Dancing On My Own: The story behind Robyn's 2010 'sad banger'

By Steve Holden
Newsbeat music reporter

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"There's a big black sky over my town."

That line from Dancing On My Own is Robyn's love letter to the weather in her home city of Stockholm, Sweden.

It's one of her two favourite lyrics from the track, which has just turned ten years old.

It also happens to be my favourite song of all time.

That means I've spent a decade of dancing and singing to it at clubs, festivals and in friends' kitchens. It's soundtracked some of the most personal moments in my life.

Under recent lockdown, it's been viewed in another new light with an accompanying TikTok challenge from Robyn herself.

Like many other people, I love the bittersweet combination of hearing something so uplifting yet so heartbreaking.

There are so many highlights but Robyn tells me her other favourite line is: "I just wanna dance all night."

At that point in the song, she's already taken us to the club where we're watching her ex kiss a new partner. We've all been there, right?

She says it represents the precise moment on the dancefloor when you have to get your "desperation, frustration and sadness out".

It's been described as the "ultimate sad banger".

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With its multiple cover versions and the number of films and TV shows it's popped up in, the song is considered a classic with outlets like Rolling Stone, NME and Stereogum all ranking it as the best song of the last decade.

How the song got started

By 2010, Robyn had transformed from mid-1990s major label pop star into a fiercely independent artist with her own record label, Konichiwa Records.

With Every Heartbeat had also given her a UK number one single in 2007.

Dancing On My Own was her first new music in years and the lead single from the first of her three Body Talk albums, which she released over six months.

"I knew I wanted to make a song called Dancing On My Own," Robyn tells Radio 1 Newsbeat, from her apartment in Stockholm. "I just didn't know what it was going to be about."

'It kept getting better and better'

With an idea of a chorus in her mind, Robyn started working with Swedish producer Patrik Berger, who she'd collaborated with on her previous album.

At the beginning, Patrik remembers the song having an acoustic vibe. The chorus came first and "everything else fell into place and it felt like it was writing itself".

Patrik admits they were "super picky" about every aspect of the song and he recently found a notebook with hundreds of lyrics that were written and scrapped along the way.

"Every single word needed to feel right," he tells Newsbeat.

His favourite lyric is "I know where you're at, I bet she's around" which he feels represents the "self-destructive part of you, when we know we shouldn't go there. It's like scratching a wound."

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Robyn also remembers Patrik spending a lot of time on the individual components of the song: the drums, the bass and the pounding staccato it starts with.

"We kept building and it kept getting better and better and better," she says.

"It was an exciting session. I remember sending the demo to the record label and telling them I thought we had a good single."

A 'magical moment' on TV

Robyn says she's proud of Dancing On My Own because it features elements of "many different worlds" she loves including: "Prince songs, 80s rock ballads and queer electronica".

The song was a hit. Dancing On My Own made number eight in the UK Singles Chart.

It went on to top year-end critics' polls, Robyn performed it on TV shows around the world and it was nominated for a Grammy.

Then came the first of Robyn's two defining moments in the life of her song. We'll get to the second later.

In 2012, it was used in the first season of HBO's Girls, the TV comedy drama created by Lena Dunham.

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image captionLena Dunham created Girls and says Robyn creates 'universal yet personal' songs

Robyn says the use of the song was "genius" while Lena Dunham tells Newsbeat it was "magical".

In the episode, Lena's character Hannah finds out her ex-boyfriend is gay. She's sat in her flat and Dancing On My Own starts up on her laptop.

Her best friend Marnie (Alison Williams) comes home and they dance in Hannah's bedroom to the track, which then plays over the end credits.

"That moment on set was meant to be so brief and so light," says Lena. "But it took on so much importance because it marked the first time myself and Alison felt comfortable in our characters."

Off camera she says the whole crew was dancing and people were crying.

"You could feel the power and love that went into the song."

When Lena accepted her Golden Globe for best actress in 2013, Dancing On My Own was playing as she walked to the stage collect it.

"It was like having a companion in that very public moment."

Dancing On My Own has also been featured in Gossip Girl, Orange Is The New Black, RuPaul's Drag Race, movies Teen Spirit and Long Shot, and the Masked Singer USA.

'I owe my career to Robyn'

It's also been covered multiple times by artists including Kings Of Leon and Kelly Clarkson.

"I really like Kelly's version," says Robyn. "She has a really powerful voice. She recorded one of my favourite Max Martin songs, Since U Been Gone, which I covered in the Radio 1 Live Lounge. So that's funny."

But its most famous cover is by Calum Scott, who gave the song a second lease of life.

In 2015, the British singer auditioned for Britain's Got Talent with a stripped-back version of the track, the video of which has now been viewed 288 million times.

"I fell in love with the song instantly," he says. "I was about 21 when it was originally released and it came at the height of me figuring out my personality."

image captionCalum Scott launched his career on Britain's Got Talent

He points to the lyric "I'm right over here, why can't you see me?" as the precise moment he connected to the song.

Calum struggled with his sexuality growing up. He says Dancing On My Own became his anthem.

"I didn't really know who I was, so when I sang it all those emotions from my past spilled over into the song."

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Calum's version was released commercially in 2016 and performed better than Robyn's original, reaching number two in the UK singles chart.

"I owe my career to Robyn," he says.

He also describes the "surreal moment" when the two of them met - by chance - at the BBC.

"She walked past and I just froze. She came up to me and said it was nice to finally meet me. You never expect to meet the person who had the original song".

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NO WORDS. ❤️ @robynkonichiwa

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Robyn says Calum and his voice interpreted it in a way that "made the song came alive again".

"I'm super happy for him to have the success and am pleased people got to know the song a little bit more".

She says there have been so many covers because "it's a great song".

'Tired of the broken heart'

But as Calum was bringing the song to a far wider audience in the mid-2010s, Robyn was taking a step back from what she'd created.

"Dancing On My Own sometimes felt like a teenage version of me that I was happy to let go of," she says.

The song came from a break-up in her own life and she became "tired of the broken heart".

"I went through a lot of therapy, worked on myself and healed myself.

"Now I'm back loving it. I don't feel conflicted and I love performing it and playing it live."

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When Robyn toured in 2019, she cut the song just before the chorus, leaving thousands of fans to sing her track back at her.

I was at her gig at London's Alexandra Palace. It was such a goosebump moment to join everyone else singing "I'm in the corner, watching you kiss her" at the tops of our voices.

At the time, I remember Robyn seemed to be genuinely overwhelmed by it.

"It's like the song was talking back to me," she says.

By that point, she felt the song had moved on from its beginnings and "became something that took on meaning for a lot of people in different ways".

For someone that often writes about heartbreak and emotions, Robyn says she finds nostalgia and sentimentality "difficult".

"Those emotions don't always feel true to me and I think Dancing On My Own has those qualities.

"It's maybe a part of the song I had to struggle with. But maybe that's why it connects to so many people too."

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image captionFKA Twigs, Christine & The Queens, Robyn and Charli XCX at the NME Awards 2020

In February, Robyn was named Songwriter of the Decade at the NME Awards, an accolade handed to her by Christine & The Queens and Charli XCX.

Charli says Robyn "continuously evolved" in her career but "has always stayed true to who she is".

Héloïse Letissier of Christine & The Queens described her songwriting as "pop perfection".

"As a songwriter I can only marvel at a song like Dancing On My Own," says Letissier. "It's a gem of pop. I watched her gig in Oslo last year and it was the most cathartic thing I ever saw."

As we mentioned earlier, Robyn has a second defining moment of the track.

It involves her friend and collaborator Max Martin, who himself has co-written 22 Billboard Hot 100 number ones and played an early part in her career on songs like Show Me Love.

According to Robyn, she was told by his manager that Max thinks "it's one of the best pop songs ever made".

"And that makes me very happy and proud."

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