Song: ‘Show Me Love’
US chart peak: 7
Release date: October 28, 1997
Writers: Robyn, Max Martin
Producers: Denniz PoP, Max Martin
Quintessential Max moment: The slight key change into the grammatically experimental “… you’re the one that I ever needed” on the chorus.
Video synopsis: Prototype Gap advert with additional snogging.
The story goes that when Jive Records A&R Steve Lunt was dispatched to assess what kind of pop star the label’s new signing Britney Spears was looking to be (early label expectations were that they’d landed – wait for it – the next Debbie Gibson), he started by playing her the video for Robyn’s ‘Show Me Love’. Co-written and co-produced by Max Martin, alongside mentor Denniz PoP, the song’s low-slung, slightly-too-slow electro-funk would become the blueprint for Britney’s own ‘…Baby One More Time’, a song that already existed in demo form somewhere in Max’s studio (in fact, along with TLC, Robyn turned down the chance to record it).
While 17-year-old Robyn had achieved early success both in Europe and America, there were already concerns she perhaps wasn’t malleable enough to be a global pop superstar. She was too independently-minded for that, later saying that even at an early stage she was worried she was being defined by working with Max and Denniz. Britney’s response to the video convinced Lunt they’d found their woman, however. “She said, ‘The record is really good, but the video is all wrong. It’s in boring black and white and no one is dancing. If it was me I’d be wearing a miniskirt and I’d be dancing” (interview from John Seabrook’s The Song Machine: Inside The Hit Factory).
So while Britney was right on two counts – the song is very good and the video is quite boring – she’d missed the fact that Robyn’s pop star power came from the fact that she was relatable and oozed girl-next-door-ness. You could imagine her being one of your sister’s best mates, clomping around in wedge sandals and hanging out at the shopping mall in shoulder-grazing hoop earrings. It meant that while ‘Show Me Love’ features all the hallmarks of the Cheiron production style that would come to dominate the late nineties – the synthetic funk, the wah-wah guitar, the almost wordless hooks (the song opens with Robyn cooing the ludicrously catchy “yeah-ay, yeah-ay, yeah”) – the key ingredient to the song’s brilliance is still Robyn’s wide-eyed innocence.
Lyrically it’s the perfect encapsulation of one of pop’s key tropes; mixing teenage wonderment with a slight hint of adult sexuality. Throughout the song’s 3:43 (just thirteen seconds off optimum pop song length), Robyn effortlessly flits between the chorus’ joyful exuberance (“Show me love! Show me life! Baby show me what it’s all about” she sings, almost giddy with excitement) and the lovely middle eight’s full on-set of early teenage infatuation (“I love you, I miss you”). This is quickly followed by a slight hint of naughtiness when she sings, “If you just give me love, every day and every night”. While it’s not quite as souped up on teenage lust as ‘…Baby One More Time’ (“my loneliness is killing me now” is so brilliantly OTT), that song’s near-desperate yearning for some sort of emotional connection also runs through ‘Show Me Love’.
Following the release of her debut album ‘Robyn Is Here’ in 1997, Robyn distanced herself from Cheiron Studios, eventually starting her own label to release 2005’s ‘Robyn’. Five years later, however, she reunited with Martin on the brilliant ‘Time Machine’ from the ‘Body Talk’ series of EPs. In a roundabout way, Robyn would also go on to work with Britney in 2007, providing backing vocals on ‘Piece of Me’, produced by Swedish duo Bloodshy & Avant.
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