(Robot) Robyn Is Here

By Nolan Feeney

When she’s not singing about being the other woman, Swedish electro-pop singer Robyn likes to sing about robots. On “The Girl and the Robot,” she tells the tale of a workaholic lover who leaves her feeling desperate and alone. On “Fembot,” a song about turning 30 and pondering having children, she opens with the declaration, “I’ve got some news for you / fembots have feelings too.”

Inspired by Robyn’s fascination with the non-human, a group of mechatronics students at Sweden’s KTH Institute of Royal Technology have spent much of the past year building a robot dedicated to her (and her furious, fist-swinging dance moves). Robyn finally met up with their creation, and while the video of her reaction is as adorable as Björk explaining television, it’s also—like Björk's explanation—a little deep.

“The robot is cute, and all the small, little movements that are not on purpose are really interesting to watch, to see what happens when it tries to do something it can’t do yet,” Robyn says. “The kind of shaking that it was doing before the arms started moving, all that stuff is really kind of endearing.” With just a month or so to go before their deadline, the students are still working out the robot’s kinks. But Robyn points out that all these malfunctions help pack an emotional punch. “It kind of brings out the human aspect of the robot more. It feels vulnerable.”

Robyn’s music is full of pulsing synthesizers and club-thumping üntz-üntz-üntz beats, but any fan will tell you there’s nothing cold or heartless about it. In fact, Robyn’s use of this imagery adds a particular poignance to her messages. “‘Fembot’ is not really about the future or about space or anything,” Robyn told Pitchfork back in 2010. “It's about now. Technology is becoming more organic, and using the word ‘fembot’ or ‘robot’ in a song makes things more human to me.”

The Robyn Robot is a reminder of this idea, too: that despite the wires, chips, nuts, and bolts, robots and computers aren’t necessarily the opposite of human emotion. They’re tools to enhance it, mistakes (especially) included. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/-robot-robyn-is-here/281829/