Four years ago, I woke up at my girlfriend’s apartment, only to discover a bomb had dropped while I slept.
The video for “Call Your Girlfriend” is a once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece, the kind of perfect performance that most artists spend their whole lives striving for, but never achieve. Music, lighting, choreography: Michael Jackson was once hailed as the King of Pop, but even he never came anywhere close to this level of raw, this level of real.
I watched the video on my own once, and then, blown away by it all, showed it to my girlfriend on my laptop’s screen. She blanched, called it horrible, and asked me why I would show her such a thing.
In the years since, I’ve realized that “Call Your Girlfriend,” in addition to being a stunning pop song, serves as a Rorschach test, revealing and triggering the sorts of hurt that have been inflicted on any given person by partners past. To me, someone who had never been truly hurt before, the song’s lyrics seemed critical of the situation it described—even as Robyn implored her partner to break up with his girlfriend and be with her, the inherent shittiness of her actions were implied throughout. To my ex, who had been hurt in that exact sort of way several times—including finding her boyfriend in bed with her older sister in an apartment the siblings shared—the track dredged up the feelings from those betrayals.
Context might be on my side, but I can’t say for sure. Body Talk, the album on which “Call Your Girlfriend” is the midpoint, is full of songs about heartbreak, being strong in the face of adversity, and keeping one’s guard up. Lead track “Dancing on My Own” describes running into a recent ex at a club, where he’s with another woman, while “Hang With Me” implores a new man to not fall in love, no matter how well things go between them. It’s an album with no happy endings, and “Call Your Girlfriend,” if taken at face value, implies a happy ending for the narrator, at least for now.
Strangely, here I am, four years older, and far more hurt than I was the day I first saw that video, but the song still strikes me the same: Not as a celebration, but a criticism. Maybe Robyn’s message is deliberately muddy, or maybe I still have a ways to go before it’ll hit me the way it’s hit so many others.