Note: The below was timed on Spotify. Searching for a link to the brilliant official vid, turns out there’s a big stretch before the track kicks in that I’d forgotten about. The nearest you’ll get on Youtube to the below timings, then, is this fan vid, which is about a second out from me on everything.
00:00 – 00:03 – Bum-bum-bum-bum-bup… bum bum bum, bum-bup.
00:04 – PAH! Ooh, where’s this going?
Yes, I’m basically live-blogging Konichiwa Bitches, by Robyn. Why am I doing this? Because it’s an absolutely tremendous pop song. I pitched an article a while back to Rich at The Line of Best Fit, which was basically what I’m about to do now. He asked to see a draft before he said to go ahead with anything. I decided it was probably a pretty stupid idea anyway. So I never subbed the draft. And now I’m going to attempt to do it now, right here, on this blog.
Of course, it’s not really live-blogging. I can’t type quite that fast. But I’m going to try to explain what this wonderful pop song does over its perfectly formed two-and-a-half-minute running time.
Are you ready?
Christ, I’m not.
00:05 – 00:16 – We’re just kind of nodding along nicely here. Konichiwa Bitches absolutely works as an album opener (bar the preposterous intro track) for this reason. It isn’t immediate. It wouldn’t, for example, ever work as an opening single. But it builds your curiosity. It’s one note, and one rhythm. It plods. It’s intriguing. We end with four quick stabs. Yes, I’m totally hopeless at music terminology. I haven’t studied it properly since I was 18. Give me a break.
00:17 – 00:29 – You wanna rumble in my jungle? I’ll take you on, stampede your rumpa, and send you home.
It’s a sexy track. That’s immediately clear. Yes, Robyn performs this whole piece with tongue lodged firmly in cheek. But there’s something about her, something about the way everything starts to form together in this first verse, that is irrefutably sexy. It’s not even totally down to the lyrics, though they obviously play a part. It’s the way everything straight away starts to combine together – this repeated rhythm, the dirty bass, the single key it all appears to be in.
00:30 – 00:50 – Those 16ths. They’re wonderful. The elecronic hat comes in with a quick speedy riff, dropping out a beat before the end of each bar. Everything about this first verse is subtly building the tension. It isn’t a tense song, on the surface. It’s straight-parody, pure-pop, pure-indulgence music. But its magic is woven beneath the surface – at this stage at least. It’s all building up to later.
We’ve still not shifted away from that same key.
Count you out, like a mathematician, quips Robyn. Ma-the-ma-tician. The quick stabs again. What’s the word I’m looking for? It’s not synchopation, definitely not. It’s all on the beat. It’s just the first four half-beats are accented equally strongly. It’s great. It’s immediately established as the setup to “the next bit”.
00:51 – 00:56 I’m so very hot that, when I rob your mansion, you don’t call the cops, you call the fire station. The music drops out, replaced only by cheeky sound effects. It’s just Robyn, just her sexy, teasing vocal. She’s there, addressing you, with absolutely no distraction. And then we’re hooked, and we can kick off properly.
00:57 – 01:16 – You know, this part is totally all about the way she sings Ba-da-boom-booms. Just listen to it! It’s enough to make you squirm, right? Oh, man. That slight offbeat, the way she plays with the rhythm so subtly, missing the beat by a fraction of a millisecond each time, ever-so-slightly swung. It’s just brilliant. It’s kind of transcended being a sexual thing now. Yes, it’s still sexy. But it’s hitting on a whole new level. It’s reaching in and grabbing you and teasing you for all you’re worth. The tension is unbelievable. We still haven’t left that same key. We’ve not deviated once. One note, one repeated rhythm, interspersed by quick builds into the next section.
Right now you’re probably thinking ‘howd’ she get in them jeans?’ Well, I’m gifted, all natural, and bursting the seams.
01:17 – 01:29 – We’re back in our comfortable rhythm now, but something’s different. For a start, we’ve got some additional sound-manip stuff going on that’s pounding and plugging away on the offbeat. But it’s become trancelike, now. You know, each time there’s that brief pause to the music, that you’re going back into this hypnotic rhythm. Konichiwa bitches, says Robyn. You can almost see the wry smirk on her face. She knows what she’s doing.
Same thing again. Back into another verse?
01:30 – 01:55 – Well yes, but now, for the first time, something’s properly changed. It catches you off-guard. The whole piece so far has been bouncing between the stripped down rhythm and the charged-up rhythm, but importantly, basically the same thing. It’s been a single, trance-like, hypnotic meander through the depths of Robyn’s knowing, filth-filled mind. Suddenly, the synth’s gone. Well, it hasn’t, but we’re only left with synth bass. It plays something totally unusual. Not one of the notes fits. It drops into something weird, and alien, and uncomfortable. Four notes at the start of every other bar, the rest filled only by the drum machine. Something’s up. Something’s about to happen.
Coming with the postman, like I’m a mail-bomb, she slurrs. Coming in your mouth, makes you say ‘yum, yum’…
We hit a gong. We hit Robyn mentioning one, and Hong Kong.
Konichiwa bitches, from Beijing to Saigon…
And, finally, we’re there.
01:56 – 02:02 – Every second of this track, every single possibility of where it would head, every perfectly placed intricacy, every pounding, repetitive rhythm and monotonous note… it’s all been building up to this moment. Because, in this moment, the whole thing just explodes. The pinnacle of the piece won’t come for another few seconds, but it’s this section that is absolutely the most orgasmic in music. I’m aware I’m sounding a little strange, but, I mean, you have listened to this track, right? Surely you understand.
…got nothing on me, ’cause you know you’re so bum, she continues, bursting into the new soundscape. The synth is back, but along with the bass and the root notes that were there before, a fantastic, brilliant chirrup, striking exactly the right notes, exactly in time, above it. The precision of this thing is immense. It’s lifted to new heights by the inclusion of that extra tap of a key. The whole piece just bursts into life. For its duration so far, you’ve been wondering where it could possibly go, if it could possibly break out of its unusually plain formula… and there it is. That one note. It’s fine. It can stay in this same key all the way through now. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.
Dum, diddy-dum, diddy-diddy dum-dum, she slurrs, again, just missing the beat on the diddy-diddies in the most spectacular fashion. This woman is such a tease with her voice. She knows she’s doing it ever-so-slightly wrong. She’s out, by the most microscopic of microseconds, and it transforms that moment into something utterly fantastic. You’re hoplessly hooked now. You’re hopelessly under her control. It cannot get any better.
02:03 – 02:04 – It gets better.
It breaks, drops down a third, for the first time on the album. That’s really worth pausing for a moment over. It takes four whole minutes (including the intro track – and, notably, four minutes exactly) for Robyn’s album to feature a fucking chord change. And it’s a third down, the most ordinary, the most predictable, the most pop of all movements in music. In anything else, at normal intervals, it would be dull. But Robyn stretches it out, hypnotises you, makes you wonder where on Earth it could all be going, and then, out of nowhere, springs a pure-pop chord change on the whole thing. And it’s wonderful. Magical. Properly mesmerising. She cements herself as the biggest tease in the history of all things, ever. For four minutes she meandered about, stubbornly refusing to do the thing you normally expect within two bars of a record opening, and now she’s just fucking done it.
Pop music gets no better.
02:05 – 02:09 – For four seconds, it’s pure fucking pop indulgence.
I defy anyone not to dance like a lunatic to this section. Doesn’t matter where you are. In a club, a bar, in your car, at home on your own, whatever. If you don’t dance like an absolute idiot, for just four seconds of your life, to such a wonderful passage of pop music, I think you’re probably the human embodiment of evil and I never want you to come near me again.
That right hand on the keys dances. It dances perfectly between the most kids-Casio of notes, layered absolutely wonderfully, bang-on in time, with the chord changes below it. After that third drop, we drop once more to the inverted fifth (I think that’s the right one – terminology sucks, as mentioned). …leave your heads ringing with the ring-a-ding-dong, she continues, rolling the ‘R’ beautifully, from nothing. You weren’t listening. The vocals were there, but they existed in a different dimension. You were lost, completely entranced by the pure pop of the moment, those four little seconds where everything worked out exactly the way you always hoped life would: dancing, like a dick, with a big grin on your stupid face.
And by “you”, I mean “me”.
02:10 – 02:22 – She brings you back down gently, at least.
That chord sequence remains, but it’s punctuated now. What? Robyn asks herself at the end of each line, the music dropping out completely, the verse reduced to a smattering of stutters and stops. We’re dying down, like the time the last chorus breaks into the final section of the last song at the best club night in the world. You know it’s coming to an end, you’re crashing down, but the moment’s still there.
02:23 – 02:36 – You know this shit is getting heavy, like, it weighs a tonne. And she steps up a gear, just for one final stretch, that last dance before the night’s over. You know this is your last chance. You have to lose yourself once more.
We return to the earlier verse’s structure, with a bit of added oomph from the glorious, simplistic, patterned keyboard work and the stammering effects overlayed. And you’re still there, you’re still clinging on to that moment, making the most of everything you have left of this glorious, glimmering piece of pop. It’s the last dance, the last gasp.
I will run you down, like a marathon, Robyn sweetly snarls, the most beautiful of promises. Tape you up good, put you in the trunk…
C U Next Tuesday, she quips. You is a punk.