The sun was setting when I heard it: the sound of a party in the distance. It was 2011 and I was working at Bestival as an Oxfam steward. I had just completed all of my shifts, and I was ready to get lost in the festival. A distant bass line tugged us through the mud towards the main stage and there, under heart-shaped lights that looked like Haribo sweets, was Swedish pop icon Robyn. She was dressed head-to-toe in silver, like an alien or a glitterball, pumping her fists like an aerobics instructor, her white-blonde bowl cut bouncing to the beat. I found myself in the middle of the crowd, hands in the air, absolutely mouth-open-transfixed.
Then Robyn grabbed a banana. She twirled with it like a dance partner, held it above her head to peel it and theatrically stuffed it into her mouth, taking such greedy bites that her cheeks bulged. And she kept dancing: the pummelling dance track ran through her whole body as she lifted her shirt and rubbed her stomach in an elaborate performance of satisfaction. It was so powerful, so sexy, so brazen, so silly. I have probably told more people about this banana than I have the story of how I met my partner.
If it sounds hyperbolic to say that a piece of fruit changed everything for me, you should know that I grew up in a very small village. This village – one main road, one streetlight, extremely sporadic public transport – had made me ravenous for a different kind of community, something that felt like it was mine. After I discovered a copy of Kerrang! in our little shop, the first and only time they stocked it, I found exactly what I wanted: 70s punk bands that looked like the coolest gangs I could imagine; 2000s emo that mixed swinging mic tricks and screamed choruses with a vulnerability that fascinated me.
I became desperate to be the “right” kind of music fan for the male-dominated world of alternative rock. I wanted so badly to fit in that I internalised a whole host of rules. I swore off all other music to prove my loyalty, ridiculing my prior pop favourites as “guilty pleasures”. I rehearsed before gigs, determined to know every word to every B-side just in case I was challenged. I pushed myself headfirst into mosh pits and held my ground even when boys accused me of ruining it. I tolerated far too much, batting away strangers’ hands from sneaking where they shouldn’t, without ever making a fuss. I accepted it all as conditions of entry, but I also assumed that if the bands themselves knew, they’d stick up for my right to be there – realising far too late that the often-misogynistic content of the songs I’d been singing back to them. Years later, when, Jesse Lacey, a member of my favourite band, Brand New, was accused of sexual misconduct and apologised for his past behaviour towards women, I was less surprised than I was able to admit.
Alternative scenes can have a snobbery that transforms a shared love of music into a fear of excommunication, and I was terrified of losing what I’d found. That side of me had written off Robyn before I ever heard her: too mainstream, too pop, something for other people. But in that muddy field she gave me an intoxicating glimpse into a different future: what if fear and guilt had no place next to love?
After the festival, I would learn that the banana was a familiar part of her Body Talk tour, a ritual in the dance break between We Dance to the Beat and Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do. It was both a mid-rave snack and a flag of autonomy. I learned that she had redefined her own image after being labelled as a teenage sensation, that she had started her own label and fearlessly pursued music that moved her, regardless of genre. In short, I found a whole new definition of punk – and one that spoke directly to me as a teenage girl.
Robyn showed me that I could discover joy on my own terms, without the warped, fun-house-mirror sense of self based on what I thought other people thought joy should look like. It was a freedom – not from the bands of my teenage years, many of which I still hold close – but from the pressure I’d put on myself. Ten years later, as a music journalist, people regularly criticise my taste – and fair enough! Men still challenge me at gigs, even googling my credentials in front of me. But thanks to Robyn, I have the confidence to be the music fan I’ve always wanted to be: to open my heart, to love music with my whole body, to know that pleasure should never be guilty.