They say that your teenage years are your most formative. I don’t know if that’s a fact or not, but I remember it being said somewhere. I’ve since found an article that I’ve linked above, but throughout my whole life, I was told that the years from 12-19 are the years where the human mind is most impressionable; and that from your 20’s and 30’s and into adulthood, while you’re exploring the world around you, your ideas are more or less and mostly fully formed and set. That’s not to say that you can’t ever change or do a 180 later on in life if you so choose to do so. But by and large, the majority of people develop most of their values, thoughts, morals, ethics and who they want to be, well before they turn 20. Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? Dunno, it’s just something that I’ve been thinking and surmising about. And in relation to this blog about influential artists and what Jon and I listen to these days; if we follow that logic, then Jon and myself, who were ‘sheltered’ and listening to only Christian music before in the 2000’s, shouldn’t even be writing this blog. We should be so dogmatic and set in our views about music… but we aren’t. We’ve allowed God to shape us and mould us, while we listen to uplifting, inspiring, and thought-provoking music, not necessarily by Christian artists; all the while holding onto our faith and keeping close our non-negotiables in the faith and what we believe to be primary issues in the doctrines of Christianity. We’ve grown in our love and appreciation for artists like Keith Urban, Little Mix, Selena Gomez, Maren Morris, Goo Goo Dolls, John Mayer, Jackie Evancho, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Owl City, Delta Goodrem, Avril Lavigne, Thomas Rhett, Lindsay Ell, The Shires, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and most recently Mickey Guyton and Kylie Minogue, to name a few. We’ve discovered and realised that the divide between Christian music and mainstream music is becoming blurrier and blurrier (and that can be seen as a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view!), and we’ve understood much more throughout these three years about music, God, life, death, the hard questions and everything else… than I guess any other time in my life. I’m sure Jon can testify to that. Yet if we are to believe that article above that our teenage years are the years in which we learn the most, then why am I at 32, announcing that the last 3 years have been the time in my life when I have learnt the most, predominately through this blog series about influential artists?
Throughout the past 3 years as Jon and I have been writing about our respective blog series about influential artists of all time and of up-and-coming influential artists who we deem to be big over the next few years; it is definitely true that we have learnt a great deal about a lot of topics. We’ve learnt things that we couldn’t possibly have learnt through listening to Christian music. We’ve learnt that songs about our struggles, our pain, our hardship, even without resolution, are ok, as it reveals to other listeners that we as a people are not alone, that we always have people around us who can identify with us, who can intimately know what we’re going through, and who can help us get through life. Jon and I have learnt that not everything in life is neat and tidy and can be sung in a 3-minute CCM pop song that can sooth our conscience or tickle our emotional receptors with dopamine. Sometimes there are real hard questions that life throws at us, and sometimes we just need a song that is full of questions and with no answers. And I’ve come to know and learn and conclude that it’s ok. Probably some of you won’t agree with me, and that’s fine. But as believers; there is tension in this world. Between what the world should be, what God has promised us, of what will happen when he returns, that we will all live in freedom with Him and on a new Earth when Jesus comes back, for all of us whosoever believes in Him and in the cross and in the resurrection. There’s tension in that; because though when Jesus comes back it will be glorious and wonderful and joyous and celebratory, while we’re here on earth things aren’t pretty. They aren’t nice. Christians are sometimes persecuted. Sharing your faith these days is seen as something to be ashamed and embarrassed about, and most likely you will be called names, made fun of, or even worse. Yes, America was a Christian nation once upon a time, but as early as the 60’s as depicted in Carman’s “Our Turn Now”, and as profound and intense as Carman has described in his song “America Again”; America is becoming more and more of a secular nation, and by some extent, the world is becoming more and more like a secular world, not bound together by common ideologies, but by common lack of ideologies. There is a real struggle here on this earth because of everything that has been going on in the world; and songs and melodies about life in general, not just about Christianity, can indeed help us and provide us comfort and healing. Throughout the past three years, as we’ve examined 149 artists in great detail and have spoken at length about the things they stood for and the things they believed in and the things that made them passionate, we’ve realised that God is in the business of using broken people, of even using people who do not believe in Him, to serve His purposes and to shine a light back onto Him. Even if we do not know it, God’s word at times is being subtly preached; and while I personally can’t wait for a time like the Toronto Blessing again; I marvel at how God is using Christians especially in music, to build bridges and to speak into the lives of people who do not know Him and who wouldn’t necessarily step foot into a church. Artists like for KING & COUNTRY, Needtobreathe, Switchfoot (and by extension Jon Foreman), Tori Kelly, Lecrae, Lauren Daigle, Zach Williams, Riley Clemmons, Jordan Smith and Marc Martel, are all ministering to people who do not know Jesus; and as these artists invade mainstream music and permeate the industry with God’s love and grace and mercy, I really couldn’t be more excited and eager to see how the next few years unfold.
Even though our teenage years form the basis for who we are, I truly believe that God can flip the script and change our lives at any time. When going into this blog series, both Jon and myself had no idea of what to expect. We thought it could’ve been a failed experiment and maybe only last a few weeks. But here we are… 3+ years later, and we are all the better, wiser, smarter, and much more mature for it. Would we have been where we are right now without mainstream music? I don’t know. Probably not. But as we come to the end of this 100 post blog series- this ‘experiment’ if you will, there is probably only one question left to ask. One question that sets the platform for the final artist in this list of 100- and a final inclusion that still is as arbitrary as ever- as previously mentioned in my last blog about Kylie. See, because I’ve got one spot left, any remaining artist left can be valid. But as I’ve been ruminating and sitting with this list for a few weeks or so, I’ve thought about a question- and then there was only one logical artist to include. And this question is this: at the core of us all, what do we want to be?
Woah! Hold up, hold up, hold up! Such a loaded and a heavy question at this time in the morning when my brain isn’t functioning yet? This type of question in the night when I’m tired from a full day of work? Well, this question has been probing and probing on my mind for a while. And it’s not just a ‘well I want to be a fireman or an astronaut when I grow up’ kind of answer, I reckon. It’s more of a basic and profound and thought-provoking type of answer that I myself have recently figured out. And I have concluded that for myself, the kind of person I want to be is one that is kind, loving, non-judgemental, one that spreads the love of God to everyone I meet, one that exudes joy, happiness, empathy, and grace, and one that exudes the fruits of the spirit. The type of person I want to be is one that points people to Jesus but doesn’t preach Jesus and shove Him down their throats. The type of person I want to be is caring to everyone around me, and always wanting to listen to people with a different point of view. In short, I want to be like Jesus to my friends, to my family, to those who don’t know me; even if they don’t know it nor acknowledge it. And as I’ve been listening to many artists throughout the past few years and have dived deep into discographies, lives outside of music and the values that artists stood for; well haven’t all of these artists sung at great length about this lifelong question we wrestle with about who we want to be? Songs about life, death, faith, unbelief, love, relationships, hurt, pain, joy, passion, ecstasy, about doing something for a higher calling than yourself… all of these songs, don’t they on some level answer the question of who we want to be? Yes, of course. You can find God speaking through tons and tons of music about who He wants us to be; and you can find other songs not acknowledging God, and still wrestling with the concept of who we want to be as people and as a human race. It’s a daily struggle and something we will always stay a work in progress on; but of late, I’ve found that I couldn’t not talk about this artist when realising that most, if not all of the songs from this artist, speak about the fundamental question of ‘who am I? who do I want to be?’. British rocker Robbie Williams, previously of Take That, is a household name, and his music can be controversial sometimes. But he dives deep into many relatable and relevant themes in his music, and he does wear his heart on his sleeve. You can read to your heart’s content about Robbie within the confines of Wikipedia (and yes, I will write about the success of Robbie’s band Take That in the back end of this blog!) but let me now introduce you to one of the most honest, vulnerable, moving and powerful artists you will ever hear. Robbie’s music isn’t for everyone. But it’s needed for everyone. Is there a reason why I’ve written Robbie as artist #100? Is it because Robbie’s music speaks about that core question that we’ve all been asking ourselves about identity and something bigger than ourselves- and thus meaning that Robbie is someone we all should listen to, more so than any other artist on this list? Or is it because he just ended up at #100 by chance?
Even though I hate myself I think I deserve to be content. I don’t think it dictates and causes me misery and gives me a prison-like quality between my ears… but I won’t have it that I’m any good. It stems from my peers not liking me because of the band that I was in. They were the cool crew, the people that I wanted to be. But they didn’t like me, and that hurt. And then I had to figure out why it hurt so much, why everything hurt so much. I’m sure that if the cool crew did love me and I did ‘quote unquote’ worthy music then I’d be a tyrant.
I’m bothered about what my children think about me. Charlton is very much his own entity. I am needy and he’s yet to figure out that I’m f****** great. [Before], I couldn’t look after myself. When Theodora was born the first two years were just hell in my mind because I thought I was gonna f*** everything up. And then she started talking to me. And then I just wanted as many of these little things as I could get.
If there was a grade for love it would be A plus. If there was a grade for actually getting down on my knees and doing the Lego I would give myself a D. I’m just surrounded by the right people at the right time. I was surrounded by the right people when I was taking drugs and I’m surrounded by the right people now I’m not taking drugs. And also I’m a people pleaser and I wanna be well.
Like with my blog about Kylie, when I wrote about her songs first and foremost, and spoke about her influence outside of music at various points in this blog, so too will I do about Robbie. His influence in my opinion is paramount because of his various achievements and his commercial successes around the early-mid 2000’s. in fact, according to Wikipedia (and I quote!): His [Robbie’s] discography includes seven UK No. 1 singles, and all but one of his 12 studio albums have reached No. 1 in the UK. Six of his albums are among the top 100 biggest-selling albums in the UK, with two of them in the top 60, and he gained a Guinness World Record in 2006 for selling 1.6 million tickets in a single day during his Close Encounters Tour. Williams has received a record 18 Brit Awards, winning Best British Male Artist four times, Outstanding Contribution to Music twice, an Icon Award for his lasting impact on British culture, eight German ECHO Awards, and three MTV European Music Awards. In 2004, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame after being voted the Greatest Artist of the 1990s. According to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), he has been certified for 19.9 million albums and 8.4 million singles in the UK as a solo artist. Five of his albums have also topped the Australian albums chart, and has sold 75 million records worldwide. He additionally topped the 2000–2010 UK airplay chart. Note: the reason I quote Wikipedia just before and not paraphrased it all, was that why spend so much time on re-writing something, when it is right there said in a better way, and all I can do is just quote it and acknowledge the quote? And so, as you are all aware now, there are the raw numbers (and more when we delve deeper) that speak about a very talented man and a very popular man and a very influential man that deserves his spot on an ‘influential artists of all-time list’. But it is first and foremost Robbie’s lyrics and his music that makes me stop in awe and wonder. Therefore, if Robbie had no hits, but if the music and the lyrics were still there… yep, he’d still be influential. And so, let’s dive deep into music of one of the most prolific artists and one of the most out-there, flamboyant, and probably polarising entertainers of the modern era. Will we all be Robbie fans afterwards? Quite possibly…
Robbie’s debut solo album Life Thru A Lens was released in 1997, and immediately, the song that has grabbed my attention, is the song that we all know and the song that is still popular today. “Angels” is a piano ballad and on the surface isn’t anything special. But this song has God’s fingerprints all over it, and reminds us that even when we do not feel the presence of God in our lives; that He has indeed sent His angels among us to show us the way- whether they are literal angels or metaphorical angels. With Robbie at one time relaying that this song was about his aunt and uncle, and at another time saying that “Angels” was about literal angels as he believed he used to talk to dead people like in The Sixth Sense; the story behind this iconic melody is a bit controversial and quite frankly- all-over-the-place. But “Angels” is one of the most requested songs that people want at their weddings, and also at their funerals; and hence, God has worked in ways beyond what we could ever comprehend, for us all to be touched by one of the most inspiring power ballads ever. With the lyrics revealing to us that ‘…through it all, she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I’m right or wrong, and down the waterfall, wherever it may take me, I know that life won’t break me, when I come to call, she won’t forsake me, I’m lovin’ angels instead…’, we are presented with a song that could be about guardian angels, or even friends or family, or quite possibly a life partner. Regardless on where you land on what you think this vague song is about; there’s no denying the immediate and stark influence and popularity the melody has had on culture and on the world at large. For a song that speaks about someone gaining their strength and comfort and solace from a friend or lover or a higher power; Robbie encourages us to lean on each other and seek a relationship that’s real, and not to be afraid of asking for help when we need it. And it is with these universal themes and relatable elements in the track that make it so accessible and timeless- and truly we will be listening to “Angels” in 10 years’ time, and also 20 years, and quite possibly 50 years as well!
Had Robbie not released “Angels” as a single from Life Thru A Lens (it was the 4th single from the album, after 3 others were mediocre), then he probably wouldn’t have been popular, and would not have had the career that he did. Regardless of how things did pan out, not many other songs have been hits from that album; yet for me, the entire project deserves a look at, as Robbie speaks at length about being honest and vulnerable, while also delivering melodies that are catchy, joyous, and celebratory. “Old Before I Die” delves into the harrowing and heartbreaking concept of mortality and wanting to live a full life before you die, and the tension of trying to play it safe and not die too early. A song that is relatable to almost all of us, Robbie inspires us to start living with purpose… because we all do not know how many days on earth that we all have left. “Lazy Days”, with an indie-rock sound, speaks about the process of growing up, and speaks in direct competition thematically to “Old Before I Die”- this melody speaks about having fun and living in the moment and enjoying yourself in your youth. And perhaps both songs are needed- as we are living with purposes but also in the moment. With one eye to the future but still enjoying the present. It may be a dichotomy, but Robbie inspires us in this song to give living with abandon and purpose a try. “South Of The Border” is a high-octane, energetic, transparent look at Robbie’s life in the 90’s preceding his move back to London and him battling his demons and deciding to make a literal sea change, while the final single from Life Thru A Lens is “Let Me Entertain You”. A meta-melody about rocking out, partying hard, and just being a song that celebrates having a good time, Robbie sheds his boyband/pop image the most in this track, with these lyrics reminding us all, that he’s here to entertain, and that Robbie is eager to change genres and expand his musical leanings, so long as his fans still love him. A melody that in essence kicks off the trajectory of the rest of his career; Robbie invites us to lay down our preconceptions and just enjoy the music. After all- he is an entertainer. The tongue-in-cheek and satirical rock melody “Clean” speaks about Robbie’s denial that he is an alcoholic and a substance abuser, reminding us that he’s friends with Mr Sheen (a reference to Charlie Sheen), while the emphatic and powerful title track pokes fun at superficial and vapid people, with Robbie declaring that he sees life through a much better and higher lens. And though Robbie straddles in this album (and throughout his own career) with the serious and the silly songs; there’s no denying that all of these melodies have a message, and that Robbie is just a vessel for God to convey everything He wants to convey.
Robbie’s second album I’ve Been Expecting You released in 1998, a mere year later. When albums are churned out that fast, I guess you could think that these songs aren’t of good quality. But as far as a sophomore album goes, these songs nonetheless impress and again delve into topics society probably wouldn’t dare touch. “Millennium” is one of the most popular songs with lyrics depicting the upcoming millennium, where Robbie bases the music in this song off Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” from the James Bond film of the same name, although not everyone liked the song according to songwriter Guy Chambers- Robbie came up with the idea for the song. He wanted to use the string section from ‘You Only Live Twice,’ but put it to a hip-hop beat. Once we had decided that, it was just a matter of finding a beat that worked – something that we eventually achieved by speeding it up. A few months after it had been released and had been a hit, we actually met John Barry, who wrote that amazing string line, backstage at a prom. We wanted to meet him but he was incredibly unfriendly, I got the feeling that he thought we’d murdered his piece of music. It was a bit awkward to say the least, but I’m still a huge John Barry fan. With Robbie passionately calling for positive change and with him singing about all of the notable things that has happened in the 20th century, he also yearns and dreams for things to be different and things to be a bit better throughout this new millennium. While none of us could have predicted 9/11 and all of the other wars we’ve been a part of for the past 22 years and counting; this melody brings a kind of optimism and naivety to it, with Robbie earnestly and fervently delivering a kind of New Year’s resolution, and the intent of each one of us acting less superficial and less of an egomaniac. “No Regrets”, a powerful piano ballad standing tall at 5 minutes, vividly details Robbie’s decision to walk away from Take That. In this song, he calls the decision has him having no regrets, and this track seems to be a bitter parting shot to the band members. However, the vagueness and ambiguity here remind us that we can take this tune and make it about anyone or anything- the subject matter of wanting to have no regrets is personal and universal as well.
“Strong”, an emphatic guitar led ballad, speaks about all of our deep insecurities, and also dispels the rumour that celebrities and famous people have their life all together. Robbie powerfully relays to us that just because his fans think that he’s strong and he’s a superhuman, doesn’t mean that he is. And with this melody giving us all a glimpse into the lives of famous people, we realise that they’re just like us- mortal people with hopes and dreams and feelings, people who can stuff up and deserve not to be judged and instead treated with kindness and dignity. “She’s The One”, originally by Karl Wallinger, is a piano ballad that garnered quite a bit of controversy– still it was a melody that resonated with a lot of people; while “Win Some Lose Some” is a rock melody where Robbie sings about his love for then-finance Nicole Appleton. “Jesus In A Camper Van” also created some controversy behind the scenes, and as Robbie sings about Jesus in a blasphemous and facetious way, we are presented with a warped view of God, but nonetheless a song that creates healthy discussion about matters of the divine and the spiritual. While “Grace” speaks about Robbie’s partner or even family members showering him with grace like how Jesus does to everyone; “Heaven From Here” is an acoustic guitar ballad and an underrated melody, with Robbie passionately reiterating that he will be heaven for someone who needs it- encouraging us to be positive change in someone’s life so that we can effect simple change in the world around us. In contrast, Robbie dishes out pain and karma in “Karma Killer”; and as he details how people have hurt him in the past, we are presented with a song that speaks about ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’- a concept that we all need to re-examine to see whether fighting back and wishing bad things about someone is the best course of action to undertake at a particular point in time.
The turn of the 2000’s saw Robbie cement his role as a bonafide singer, songwriter and entertainer, and the albums Sing When You’re Winning and Swing When You’re Winning, further stamp in his prowess as a popular yet influential star. Though musically different, both albums remind us of Robbie’s versatility and his penchant for partying, as well as his introspective and reflective nature and him longing to have a positive impact on the world around him. “Rock DJ”, one of Robbie’s biggest hits, is a nonsensical song that brings a feel-good party vibe, with Robbie filming one of the most grotesque music videos ever for the track. You can read all about the track here– and though lyrically the song can be seen as a euphemism for sex and physical intimacies or even orgies; Robbie reveals in the video that he loves to be close to someone and will go to extreme lengths for someone to notice him. To me, “Rock DJ” is actually a song about feeling insecure in the skin you’re in and needing reassurance that everything will be ok. And as Robbie powerfully reminds us that we can sometimes put masks on and act like a different persona, he subtly encourages us not to and instead to be authentic. “Kids”, with Kylie Minogue, is a satirical/meta/tongue-in-cheek pop/rock melody where Kylie and Robbie sing about the high points in their career thus far, and generally deliver a song where it’s also fit for dancing and moving to- it’s a fun melody where we don’t have to listen to the lyrics that hard. The alternative rock melody is a track that is extremely and incredibly catchy, and further affirms Robbie to be a force of nature as an entertainer. Robbie also passionately sings about wanting to find ‘a love supreme’, a higher love that makes the world make sense in “Supreme”, a melody sampling “I Will Survive” from Gloria Gaynor; while “Let Love Be Your Energy” is a Beatles-esque rock melody about letting our love for each other fuel every decision we make and letting love be what we lead with, and letting love be what we are known for. “Eternity” and “The Road To Mandalay” are songs with tons of metaphors and imagery within the lyrics, as Robbie sings about wanting to shed your old habits and who you are, and hence start anew and become someone you actually like being around. However, for me it is “Better Man” that is the heartbeat of Robbie’s third album.
“Better Man”, a single only in Australia, speaks about Robbie’s want and need and desire to become a better man- it was actually one of the songs that came together quite serendipitously: I was really down. I was f–king heartbroken, nothing to do with relationships, but I was thinking, ‘Well, you’ve got it, son. Well done. You’ve made it, you’re in the South of f–king France, you’ve made money, you’re more famous than anyone would want to be, and it’s not doing it, is it?’. I said to myself, ‘I’ll just pray to John Lennon and if he’s listening then maybe he’ll give me something.’ Now, that can be taken as raging arrogance or plain loony but I started strumming these chords which became the verse and the whole thing was written in an hour. And I mean that song. It’s me being honest. Not ironic or smart-arse, it’s just me. And while some could see this melody as being heretical or something like that (because Robbie prayed to John Lennon, but he still references God in this song!); the fact is that “Better Man”, to me, is one of the most inspiring and comforting songs Robbie has ever recorded- as it speaks about leaning on someone for help in order to better yourself and be the best version of yourself you can be. It’s not a song about arrogance and thinking that you have it all together, but of self-betterment through being humble and admitting when you don’t know everything there is to know.
Robbie’s fourth album Swing When You’re Winning , is a covers album, and has him diving deep into the genre of jazz and of swing and of 50’s and 60’s big band… but crazily enough, it works, and once again proves how versatile he is as a performer. “Something Stupid”, a duet with Nicole Kidman, is a cover of a song by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, as both Robbie and Nicole create a classic music video and a rendition of a song that even right now is timeless, popular and powerful (while also diving deep into the age-old concept of being honest and saying your feelings to someone when they become apparent to you); while “Mr Bojangles” is another melody that Robbie excels at, as is his compelling and moving rendition of “Mack The Knife”. “I Will Talk And Hollywood Will Listen”, the lone original on the album, speaks about lofty dreaming and longing to be famous beyond where you are at right now, as the song speaks about how we as humans are never satisfied and we’re always dreaming about the next ‘what if this happens’- and this isn’t a bad thing nor a good thing, but just something I’ve observed and something to ponder over. Robbie also delivers a near-flawless recording of “My Way”; yet for me it is “Beyond The Sea”, featured in the end credits of the Disney Pixar film Finding Nemo, that once again reminds me just how much of a powerful and inspiring artist Robbie Williams actually is.
To escape means to run away from and to hide and to forget about something that you need to. To escape means to avoid without any consequence nor confrontation. And according to the Cambridge Dictionary, to escape means to get free of something and to break away. However, in Robbie’s next album Escapology, we are introduced to probably one of the most vulnerable albums Robbie has recorded- and as he escapes from his old life, he tries to run towards a new life and tries to forge a new identity; we are led to believe that to escape is a very good thing. Lead single “Feel” speaks about longing to feel… something. It’s a song about escapism but more than that, it’s about wanting to be alive and wanting to live in a life that isn’t monotonous. As Robbie reiterates that he has so many flaws and insecurities, he relays to us all that ‘…I just wanna feel real love, feel the home that I live in, cause I got too much life, running through my veins, going to waste, and I need to feel real love, and a life ever after, I cannot get enough…’, and reaffirms to us that he’s a walking contradiction. So many thoughts in his head don’t make sense and hence, Robbie concludes that the best way to live his life is to have real love in his life and live perhaps a simple life that is depicted in the music video. However, though Robbie has thoughts of breaking free and escaping the fame that is his life, that doesn’t mean the thoughts in “Feel” will eventuate- because in another song in Escapology called “Come Undone”, Robbie sings about again feeling lost and hopeless and not able to live up to the expectations of the media, the fans, and the world. With lots of dichotomies and juxtapositions lyrically in this track, Robbie sings about feeling insecure and unable to be authentic- this track is about putting on masks for the public to see- and though there is not resolution to this heartbreaking and vulnerable ballad, the question does remain- are you what people say you are (is that a self-fulfilling prophecy?) or can you break free from the cycle that people always expect you to fall into for whatever reason?
The rest of Escapology is littered with songs about the act of being a celebrity, fame and putting on an act, feeling like you’re an imposter in a world where you don’t belong. “Something Beautiful” is a powerful, emotional mid-tempo ballad about wanting to belong and wanting to feel loved and accepted by people, and hoping that something beautiful will come your way in the timeframe that you want; while the hard-hitting and painful “Sexed Up” is about a break-up, with Robbie telling his ex that he’s completely over her and that he was actually not into her anyway. It’s a song that tries to be brave and bravado and smart, but littered underneath all of the macho, is a melody about a broken relationship in which Robbie really cared for the person. It’s about someone feeling alone and hopeless and processing a loss the only way they know how- through a bitter break up song. “Love Somebody”, a haunting, mysterious and provocative guitar led ballad, speaks about how Robbie just wants to love someone so that they can love him back and love away the pain and hurt and all of the addictions and the hang-ups; while one of the more compelling, emotional and honest songs on Escapology is “Revolution” with Robbie comparing his fame and fortune and lost love to a revolution that is happening whether he likes it or not- yet the song speaks about embracing the revolution, hence embracing the free and single life and having a positive perspective on what otherwise could be considered a boring and mundane life. With “Monsoon” being another song about Robbie feeling down in the dumps and being self-critical and insecure; “Handsome Man” takes the self-depreciation and self-loathing one step forward- by pretending to feel secure as the ‘world’s most handsome man’ but really feeling hurt, pain, loneliness and heartbreak, with no amount of friends and people around to truly and really comfort.
While Escapology is Robbie Williams at his most vulnerable and emotional (and probably to me is still the pinnacle of his song writing and singing), Robbie then went on to create albums that are more… niche, shall we say. With the early part of his career being songs that are probably musically accessible to everyone (in essence- more pop!), it is this middle period of Intensive Care, Rudebox, Reality Killed The Video Star and Take The Crown that seemingly reveals someone who is musically out-of-his-mind- considering all of these albums are so musically and lyrically different. But a deeper listen to these tracks; reveal different parts of Robbie that still compute together at the end of the day, and are complex and multilayered, but are also still longing for connection and love and acceptance. “Tripping” from the 2005 album Intensive Care, has one of the weirdest music videos ever, with the video presenting Robbie in crazy situations, and having him believe himself to be ‘tripping’ with drugs; however lyrically the song still speaks to the core of all of us, as Robbie sings about mixing with the wrong crowd, and him realising when it’s too late, that there are consequences for his actions that he cannot avoid. It’s a concept that we can all relate to, as most of the time we want to be popular by hanging out with the cool kids, yet we don’t fully understand that the cool kids don’t love us, they are just using us. “Make Me Pure”, a prayer of sorts to God, has Robbie listing all of his hang-ups and vices, and asking God to rid him of all of his transgressions… however the prayer is probably blasphemous or facetious, as Robbie doesn’t want to be pure yet, and this song is probably satirical when you think about it. How many times do we ask God to be whole or complete or satisfied or content about something, and then se say ‘oh God, but if you could do this after I have this one day of freedom or of sowing my wild oats!’. I think we’re probably attached to this world a bit too much, and Robbie dives deep into the concept of being too attached to this world in this revealing melody.
Another religious themed melody (Robbie grew up in a Christian home, so of course some of his songs are going to have ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ elements to it!) is “Bodies”, from the 2009 album Reality Killed The Video Star. It’s a rock song that is instantly recognisable as I’ve heard it countless times on the radio, and is probably a protest or social commentary song just as much as it could be a prayer. With Robbie powerfully relaying the concept of existentialism found in Ecclesiastes in the Bible, we are presented with a bleak and nihilistic view of life, with Robbie declaring that there’s always going to be dead bodies everywhere, and that at the end of the day, all we want to do is to feel good about our own bodies and our appearance. With the lyrics of ‘…and if Jesus really died for me, then Jesus really tried for me…’ present in the verses… then no matter what Robbie intended for this melody, perhaps Jesus is shining through this song, asking us all to focus on him rather than our mortal bodies which will wither and fader by the day’s end? Something to ponder about- perhaps instead of looking for validation and acceptance from the media and culture and our superficial and vapid friends, perhaps we can live a more contented life knowing that Jesus Christ has already accepted us? Supposedly Robbie is now a Christian, and feels uncomfortable singing this song (especially the refrain at the end which proclaims that ‘…Jesus didn’t die for you, what do you want? (I want perfection), Jesus didn’t die for you, what are you on? (I need some…), Jesus didn’t die for you, Jesus didn’t die for you…’)… but I guess we’ll never really know, will we? At least the gospel is… kinda being preached? That’s something, isn’t it?
“Lovelight”, from Rubebox, is a cover from Lewis Taylor, and is an EDM/gospel infused melody where Robbie asks if his partner really loves him or not- it’s a song where he is on the precipice of leaving her; and is a melody that is extremely relevant and relatable today in a society where people break up more times than I could ever count. “She’s Madonna”, with the Pet Shop Boys, is a dig at how people are so obsessed over something that is unattainable, and how we all want to chase after something that most likely won’t ever bring us true happiness. The melody was inspired by a conversation Robbie had with his ex-girlfriend, who complained to him one day that her boyfriend left her for Madonna. And as Robbie reveals to us, comparison with famous people is nothing new and will continue to permeate through society no matter when you live. It’s just a fact of life: Well, I was lying in my bed with a very attractive female watching TV, and a very attractive actress came on to be interviewed. I instantly wanted her and not the person I was with. It’s a man thing. Madonna became the focal point for the bigger, better offer and ultimately the futility of endless want and lust. Never seeing what you’ve got because of unrealistic, unobtainable desires. “You Know Me”, either an ode to the fans or a song directed to Robbie’s now-wife Ayda Field, is a terribly confusing music video with Robbie in a rabbit suit- but it’s typical Robbie, because from his videos, he’s always known to do things in a flamboyant and over-the-top way; while “Morning Sun” is an emotional, personal song directed to the late Michel Jackson, with Robbie singing out ‘…and you don’t see anything, not even love, not anything, the night could take the man from you, a sense of wonder overdue, the morning brings a mystery, the evening makes it history, who am I to rate the morning sun?…’. The awfully nonsensical and absurd melody “Bongo Bong (and) Je Ne T’Aime Plus” is probably a song that shouldn’t even have been recorded at all… but it’s a typical Robbie song full of joy, celebration and a danceable melody; while the pop/rock melody “Candy”, another song that could be seen as a lyrical mess, reveals to us the persona of a woman who is insecure, but still shows herself in the public to be all together- as Robbie sings out ‘…hey, ho, here she goes, either a little too high or a little too low, got no self-esteem and vertigo, ’cause she thinks she’s made of candy, hey, ho, here she goes, either a little too loud or a little too close, there’s a hurricane in the back of her throat, and she thinks she’s made of candy…’. This song is full of dichotomies and contradictions, and as Robbie encourages us to use our discern and see people for who they are- hiding their true selves and trying to puff themselves up to make people believe their the ‘next big thing’ when they’re not; we are also encouraged to see through someone’s bs, and to give grace where needed, and to tell people the hard truth with firmness and love when needed as well.
“Different”, an earnest prayer, desire, and longing, is a ballad sung to an ex or a partner, wanting to do the relationship differently this time around, with Robbie declaring himself to be different. It’s probably sung from the persona of an addict who promises they’ll get clean but cannot get clean- and thus all they have are empty words; but “Different” reminds us that people sometimes need help, and we need to stand alongside those who are struggling, and not let them go through life alone. “Kiss Me”, a cover from Stephen Duffy, is a melody that speaks about the innocence and purity of love in general, and Robbie longing for that specific kind of love in his life like that; while the high-octane, energetic, polarising “Rudebox” is similar to “SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake in theme and style. “Be A Boy”, one of my favourite songs from Robbie of late, is an anthemic power ballad, speaking about growing up quickly and choosing to be the person that you would want to be friends with and the person you would want to live up to. It’s probably the most introspective and reflective since “Feel”; and as this song is written about his daughter Theodora, Robbie realises that he has to grow up, and thus this song was borne out of the feelings of actually wising up and being an adult and taking some more responsibility, as I know it’s very natural to keep saying, ‘ It’s a miracle, she’s a f—– miracle’ but she is. When Ayda was first pregnant we’ d have a week of me saying, ‘ I didn’t want this. You f—— wanted this.’ But was me just being scared. There have been times when I’ve wanted to run off. I will admit that. I started to think, ‘ I’m not old enough for this and I’m still a kid myself’ but I work it out. It became a song of empowerment for me [because] my career’s gone [to] a few weird places over the last few years.
As much as Robbie has always been this carefree, laid-back rock guy that does sing about earthly pleasures, he keeps on delivering with his ballads and his thought-provoking melodies. Another winner amongst Robbie’s large discography is “Adverting Space”, where Robbie references the deaths of Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando. In this song, he outlines that their deaths were marred by the fact that consumerism and capitalism were tainting the deaths of well-known famous people from Hollywood- deaths were used as marketing tactics and billboards of these artists were replaced by billboards for advertisements for unnecessary products. With this song being a protest song against consumerism, Robbie encourages us to sing with passion on something that we all believe in. even if it isn’t consumerism or capitalism, we should find something we love and champion it, whatever it takes. “Random Acts Of Kindness”, a powerful melody that is essentially about revenge on unkind people, is masqueraded as a song about love and peace and joy and kindness (although God can still use a sarcastic song about kindness to change someone’s heart and to instil love and joy and peace into the world!); while “Blasphemy”, a heartbreaking and emotional piano led ballad, is Robbie trying to make sense of the world around him and the notion that God ‘allows’ or ‘creates’ evil for His own pleasure- this melody is Robbie’s way of reconciling bad things happening with a good God- although the end result of him rejecting God is a sad conclusion indeed, but a conclusion that some people nonetheless deduct and assume. “Losers”, an acoustic guitar prominent cover of a melody from Belle Brigade, is Robbie at his most vulnerable as a singer, with Robbie singing a duet with Lissie, and the song being a raw, intimate account of wanting to leave a legacy behind for the next generation and not wanting to be a ‘loser’ by the world’s standards. While “Sin Sin Sin”, though topically taboo, speaks about casual sex, and the persona realising that it’s a sin and that we should fight our carnal desires… but in the end the persona wants to partake in the sin anyway. With Robbie shining a light on each of our own deep and darkest secrets, and the fact that we’d like to say that we’re holy and righteous, but we would all like to be as worldly as possible; Robbie encourages us to be authentic and to mean what we say and say what we mean.
First of all, I wanted to do a swing album because I wanted to do a swing album. I always knew I’d do another and I think now is the perfect time to do it. I’m enjoying showbiz and I’m enjoying my life and my understanding of where I am now is that there needs to be an event every time I bring out a record. The album this time is a definite ode and a loving glance towards a period on the planet that I was never invited to ‘coz I wasn’t there… I wanted to be, which I feel still very strongly linked to. Going in I planned it to be very similar to the last one, and then I realized – that’s actually not what I wanted. It’s different – it’s not all covers, I had some songs that I wanted the world to hear and check out and maybe become part of the fabric of their lives, if I’m lucky enough, that I’ve had a hand in writing. So it’s very very similar to the last one, and very different – and hopefully I’m off to romance the world!
Swings Both Ways, the 2013 spiritual sequel to Swing When You’re Winning, is an album when Robbie returns to jazz and swing and 50’s and 60’s big band. The result is a fun album and one that doesn’t need to be taken seriously. Which is fine after the discography he has had, where Robbie has shone a light many a time on his imperfections, vices, hopes and dreams. “Shine My Shoes”, a satirical, powerful jazz melody, is an original melody co-written with long-standing writing partner Guy Chambers, with Robbie directing his song to the haters, and telling them that he doesn’t understand why they hate him. In this song, he asks them to see him and yell abuse at him (because he doesn’t mind it!), and then he asks the haters to go and shine his shoes. Now… we all know that ‘shine my shoes’ is probably a euphemism. Let your imagination run wild, if you will. But as Robbie shuts up the haters, he reminds the people who hate his music, that he’s a person too with real feelings. And if we’re ever hateful and prideful and just plain horrible to other people, let’s try to remember everyone else’s humanity, and try to walk a mile in their shoes. “Go Gentle”, a personal, vulnerable and honest melody written for Robbie’s daughter, features sage wisdom and advice and encouragement that she, and all of us, can apply to everyday life, with Robbie emphatically and passionately relaying to us all that ‘…for all your days and nights, I’m gonna be there, I’m gonna be there, yes I will, go gentle through your life, if you want me I’ll be there, when you need me I’ll be there for you…’; while Robbie also delivers powerful covers of “Dream A Little Dream” (with Lily Allen) and “I Wanna Be Like You” (with Olly Murs). Michael Bublé is another guest vocalist who makes an appearance on this album- on the original melody “Soda Pop”; with this song being a high bundle of energy, although the lyrics are quite all-over-the-place and zany and outrageous! And although this melody doesn’t make sense, it is fun and poppy to listen to: ’Soda Pop’ was written at a ranch just outside Seattle. Whilst there, me and my friends Richard and Scott from Stoke wrote some songs, including this. I was lucky enough to get Michael Buble to sing on it with me. I’ve got a kind of fan boy-ish appreciation for Michael Buble. We’re of a similar age doing a similar sort of thing, and normally I can’t stand people who are my age doing a similar sort of thing – I get very competitive. But Michael Buble is like something from a time capsule – he keeps the flame alive for me of that glamour and the promise and the naivete and the sass of the fifties. Robbie then keeps us guessing with the title track, a reference to his supposed bisexuality; while Kelly Clarkson features on the song “Little Green Apples”.
I was musing over the phrase -light entertainment’ – all the huge TV shows from when I was a kid, 30 million people watching them, this huge shared experience of these moments called light entertainment. Sometimes it can be levelled at people in a bad way, but for me that’s heavy entertainment. That’s what I’m hoping to do with this album – to have a shared experience with millions of people though the medium of light entertainment…but on steroids.
Robbie hasn’t released an all-original solo album since 2016’s The Heavy Entertainment Show (aside from his Christmas album in 2019); and so does that mean that his best days are behind him? Is Robbie in his most recent album still worthy an adversary to Robbie in his hey-day? Though there’s one song that is questionable on this project (look at Wikipedia at track number 5 to see and then you’ll know!), the entire vibe of The Heavy Entertainment Show speaks about giving us a spectacle to listen to and a show to experience and live vicariously and vivaciously through. And this 2016 project has done its job quite nicely. “Love My Life”, one of the most radio friendly yet also one of the most inspiring and moving songs Robbie has ever recorded, delves into and details the intense and immense and never-ending love Robbie has for his wife and his children, as he emphatically and majestically cries out that ‘…I might not be there for all your battles, but you’ll win them eventually, I’ll pray that I’m giving you all that matters, so one day you’ll say to me ‘I love my life, I am powerful, I am beautiful, I am free, I love my life, I am wonderful, I am magical, I am me, I love my life’…’. Could the song also be God singing to each one of us? Something to think about, don’t you reckon?
“Party Like A Russian”, probably a song that wouldn’t receive airplay on the radio had it been released in this political climate, contains lots of Russian references, and is basically a party song celebrating hedonism and debauchery (basically a typical rock song from Robbie!); while “Mixed Signals”, a song written by The Killers front man Brandon Flowers, speaks about a relationship in peril when the girlfriend cheats (as per the original music video) and the guy finds out about it at the end of the video. It’s a song that speaks about trust and communication, and we are presented with a melody that encourages us to fully know our partners before diving deeper into more serious relationships with them. “Time On Earth”, a pulsating, empowering and inspiring 80’s themed ballad, speaks about wanting to be the best version of yourself that you can be, as Robbie compellingly sings out ‘…I’m gonna walk onto that stage like it’s my destiny, stand and tell the truth, make no apologies, if tomorrow I should die, these are my memories, I’m gonna take this simple life and make history…’; while “I Don’t Want To Hurt You” is sung from Robbie to his wife, promising her that he won’t hurt her unlike all of her exes. “Best Intentions”, a verseless, chorusless melody, speaks about Robbie having the best intentions for his life, his wife and his kids, and him praying to God, hoping that he has his life sorted out and that everything he does turns out the best for his family; while “Marry Me”, similarly with “Marry Me” from Train and from Thomas Rhett (2 separate songs!) is a ballad directed to his wife, asking her to marry him again because he loves her so much.
Christmas is a state of mind. There you go, there’s another title for another song that I will write next year. But if you look at it, I wrote 50 songs for the Christmas Present record. And you can’t write 50 songs in one month because it’s Christmas and you feel Christmassy, so you have to do it when the fancy takes you. And it was a lot of fun to write and I hope we got the tone right and I hope that it just makes people smile. I hope people find it mildly amusing and uplifting. I’m not in it [the charts], so I think those days for me being in the singles, high in the singles charts, have moved on. I’m an albums kind of person now, which is wonderful. But I don’t even look at the charts now. And I wouldn’t even think that I would get anywhere near up there. But if I did, it would be a Christmas miracle and I’d be very grateful.
I’m always, always looking forward. I need purpose and I need to keep going and I need to have projects in front of me. So the way that you would think that I would behave about something like Knebworth or my swing album or the Albert Hall or things of that kind of nature or selling the most tickets in the history of music in one day and getting the biggest record contract, all of those stuff I just don’t even think about. The things that I am excited about and that give me joie de vivre is what’s about to happen. TV shows, films, two albums, I’m starting a band, I’ve got art, I’ve going to have a gallery and I’m going to DJ at the gallery in the evening and I want to do that in Berlin, I want to do that in Tokyo. There’s just, there’s so much. All of this might not happen. See I have this like splatter gun sort of idea. And then maybe one out of ten gets done. But these are all the ideas that are formulating in my head, and I want Covid to end so we’re all healthy, but on a personal selfish level I want Covid to end so I can just crack on with these projects.
Last year, my brother Jon reviewed Robbie’s Christmas album The Christmas Present from 2019. You can read about it all right here, but the long and short of it was that it was essentially 28 songs long and most of it were original songs. Here is Jon’s overall sentiment below, quoted verbatim because I could never try to re-write something that is so, so well written in the first place. And also, it’s the same as my sentiment, when looking at the songs as a package as an album and how is flowed… but individually, these songs have some merit and value: One major drawback to this album as a whole are its original tracks, even though I still firmly believe that it’s Robbie’s original Christmas songs that make this album unique, quirky, and interesting. Maybe it’s because that I firmly believe that 21 original tracks in a track list of 28 is most definitely daunting, and to be honest, if a Christmas album is full of unfamiliar songs, people tend to steer clear away from it, no matter how ‘good’ the album is. Because to be honest, if I wasn’t reviewing this album, I probably wouldn’t have listened to Robbie’s Christmas album. Not because I don’t want to listen to new things…but there’s just something odd about a Christmas album that hardly resembles a Christmas album. The Christmas Present is an album that continues to solidify Robbie’s presence within the music industry, and reminds us, all that original Christmas material is what I myself get excited about each Christmas. Having said that, I too think that 21 original songs in a track list of 28 is way too much, maybe release an album of 14 or 15 songs and then save the rest for a few years’ time? A number of original songs stand out to me on this project- which mind you isn’t the ‘normal’ Christmas album I would listen to. “Home” is a song about wanting to feel the closeness of home during the holidays, wherever you are in the world, while “Darkest Night” speaks about people wanting any type of connection around the holidays. “Time For Change” is a positive song about deciding to actively change positively around December time and into the future, hoping that we all see the spirit of Christmas and decide to be better people as a result; while “One Last Christmas” is very emotional. No, it isn’t the Matthew West song of the same name, but rather another original- Robbie sings from the perspective of a father trying to make amends with his son on Christmas Day and asking him for forgiveness; while “Let’s Not Go Shopping” tries to dispel the rumour that shopping makes everything better during the holidays, with Robbie surmising that he’d prefer to have a quiet night in with family and friends rather than rushing around buying presents that we don’t really need. “Idlewild” speaks about another story about how someone is reminiscing on a past love, and letting us know that they might rekindle the love during Christmas because Christmas is the time for new beginning; while songs like “Fairytales”, “New Year’s Day”, “Soul Condition” and “Not Christmas” are other originals that strike a chord with me. Yet it is the possible tongue-in-cheek “Happy Birthday Jesus Christ” that is the standout amongst the sea of 21 original songs on this holiday album! It’s quite remarkable to see and hear a mainstream artist sing about Jesus in such an overt manner that presumably isn’t blasphemous or facetious. Robbie has some sort of Christian faith or respect; and so it is cool for Robbie to sing a song like this. Could this be a step in the direction of mainstream artists professing their love for Jesus as a teacher and as a Saviour, even if they may not believe in His divinity? It might be. Is that a good thing? Well, any song that sings about Jesus in a positive way is good… so I’ll table this discussion for another time; and leave you all to discuss amongst yourselves in a healthy way.
‘Happy Birthday Jesus Christ’ is my favourite song on the album, because it’s a bit subversive, and it’s not your middle-of-the-road, archetypal Christmas song. And you’re not quite sure what’s going on in it. But basically, Jesus is my homeboy, and I’m having some banter with Him. Also, it contains some of my favourite lyrics I’ve ever written. I’m particularly proud of healed the lame, forgave the foolish, and on your first birthday You were Jewish, happy birthday, Jesus Christ. It’s one of my favourite lyrics I’ve ever written. Yeah, it’s a religious song, if the message from religion is love. And that’s what the chorus is about. You know, if you take what Jesus should mean and feel to people… is love and togetherness and all the great things that we possess as human beings in our tool bag of who we are. It’s a song where I’ve having a laugh with Jesus, but I’m also nodding to Jesus- to go ‘yeah, You’re the man’.
Robbie Williams isn’t a popular artist at the moment. He hasn’t released any original new material since 2016, and fans and critics haven’t really been begging for him to release something new. In my opinion, Robbie’s heyday was in the period of the 2000’s. That was when his awards and his stature and his popularity was through the roof. You can read all about Robbie’s achievements here; but with Robbie having already released 12 studio albums since his time with Take That in the 90’s, he has also recorded so much more stand-alone singles and collaborations to further convince you all that he is influential, if any of you are not convinced yet. One of the first songs Robbie ever recorded as a solo artist was the George Michael cover “Freedom”, which was featured on a greatest hits project in 2010, and was released as a single in 1996. As a cover, it’s a solid rendition, although the original recording for this timeless classic will always be a version that resonates greatly with me. With Robbie singing about having freedom and joy and happiness in his life, we are presented with a track that puts a smile on our face- a track that is extremely danceable. “Radio” and “Misunderstood” were previously unreleased tracks from Robbie’s 2004 Greatest Hits album, with the former melody being a song about a schizophrenic person slowly going mad, and the latter song a melody about the public and listeners and critics misunderstanding him for some reason- the track is also originally from Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason. “United”, a song written and sung for the 2000 Pepsi Ask For More ad campaign, is a melody where Robbie asks if we as people and as a human race, are truly united (in sport, or in whatever other hot topic or issue is at hand). Unfortunately, Robbie concludes that we truly aren’t united, and that there is unnecessary division and friction between us when there shouldn’t be any; while “These Days”, with Avicii, is a happy-go-lucky pick me up melody the is sure to put a smile on our face- this track speaks to our very soul and reminds us to live in the present, and to always live the best life that we can… because we’ve only got one and we should live life with no regrets and with happiness and with purpose.
“Collision Of Worlds”, with Brad Paisley, is quite possibly one of the most important songs Robbie has ever recorded; it’s a rock/country hybrid melody featured in Cars 2. With the song being a semi-response to “United”; the melody lyrically speaks about unity and realising that you’re not so different to me, and I’m not so different to the person who lives down the street, or in the next suburb, or in the next country. People have differences yet we all have commonalities and similarities- and thus any time when we want to dig our heels into our respective camps of dogma and certainty; we must remember that worlds do collide sometimes, and when we sit down and talk to someone who is different than us, we will see that the similarities between us will far outweigh the differences- who knows, we may find common ground, and we may call each other friends, the longer we sit down and give each other a chance. “The Big Goodbye”, recorded with Ronan Keating on Ronan’s 2020 album Twenty Twenty, is a tribute and a homage to Stephen Gately- Ronan’s ex-bandmate from Boyzone, as we hear one of the more emotional and personal and vulnerable and honest melodies about death and the fear of waiting for death than I’ve ever heard in quite a while; while “Shame” with Gary Barlow speaks about Robbie and Gary burying the hatchet and resuming their friendship, and forgiving their past transgressions. It’s the first song both of them have collaborated on from 1995-2010; and with Robbie and Gary both seemingly being able to forgive and forget about the past, we are presented with a song that encourages us to not hold grudges also, and to remember that forgiveness can be comforting and healing, and can result in your keeping a friend instead of you not speaking to them for the rest of your lives.
“2 Become 1” with Emma Bunton in her 2019 album, is a Spice Girls cover from back in the day, and a breezy, acoustic guitar and keys driven ballad, speaking about the act of safe sex. Yet a deeper listen reveals that the melody speaks about the moment two souls become one, and the moment you know you’ve met your soulmate. As we are encouraged to keep our eyes peeled and keep on treating others with kindness and respect as we never know who God has planned for us to be with; “2 Become 1” reinforces the belief that you can’t just sleep around and give your heart away to anybody- there has to be some thought, as there is a soul connection that happens when you do consummate your feelings. It even is written in the Bible that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. How should we argue against God and flippantly misuse our bodies in a way that isn’t glorifying to Him? “2 Become 1” should be a statement for this generation to wait until we find the right person- and should form the backbone of how we all should act when it comes to soulmates, the one, sex and things of that nature. Robbie also delivers “Heart And I” from his greatest hits album In And Out Of Consciousness; and with this powerful rock mid-tempo melody being about mental heath and how Robbie handles the pressure of feeling like he’s lost and reconciling his current feelings with what he should be feeling, he eloquently reminds us that ‘…and I don’t feel myself again, I thought I’d be fixed by now, walking through the horizon, I find myself back here somehow, give me something to die for, or design a quiet mind, something to like mankind for, cause we don’t lie, my heart and I…’, and that trying to be the best person that you can possibly be, is a lifelong journey. He’s not there yet, but through Robbie’s heartfelt and powerful music, we’re invited to join in the journey of him becoming the man he wants to be, and the man that God wants him to be.
I’ve mentioned before a million times I think in previous blogs (but I’m probably exaggerating!), that the measure of being influential and the barometer of deciding of how influential a person is, is most likely determined by how the artist acts when the spotlight isn’t on them. Sure I could list Robbie Williams’ awards and nominations and the hits he’s garnered (I have spoken about his songs, but I haven’t really touched upon his awards!)… but what good would that do? The raw numbers and the data could only impress someone who is already a fan- and a fan becomes a fan because of the songs and because of everything the artist stands for and the artist supports outside of making music. For Robbie, there’s plenty he has done when not song writing or singing, and though you could read about it on Wikipedia here, let me briefly write about a few things. Robbie starred in the universally panned animated film The Magic Roundabout in 2005, while becoming a guest vocal coach on the 9th season of Popstars: Girls Forever. Robbie also wrote the book You Know Me in 2010, while he has contributed to video games (Fifa 2000 and We Sing Robbie Williams), clothing (Farrell Clothing) and musical theatre (composing the music and lyrics for The Boy In The Dress). Robbie has also sold more albums in the UK than any other British solo artist in history, and he has won more BRIT Awards than any other artist to date. Robbie’s tour sell out in minutes (see evidence here and here!). Robbie has also set up a charity called Give It Sum in his home town of Stoke-on-Trent- the goal of the charity being to improve local conditions and strengthen community life by giving money to those who are disadvantaged; while he and his friend Jonathan Wilkes have organised charity football matches every year called Soccer Aid, to raise money for UNICEF. Since 2002; Robbie has been the Patron of the children’s charity the Donna Louise Trust, based in Stoke-on-Trent. Giving back to the community seems to be something that Robbie desires and yearns to keep on doing… and it’s great to see him actively progressing his community, and supporting people in need in many fields and spheres and influence. I mean, awards are great. But if all you have are awards… then you have nothing. If you have awards and no friends or family or sense of self-worth or self-belief or anything else that is intrinsic; then you don’t really have anything to show for your ‘successes’, do you? Robbie may be a bit rough around the edges and his music isn’t always the most polished. But his determination and tenacity to see everyone around him succeed, reminds us that he’s like an everyman sort of hero and role model- someone people can look up to. Not because he has it all together. But because he is a work in progress, just like us; and he is trying, just like us.
I originally wanted to write about Robbie’s band Take That for around about half the blog. But then I realised that Robbie himself was and is much more popular and influential than the band he came from. I was about halfway through this blog when I realised that not only is Robbie much more big and perhaps much more relevant than Take That; and then I immediately changed course and wrote more about Robbie. Because you see, I’ve recently read an article about who has made the leap to being a solo artist, and who has eclipsed the stardom of their bands. And as I was reading this article, it really much reaffirmed my thinking that Robbie deserves a spot on this blog in his own right and merit. Take That alone don’t really deserve a spot in my opinion within the 100 (nor in my 50 honourable mentions that I will be posting about in due course!); and once I figured that out… well, that was that. I mean sure, you can read about Take That to all of your heart’s content on Wikipedia. But I won’t be covering them here. I have not listened to their music… but even when I was uncultured and didn’t know a song from Robbie aside from “Angels” … I knew who he was, and I knew he was influential. Conversely… who’s Take That? I mean… Take That only has “Back For Good”… and not many people in the U.S. know who they are. If I were to ask a random person on the street ‘do you know who Robbie Williams is?’ and ‘do you know who Take That is?’; I’d get a lot more recognition than the former. And… that’s just the way it is. Sometimes lead singer bread out of bands and sometimes they don’t. sometimes the band is bigger than any lead singer and survives, or even thrives, multiple line-up changes. In the case of Take That, they’ve done modestly ok but not spectacular… and so how about I’ll leave it here and wrap things up before I make this blog like a ‘Take That v Robbie Williams’ kind of sparring match, shall I?
Years ago, when the level of fame was insane, it made me really ill, and it made me depressed. The math was a simple equation for me: promo the record in America and Canada and be famous throughout the world, or don’t do any promo and live there and be anonymous. I chose to not work there, not promo there. America for me was like Bruce Wayne’s mansion, and when I got into a plane, I got into the Batmobile and I was Batman. That worked for me.
And then, I would say it was 12 months ago, I was walking through a place called Fashion Square in the valley, and I was thinking to myself: “Look how freely I walk amongst the people here. Look at me, looking at them. Look at me looking at them, being able to observe them. And they want nothing from me, and they don’t observe me back, and I’m having this moment walking through the mall.”
And then, all of sudden I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be able to walk through this f***ing s*** hole, I hate it. I want to change that. Why did I not want to break this place?” I had that moment, and now I’m currently thinking: “You know what? In some shape, way, or form, I’d like to break America and Canada, because then I’d be able to do some work up there.” But it would still be a f***ing mental thing to do. Because I’m not sound mentally. And I think if I broke the place, it would break me.
Escapology was probably my biggest album. And after that me and Guy Chambers fell out. I didn’t really respect the chemistry that we had, and I wanted to go and sabotage it and make it all myself and do it by myself because everybody is saying that Guy Chambers is the songwriter.
And so there was a mixture of my ego feeling a bit battered by not being respected for the songs I was writing. And plus, Guy turned into a bit of a dick. And now we’re mates again, and so it’s all good.
And then I went and made records that I thought I should—“interesting” records—instead of writing hit records. And I managed to do half of what I just said. I wasn’t interesting, but I managed to not write hit records. And then by the time I came back to wanting to write hit records again, maybe the sort of language had left me, and pop moved on. But with this album [The Heavy Entertainment Show], I wanted to go back to where I was when people who liked me fell in love with me and with my records. I wanted to go recreate that.
I stopped listening to music completely. I listen to sports talk, I listen to talk radio. If I find something interesting, I’ll go and find it on YouTube, but I can’t remember the last time I bought anything. We’re also the ADHD generation. The way we consume music has changed. I listen to something for 50 seconds and then I’m jumping onto the next track, because I can. And that’s the way that my brain works.
And here we are. Around about 3 years later, we have written about 100 artists who we deem to be the most influential of all time. And we’ve written about 50 up-and-coming artists who are influential now, or if not, then definitely within 5-10 years’ time. They’re not without flaws, and no doubt, you all might write other lists that will be equally as valid. This series isn’t the truth, it isn’t gospel, it is just our opinion that we’ve surmised over the years. But as you all have read with us (or not!) throughout these past blog instalments, I hope and pray that your life has been changed for the better. Music has this innate power to heal, to comfort, to restore, to provide us joy and happiness. Whether that is through a worship song or a CCM song or a country song or a rock song or a pop song or something from the 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, or a song released last week; there’s something special about finding that artist or that band that lifts your spirits and that makes you feel happier and refreshed and revitalised. Within the coming weeks, we will be writing about where these 150 artists are right now since we blogged about them; and we will also be writing about our honourable mentions- the artists that failed to crack into our lists for one reason or another. In June we will be writing about the 50 iconic and legendary artists of all time (like Queen, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, ABBA, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston etc); and so while this is the end of this portion or the blog series about influential artists, we’re still going to be here.
And so as we bid you adieu, and you all revisit the discography of Robbie Williams, or even other artists like Pentatonix, Julia Michaels, Sabrina Carpenter, Lecrae, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Stapleton, Christina Aguilera, Jewel, PINK, Snow Patrol, Justin Bieber, Ava Max, Sofia Carson, Hunter Hayes, Carly Rae Jepsen or Coldplay; let us remember that despite our views music, and despite our views on how music should sound like, of how all of our favourite artists should sound like… should we really limit how inspiration and how inspiring music can change us and impact our soul and our entire being for the better? Music is a tool that can bring about positive change. If someone says they can hear God in a KISS song or an Alice Cooper song or a Ye song or from whatever artist that I personally disagree with or dislike on some level; should I fight back and say that that can’t ever happen? Or should I take stock of what I listen to, and should I say ‘hey, maybe there’s some merit in this?’. People are nuanced and music is nuanced. My favourite artists are probably not yours, and vice versa. And so now, in this moment, as we remember that there are many influential artists we agree on, and plenty more we disagree on; let’s also keep an open mind. Because when you do, you might find God speaking in the most crazy but incredible ways possible. You might find your place in this world. You might find that certain people in your life raise you up so that you can stand on mountains. You might find wisdom in songs about relationships. You might find treasures and incredible things and parts of yourself that are good and remind you about how beautiful the world actually is. Might we as humanity cheer on the underdog? Might we shake off our feelings of negativity and dance the night away? Perhaps we will be difference makers and be united like brothers and sisters, forever on the side of our family and friends? Maybe we can dare to move in the opposite direction, further towards a higher power and the reason for our existence? But maybe we can just find fun and joy and celebration- a song that isn’t particularly deep but is still needed. Music is supposed to be fun, and once it becomes objective, it isn’t anymore. So, let’s throw out the rule book, let’s close our eyes and listen. God speaks through anything and everything. We just need to believe that.
Influence is a funny thing. It’s a topic that, by all accounts, is very, very subjective. Something or someone that you may believe to be influential, for either your own life or for the wider world, either at a national level or at a global level; may in fact be regarded by myself or by someone else as not influential at all, and perhaps superfluous. When we’re speaking about influence, we’re usually speaking about people and the mark they’ve made on human history, for either good or bad, and the impression that they’re destined to leave us all when they die. Sure, you can measure popularity by the numbers- if it’s a music artist, then by number of albums sold or songs streamed, or even twitter followers or hit radio singles; or if its an actor then number of movies starred in or number of Golden Globe or Academy Awards won. Influence, on the other hand…. Well, that’s measured by…that’s measured by… well what is it measured by? Number of lives impacted after watching a movie or listening to a song? How would you determine the magnitude of the impact and whether the direct impact of a song or an album on a person is life changing or not though? Did the song save them from death or give them a sense of direction or purpose? Or is a measure the number of people directly inspired by that artist, so much so that a person considers said artist a role model and someone they look up to? How about during an unforeseen tragic circumstance, a song from left field, by an artist one would never imagine or think they’d ever listen to, inspires and comforts and heals, and brings them back from the brink, from depression and from hurt and pain unimaginable. Is this artist influential to that person? If the artist has had little sales and hardly any radio hits, but has changed lives for the better, and has released maybe the ‘theme song’ for someone’s marriage or graduation or something like that- are they influential? Maybe… maybe not. But regardless, don’t you reckon influence is now a bit grey and dependent on a variety of factors that can change as they days, months, years progress?
Does Robbie Williams make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of all Time’ list? Is there any song (other than “Angels”, “Feel”, “Shame”, “Love My Life”, “Millennium”, “Rock DJ”, “Kids”, “Bodies” and “Happy Birthday Jesus Christ”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!