Gay Iconography: Is Robyn An Outsider Icon?


Robyn first gained notoriety in the U.S. in the late '90s as a teen pop star. You may remember her singles "Do You Really Want Me" and "Show Me Love" (which she performed on the teen sketch show All That in 1997, above).



She took a turn for the avant-garde after parting with her label in 2004. On her newly formed Konichiwa Records, Robyn was liberated to pursue a more electro-pop sound, resulting in her excellent self-titled album. The shift further embedded Robyn in club culture, which she would later tell Metro Weekly brought her closer to the gay community. "I think the gay community has always gravitated towards music that has been a part of or a reference to club culture. That's where gay culture has developed and shaped itself," she said.



Robyn followed that album up with, not one, but three short, superb albums. The Body Talk anthology showcased her strongest work yet, and some of the best pop music so far this century. It included the near-perfect track "Dancing On My Own," which was described as "a song inspired by her love of inherently sad, gay disco anthems."



Like many gay icons, Robyn's look is almost as essential as her music. Her striking features are all the more accennuated by her signature short, blonde hair. She's often described as androgynous, and her wardrobe looks like what one would find in a thrift store in outer space. She was mistaken for a boy growing up, she told Out magazine in 2011: "Having that experience where I was confronted by people’s reactions to what I looked like or what I was supposed to look like made me identify with queerness. It still happens to me all the time, and a lot of the time it happens to me in America because even though what I consider butch is still very feminine in Europe, here you can shock people very easily just by looking a little queer." Even her dance moves are unique. (I'd like to see Britney pull off that backward somersault.)



In addition to featuring a lesbian couple in her steamy video for "Indestructible," above, Robyn is very thoughtful about her gay audience. She shares her gratitude for her gay fans in many interviews, and has attributed her connections to the gay community to her own feelings of being an outsider. She told Entertainment Weekly: "… it’s really important for me to recognize my gay following in a less stereotypical way than when you’re this blonde female, like, icon pop star or whatever, because there are so many parts of gay culture that usually do not get recognized." 

She may not consider herself a "blonde female, like, icon pop star," but do you consider her a gay icon? Tell us why in the comments.


  1. says

    is this supposed to be journalism or is this more of a tweet that needed more than 140 characters? um.. yes shes an icon… how long have you been gay? because last I checked, gay people make icons happen for straight people – they are usually not famous yet or sometimes ever unless gay people make them meaningful. Robyn may not ever become lady gaga but she will always be a gay icon, and was a gay icon long before gaga ever hit the radar

  2. JMC says

    lol some people on here are so nasty for no reason, like these articles are clearly just fluff intended to spark some fun conversation. get over yourself verite.

    anyone who seriously considers robyn an icon needs to get a grip though – her impact is nonexistent. “the phrase ‘gay icon’ gets tossed around a lot”, indeed.

  3. Bastian says

    I usually comment about how immature, lazy, asinine, and silly this recurring series is, but I don’t think there is any need to personally attack the author or the way that he looks. Though low, us anonymous commenters should still have *some* standards of decency.

  4. Peter says

    YES. THIS. I appreciate the icons of the past (Barbra, Cher, so on), but Robyn is MY icon. I love how openly she embraces her own queerness, whether it’s how she sees herself or how her appearance gives off this affect to others and she just OWNS it. And your final quote really shows how mindfully connected she is to the gay community. Which is A LOT more than you can say for some other “blonde female, like, icon pop stars.”

    Thanks, Bobby!

  5. Peter says

    Bastian, I don’t see this as lazy or asinine at all. I enjoy the discussions people have about the presented icons. At least when they aren’t attacking each other or the writer obtusely.

  6. LJC says

    I think it can be an interesting topic, not exactly one of any significance, but suited for Friday afternoon banter. And I think one can have a person icon (for me it was Siouxsie Sioux, back in the day) that in the end just doesn’t resonate with most gay men overall.

  7. Patrick says

    How old are you? You _may_ remember some of the biggest dance pop hits of the 90s? To say that Robyn’s career only really took off in 2005 is insulting. You do know there were a couple of albums between her RCA debut and her independent releases, yes? “My Truth” and “Don’t Stop the Music” are great records and to gloss over them is bizarre. And to dismiss her 90s debut is downright ludicrous as it yielded 3 huge hits (you forgot to mention “Do You Know (What it Takes)” my fave!)

  8. my2cents says

    if there was ever a woman i’d be honored to parent a child with it’d be robyn. she is an independent creative who thinks for her Self.

    that said, i’m disappointed that a gay artist hasn’t done a remake of ‘tell your girlfriend’… its the most thinly veiled gay love song i’ve ever heard. with a simple message: be honest, be you.

    let’s take it from there.

  9. Travis says

    Stop with this icon stuff, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Shirley MacClaine, Betty Davis Natalie Wood, Liberace, Julie Andrews, Shirley Bassey, Debbie Reynolds, Barbara Cook, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Eartha Kitt, Clara Ward, Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor, Eve McVeagh and Edith Bouvier. Honestly it will all be a fading memory like Neneh Cherry or Jane Childe, or Christina Aguilera, Lana Del Ray. it’s like when someone holds up a photo of someone “glamourous” “icon” and all I can think to myself is, “cool up-do.”

    Please stop shoving these superficial basics down my gay deep throat, as if all it takes is an dance hit to become an icon.

  10. bravo says

    Dear Lord above, sweet Jesus on high, I pray that you put a stop to articles about icons.

    And please, Jesus, do whatever you can to prevent this site from going from icons to divas and arguing that a TV show contest winner is somehow a diva.

  11. Phil says

    Can gay people start to empower themselves instead of always looking for approval from straight white people, in this case women. This iconshit is ridiculous. I do like robyn and here music, but can the gaycommunity stop beeing so sterotypical!

  12. Ingmar53 says

    Someone at Towleroad has a fixation on Robyn. I don’t get it. It’s as if enough focus on her at this site will make her a gay icon to fulfill one person’s fixation on her. Enough already.

  13. richard says

    I think gay and bisexual men need male role models. This obsession that the gay media has with imposing female role models onto gay and bisexual men is becoming tiresome.

    No offense to women but the reality is that we are men. All men need male role models.

  14. Rich says

    I’m pretty sure the negative comments are from one person who keeps coming up with new names. What is your problem, dude? If you don’t like something, don’t read it. You’ve got serious issues if you’re this hung up about an ongoing series on a gay blog on the internet.

  15. Andy says

    Reading this blog post and the ensuing comments really gives me pause about the intellect of gay men. I’ve always generally thought that gay men were, on average, more intelligent and better educated than the general populace, but it seems like a lot of the people posting here (including the original poster) don’t even understand what an icon is. It’s like they’re using a word that they don’t know the meaning of. But they think it sounds intelligent, so they misuse it and end up looking stupid. Entries like the ‘icon series’ and the periodic Davey Wavey updates are so beneath what thinking, thoughtful, self-aware, out, proud, REAL gay men should be. It’s really off-putting to gay men who aim a little higher.

  16. Jason R. says

    Wow. I can see elitism is alive and well in this comm. “Hey fa–ots! You’re being gay wrong! You and this website should specifically cater to the way I prefer to be gay!” …and the comment about needing male role models. Way to throw all the lesbian mothers with sons under the bus. Beauty, grace, talent, honor, loyalty, chivalry, and perseverance in the face of adversity are not gender specific qualities. The existence of gay “icons” is proof.

  17. says

    oh yes yes YES! ever been to a Robyn concert?!!? it’s like a “family” reunion with family you’ve not yet met yet byt totally love!

    Robyn is SUBLIME. we have a proud ally in her, her music her videos her dazzling switchings of gendered-nouns. LOVE her.

    Dancing on My Own – when was the last time a smashing dancefloor anthem had you in tears by its chorus? BRILLIANT.

    icon status assured.

  18. jaker says

    @phil. yes it’s all about approval from white people. there just aren’t any black gay icons! ever! smh.

    i used to bag on this icon series, you know, silly and pointless. but after so much flack, ive lightened up

    it’s just supposed to be a fluff piece to stimulate fun good natured debate on an internet forum. ha.

    this is why we can’t have nice things.

  19. I Disagree says

    This is like, what, the ninth article that starts off with :

    “The phrase “gay icon” gets tossed around a lot”…

    My friends and I don’t care about ANY of these so-called “gay icons”.

    How about laying off the stupid gay stereotypes, including the one that says we need these inane 16 year old girl “gay icons”.

  20. Juan says

    Wow. Can’t wait until all these old insufferable gays are dead and gone along with their irrelevant icons. Robyn is a huge gay icon for anyone under 30, respect.

  21. Rich says

    “This is like, what, the ninth article that starts off with :

    “The phrase “gay icon” gets tossed around a lot”…”

    Yeah, “I Disagree,” it’s an on-going series. Many start off with a unique opening line that carries between each piece. Where have you been?

  22. Callum says

    Towleroad, thank you! I’ve been reading your icons/non-icons series and have really been enjoying the initiative that you’ve taken to do something different, it’s been great to see you mix it up. Please continue to do this kind of thing in the future. And for all the negative people, if you don’t like it then don’t read the article! These guys do a great blog that you don’t pay money for so how about showing some respect and let them be creative and try new things…

    So about Robyn, I wasn’t around for a lot of the older icons that you’ve posted, but I recognise their role in shaping gay culture – and a lot of they singers’ songs have been background music for clubs/bars/parties over the years and have become somewhat nostalgic for me.

    Robyn, while perhaps not a universal gay “icon” the way that Judy Garland et al are, has always featured in gay clubs and on my ipod, so I guess in a way she has been a familiar face/voice as much as any artist who can put out a great dance track. In this era of openness for the gay community can there ever truly be “gay icons” again? I don’t think so. The subtlety of the old divas isn’t needed any more. At least in New Zealand or Australia, which is where my experience comes from.

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