. Gaga calls her current production the “Monster Ball”; Robyn and Kelis’ is the “All Hearts” tour.
Sensitivity didn’t equate to softness at the Music Box, where Robyn was backed by a four-piece band that included two drummers; they gave tracks from “Body Talk Pt. 1,” the singer’s terrific new disc, a muscular, hard-hitting energy. Over those precision-geared grooves Robyn contemplated vulnerability with disarming honesty: “I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her,” she sang in “Dancing on My Own.” “I’m right over here, why can’t you see me?” Later, in a song from her self-titled 2005 album, she concluded, “You never will be mine.”
None of this came off as self-pity, thanks in large part to Robyn’s powerful singing, which has warmed and deepened since she emerged during the mid-’90s teen-pop craze. Friday she encored with “Show Me Love,” her signature phase-one hit, and the tension between the childlike lyric and Robyn’s grown-up voice was as juicy as pop gets.
Kelis offered less emotional complexity in her portion of Friday’s show, describing (and re-describing) a feeling of bliss-after-hardship while her two DJs pumped out a throbbing disco beat that stayed virtually the same for the entire set. Yet if this music was more single-minded than Robyn’s, it was nearly as rich with real-world experience: On “Flesh Tone,” her new dance-inspired album, Kelis reflects on the recent birth of her son and on her divorce from the rapper Nas, developments that give songs like “Acapella” and “Emancipate” an urgency beyond the party-starting norm.
The singer amplified the joy and the relief in her fresh material, though she appeared most engaged in a mash-up of “Milkshake” and Madonna’s “Holiday” that sent a wave of pumping fists through the crowd. Hungry for some of what she herself was serving up, Kelis had news for her fans: Fembots have favorite songs too.
-- Mikael Wood
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