Put crudely, you succeed in pop music (or any kind of commercial art) by a mix of novelty and comfort. When critics want to put novelty in a good light we call it innovation. When we want to put comfort in a good light we call it “timeless” or “classic”. But this rapidly turns complicated. Stuff that used to be novel can become comforting, stuff that used to be comforting can be finagled into seeming novel again. And both terms are only meaningful inasmuch as they’re relative to the people you want to sell the records to - who might well construct their own comfort AS novelty. So it’s all hugely tactical even IF you accept the idea that this commercial art is by its nature “manufactured” and the desires and preferences of the creators don’t really come into it.
All genres can seem revolutionary compared to some other genre (think about how revolutionary pop-country would sound if metal was the norm); what’s ultimately interesting is how a given work plays with the expectations of that genre. The great thing about pop is that it’s a genre sometimes entered into unwillingly. Because it’s so loosely defined, existing more as a strata of cultural influence than a particular sound, not everyone who ends up in pop thinks of themselves as pop artists, which changes the definitions of the genre in unexpected ways. For better or for worse, there is no genre of music that has been more dynamic over the course of its history than pop. Every other genre looks extraordinarily conservative by comparison.
Let it be known that I, as a huge Robyn fan, in no way endorse the most-pop-is-bad-but-Robyn-is-actually-good argument for Robyn.
You don’t have to agree with it, or think it’s a good argument, but maybe it is in a way true for some people. Myself, for instance, although I wouldn’t say “actually” good because it’s such a loaded yet uninformative qualifier. I’d rather listen to Robyn than any other (undefined) pop, unless someone wants to point me in the direction of something that recreates or, better still, improves on the appeal of Body Talk, Pt. 1. In return I could point you to some hardcore that’s ‘actually’ better than Fucked Up. Unless the appeal (of Robyn or Fucked Up, who I keep coming back to in this situation) is in its slight difference from the norm, and that’s fine as long as we recognise at such and don’t see it as automatically discrediting or displacing the regular genre.
Incidentally, I think there’s either a typo or a Freudian slip at the end of this line of the review:
"Because Robyn is Swedish, and is thus vaguely exotic to us essentially myopic North Americans, there’s been a fair bit of speculation on the part of her most vocal detractors that Body Talk‘s positive reception by North American music critics is the direct result of that eroticism.”