Song: ‘Do You Know (What It Takes)’
US chart peak: 7
Release date: January 2, 1997
Writers: Robyn, Herbie Crichlow, Denniz Pop, Max Martin
Producers: Denniz Pop, Max Martin
Quintessential Max moment: The Eurovision-esque “always be around” intro
Video synopsis: A video in a video featuring multiple Robyns in terrible plastic suits
The slinky electro-funk of ‘Do You Know (What It Takes)’ was a bit of a breakthrough moment all round really. Not only was it the song that introduced spectacular human being Robyn (then just 17) to the US Billboard Top 10 (she’d return again with ‘Show Me Love’ later that year), it also marked the first time Max Martin had graced the upper echelons of the then-still-pretty-lucrative US singles’ market. Alongside mentor Denniz Pop, Max had helped create the blueprint for a sort of low-slung pop-funk-R&B hybrid that would not only see Robyn ending up on the Billboard R&B charts but that would also set a template for a certain Britney Spears song that would arrive a few years later (an exact US release date for ‘Do You Know…’ is tricky because we know it charted in the Top Ten in America for the first time on July 12 1997, peaked on August 2, but by that point it had been around for a whopping 28 weeks, so I just sort of guessed. Don’t ‘@‘ me etc etc and so on).
It may also be worth noting that ‘Do You Know…’ was released ‘Stateside’ in the middle not only of Spice Girls mania, when America was gripped by the Geri Halliwell Girl Power rallying cry, but also during a general opening up of its musical borders. Huge hits that year came from Seal, Savage Garden, Mark Morrison (!), Aqua (!!) and even Chumbawamba (!!!), further cementing America’s move away from the fairly insular cultural outlook of Reaganism. While some of the songs mentioned were novelty hits (I won’t say which ones), Robyn cemented her proper popstar status with another Top Ten hit but, as discussed here, seemed unwilling to play the game properly, retreating from the US charts until 2005.
Unlike other artists who have re-configured their careers after early success, there’s nothing here to be ashamed of. Despite her age, Robyn co-wrote all of the songs on her debut album, ‘Robyn Is Here’, and there’s a maturity to ‘Do You Know…’ that sets it outside of the typical teen pop template. Look at this second verse, for example – it oozes the Robyn that we know and love now. “Heaven knows in my time / I’ve been lonely / Feeling my love echo in my mind / In my mind, yeah / A never satisfied girl’s what they call me / But I just can’t keep goin’ on living lies”. Basically she’s willing to give all her love to that special someone but only if she gets a promise it will be returned. Which is fair enough really. It’s also an early example of the slightly off-putting phrase “to do me right”, which always sounds that bit too graphic for my liking.
Also, how good are songs (with parentheses in the title)? So good (yeah).
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