On March 19, 2017, the sixth episode of the sixth and final season of Girls aired for the first time. In its closing scene, Hannah (Lena Dunham) watched a short film written by, directed by, and starring her on-again/off-again boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) and realized he’d based the entire thing on their relationship. At this point, Girls—a show that was deeply watchable despite being filled with characters who never really made any sense—did the thing Girls always excelled at: it ended an episode with a perfect music cue.
But this wasn’t some vaguely familiar pop song or commercial-ready indie track by an artist whose name you’ll never remember. It was a song by the dance/electropop legend Robyn. More importantly, it was one we’d never heard before. As the credits began, we saw more clips of Adam’s film (which revealed the way Adam and Hannah met) as this mysterious new song by an unmistakeable voice continued to pulse its way towards the “ahhhh” of HBO’s channel identifier.
Robyn explained the journey that brought her unfinished song to an episode of Girls in an Instagram post uploaded the following day. Because she’d provided “Dancing on My Own” for the lovely third episode of the show’s first season—a moment that could have ended the show’s introductory narrative if it were a 90-minute feature—Robyn was happy to lend something special for its final one. After listening to a few unfinished tracks, Dunham chose the one she liked the most. And with that explanation, the song suddenly had a title. It was called “Honey.”
At this point, the story hit a wall, and “Honey”—like Girls, in a way—suddenly exited our collective consciousness. Robyn isn’t exactly known for being outspoken, so the “NEW ROBYN MUSIC AFTER SEVEN YEARS” alarm bell stopped ringing after a few weeks, when we realized “Honey” wouldn’t be coming anytime soon.
But that didn’t stop the fans from revisiting the scraps we were given. As the months passed by, “Honey” became something of a minor meme, though perhaps that’s the wrong word, as it wasn’t really a joke. “Honey”-lovers like myself were hungry and desperate. I was ridiculed for over a year due to my tendency of listening to low-quality rips, but the song was too sweet to resist, and too sticky to wash off. Enduring the dialogue-filled Soundcloud clips (shoutout to everyone who considers Adam Driver saying “I’m sick of people saying unrefined sugar isn’t sugar, it’s the exact same fuckin’ thing” to be part of the song’s lyrics) was a rite of passage for “Honey” fans, and we powered through the non-Robyn vocals in order to memorize all that we could. But no matter how attentively we listened—or how valiantly some fans attempted to edit and loop the clips into something resembling an actual studio recording—our efforts didn’t bring us closer to a full song. For nearly a year, “Honey” was just background noise. Then came 2018.
In February, 11 months after the “Honey” snippet first dropped, Robyn responded to a fan who tweeted at her, “Who decides your next album release date?”
“I do,” Robyn replied. “Some time this year honey.”
It was like she stuck a syringe into Winnie the Pooh’s most potent stash, sucked up 3ccs of the stuff, and injected it into our hearts. Yes, I understand that would kill someone, but to be teased this way after waiting so long did feel like death in a way—or, at the very least, it felt like dying. What is life but a long waiting game for death?
Three months after first gagging at the vague announcement that her album would drop “some time this year honey,” on May 21, Robyn made an appearance at the Red Bull Music Festival, where she was interviewed by Kindness at MoMA. During their chat, “Honey” was brought up, and Robyn shared that the song had evolved quite a bit since appearing on Girls. In a recap of the conversation for Stereogum, Joe Lynch wrote:
The early version she provided for Dunham is something she eventually realized she “wasn’t happy with.” Not that it’s bad, per se: “It’s a good version, it’s more like… it becomes more important to get it to a place where I made it to what I wanted it to be.” Presumably, a different version of “Honey” will end up on her upcoming LP.
That perfectionism accounts for the long wait for the new album. “I used to think the more you push the better it gets, but with this album I’ve gone more back into the softer I get, the more it happens, and the more colors and dynamic a song gets. And for me, that meant shutting down for a while and being sparse with my impressions and sensitive to what I needed.”
She played a new cut of the song for the MoMA audience. While it no longer exists online, I can admit that the experience of listening to it for the first time (in a low-quality Twitter video) was a jarring one. The evolved track was decidedly different from the version I’d memorized from Girls. “Honey” wasn’t Body Talk-era pop. It was full-blown house music.
Some hours after her chat with Kindness, Robyn made a surprise appearance at a regular Brooklyn dance party she inspired (THE ROBYN PARTY). After walking on stage, she announced she would be playing some new music, and—once the crowed finished shrieking—pressed play on something that was instantly familiar to the kinds of fans I described earlier. It was wildly different from the Girls version, but not quite the MoMA version (though still undeniably a house track).
Note the audience’s reaction upon hearing “come get your honey.”
Thrilling, yes, but “Honey” was still unfinished. And with three versions now floating in the wilds of hard-to-find Twitter videos and poorly titled SoundCloud tracks—not to mention her revelation that the song was continuously evolving—there was no way of knowing what “Honey” would ultimately sound like.
But on August 1, we were provided a taste. On that date, Robyn dropped her first solo single in eight years. In the days leading up to its release, some fans speculated that it might be the mythical “Honey,” but insiders assured them that it was something entirely different. When the title, “Missing U,” was leaked, I wondered whether it was simply “Honey” in new clothes. When do you want someone to come get your honey? I wondered. When you’re missing them. Once again, her teases had brought out my most desperate and pathetic sides, but after hearing “Missing U” for the first time, I wasn’t disappointed. It wasn’t the song I wanted, but it suggested what the final version would sound like. Less poppy than expected, but still Robyn. She’d matured, but she hadn’t changed. What a relief.
Early the following month—which happens to be the one we’re currently in—Robyn began cryptically DMing fans who had previously tweeted about wanting “Honey.” “Soon... x,” she wrote on each one. But once again, we were being played. The announcement she was teasing wasn’t of the song “Honey,” but the album Honey. It was an infuriating bait and switch, but it also meant “Honey” was special enough to have become the album’s title track—an assumption that was confirmed by the New York Times in a profile by Caryn Ganz published last week.
And now, after more than a half-decade of psychoanalysis, a relationship meltdown, the death of one of her closest collaborators and four years spent working on her masterpiece — the glowing, transcendent song “Honey” — a new Robyn is ready to return.
Robyn described the song by saying:
“It’s not produced or written as a normal pop song. It is totally based on this idea of club music. When you’re listening to club music, there’s no reward. The reward isn’t, ‘Oh, here’s the chorus, here’s the lyric that makes sense.’ You have to enjoy what it is. You have to enjoy that there’s no conclusion.
“Club music taught me so much about myself. Having patience, or appreciating a different type of way of taking in life...It’s a hypnotic thing. Time stops, and I don’t even think about where I am when I hear music like that. That’s the high that I want. That’s what I need.”
She went on to say it represents the longest she’s ever worked on a single track. But if this tweet is any indication, the wait is nearly over. “@AnnieMac has the honey...hottest record 7:30pm BST.” I think that means “Honey” is making its radio premiere at 2:30 EST. But maybe it means something entirely different. When it comes to “Honey,” the only thing that’s certain is that I’ll gladly keep waiting as long as it takes.
UPDATE: Robyn released “Honey.”