Robert Peter "Robbie" Williams (born 13 February 1974) is a British pop singer, former boy-bander and one-man entertainment machine, known for songs such as "Angels", "Let Me Entertain You" and "Rock DJ", and a fascination with the supernatural. Formerly of the incredibly popular '90s UK Boy Band Take That, he found a way to a successful and long solo career.
Williams successfully auditioned for Take That at the age of 16, and rose to fame as the "cheeky chappie", exuberant dancer and occasional lead vocalist of the band during its first run in the early to mid-1990s. After many disagreements with the management and group members, Williams left the group in 1995 to launch his solo career; Take That would soldier on as a four-piece without him at first, but split the following year.
Unlike many people who'd been in boy bands, Williams had a keen interest in rock music, particularly Britpop inspired by Oasis. He worked with songwriter and producer Guy Chambers to create credible songs in this style, starting with his 1997 debut album Life thru a Lens. Despite this, diminishing returns for his first few singles saw Williams' solo career looking almost dead in the water by late 1997 — at which point, however, he had a stunning breakthrough success with the ballad "Angels". The single, released almost as a last resort, salvaged his career prospects almost single-handedly, becoming an instant classic. The Glam Rock-inspired "Let Me Entertain You" followed a few months later and was another big hit, solidifying Williams as a solo artist.
Williams' second album, I've Been Expecting You (1998), came out with a similar style to the first album but considerably more experimentation and a slightly more mature image. His third album, Sing When You're Winning (2000), set the standard for even bigger commercial success. At this stage, he was so all-conquering that he was able to follow up with a cover album of swing songs, aptly titled Swing When You're Winning (2001), which still peaked at number one on the UK Albums Chart. This stature enabled him to perform in front of hundreds of thousands at vast outdoors gigs at Knebworth House in 2003.
Williams' fifth album, Escapology (2002), was his fifth consecutive number-one album, and his first Greatest Hits album in 2004 produced his sixth UK number-one single with "Radio". However, complications gradually arose in the following years, due to some less well-received music coupled with the odd bit of "personal difficulties". Strangely, after years in which Williams had far eclipsed his former bandmates, he found himself unexpectedly outshone by the other members of Take That after the four got the group back together (still without him) in 2006. On 15 July 2010, however, it was announced that Williams too had rejoined Take That, and that the group intended to release a new album as a five-piece that November. The album, Progress, eventually became the second fastest-selling album in UK chart history and the fastest-selling record of the century so far.
Williams shortly returned to his solo career, where he hit the top of the singles charts for the first time in several years with "Candy" and had his 10th UK number-one album with Take the Crown, both released in 2012. A belated second chart-topping swing album, Swings Both Ways, followed the next year. He bowed out from Take That for a second time in 2014 due to the birth of his second child, but amicably this time, and both he and the band have said he may rejoin at an unspecified future date.
Williams has sold over 75 million records worldwide, which ranks him among the best-selling music artists worldwide. He is the best-selling British solo artist in the UK and the best selling non-Latino artist in Latin America. Six of his albums are among the top 100 biggest-selling albums in the UK. His December 2019 return to the top of the charts with the festive album The Christmas Present marked yet another milestone, as it tied Elvis Presley's record of 13 UK number-one albums (and from just 15 releases). Another Greatest Hits Album in 2022 gave Williams a 14th number-one album, the most ever for a solo artist, with only The Beatles' total of 15 higher for any act in history. He has also been honoured with eighteen BRIT Awards — more than any other artist — and seven ECHO Awards. In 2004, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame after being voted as the "Greatest Artist of the 1990s." He ended at #77 in One Hundred Greatest Britons.
Robbie is married to actress Ayda Field, and they have four young children. Together, Williams and Field became judges on the 2018 series of The X Factor, a move that was highly criticized by the public due to Field not having proper experience in the music industry.
Not to be confused with the late Robin Williams.
- Life thru a Lens (1997)
- I've Been Expecting You (1998)
- The Ego Has Landed (Compilation of above two albums, debut album in America) (1999)
- Sing When You're Winning (2000)
- Swing When You're Winning (2001)
- Escapology (2002)
- Greatest Hits (2004)
- Intensive Care (2005)
- Rudebox (2006)
- Reality Killed the Video Star (2009)
- In and Out of Consciousness: Greatest Hits 1990–2010 (2010)
- Take the Crown (2012)note
- Swings Both Ways (2013)
- Under the Radar Volume 1 (2014) (Compilation of demos, B-sides and rarities)
- The Heavy Entertainment Show (2016)
- The Christmas Present (2019)
- XXV (2022) (orchestrated versions of his biggest hits)
- The Show Off Must Go On (October–November 1997)
- The Ego Has Landed (May–June 1998)
- One More for the Rogue Tour / For a Few Dollars More... Tour (1998–99)
- Robbie Williams North American Tours (1999)
- The Sermon on the Mount Tour (2000–01)
- Weddings, Barmitzvahs & Stadiums Tour / Sing When You're Pacific Rimming Tour (2001)
- Weekends of Mass Distraction Tour / Cock of Justice/Aussie Typo Tour (2003)
- Close Encounters Tour (2006)
- Take the Crown Stadium Tour (2013)note
- Swings Both Ways Live (2014)
- Let Me Entertain You Tour (2015)
- The Heavy Entertainment Show Tour (2017-18)
- Robbie Williams Live in Las Vegas (2019)note
- XXV Tour (2022-23)
- All There in the Manual: The chord book for I've Been Expecting You includes the hidden tracks "Stand Your Ground" and "Stalker's Day Off", which are not mentioned in the actual CD booklet aside from an easy-to-miss writing credit for the latter.
- Always Someone Better:
- "She's Madonna", inspired by how Guy Ritchie told his ex he was leaving her with "Look, you know I really love you, but she's Madonna."
- "Losers" recites the trope name almost verbatim in the opening line ("There will always be someone better than you, even if you're the best"), and also inverts it at the start of the second verse ("There will always be someone worse than you"). The song itself is about a man who, having realised this, has resolved to stop being so competitive.
- Ambiguously Bi: Williams for some reason enjoys teasing the audience with suggestions that he's bisexual, although he's always had female partners. For instance in "Old Before I Die" "Am I straight or gay?", in "Kids" "Press be asking, do I care for sodomy? I don't know, yeah, probably" and the title of the album Swings Both Ways. And then there is "Shame" which is basically his and Gary Barlow's very own Brokeback Mountain.
- The Anti-Nihilist: In a podcast with True Geordie, he admits that he doesn't care how he's remembered because he'll be dead either way and he'll still be remembered as a musician. He does say that he wants to be remembered as a good friend, a loving father to his children, and a loving husband.
- Audience Participation Song: All of his songs.
- Badass Boast: Addressing a huge crowd at his solo concert at Knebworth, we get this gem:"My name is Robbie Williams... This is my band... and for the next two hours, YOUR ASS... IS MINE!"
- Body Horror: The music video for "Rock DJ" has Robbie strip off his own flesh, muscles, and organs. However, once he's nothing more than a dancing skeleton, the video quickly transitions from Nightmare Fuel to Crosses the Line Twice.
- Break Up Song: About romantic relationships or his life in Take That, depending. "These Dreams", "No Regrets", "If It's Hurting You", "Man Machine", "Sexed Up"...
- Camp Straight: Is considered as such, as evidenced in the Take the Crown era.
- Canon Discontinuity: His debut single, a dance-pop cover of George Michael's "Freedom '90" was a post-Take That contract filler which he recorded in order to spend time on his Oasis-inspired debut album Life Thru A Lens, and thus is not considered part of his solo career proper. It was later included on the compilation In And Out Of Consciousness, which also included Take That's Robbie-fronted "Everything Changes". Despite this he has said he's always liked the song, and since George Michael's death has included it in his setlist in tribute.
- Carpet of Virility: Oh yes, and shown off in quite a few videos; see Mr. Fanservice down below. The rare example that also probably counts as an Expository Hairstyle Change, as during the Take That (Band) days, everything was always carefully waxed smooth, whereas when he went solo...
- The Casanova: "Cursed", "Feel".
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Dickhead".
- Commonplace Rare: The MVC exclusive compilation Back For B-Sides, released for two weeks in late 1999 as a bonus if you bought Robbie's two albums at full price, is extremely hard to find despite every other Robbie release selling many copies. It was not well distributed, having only 1000 copies pressed before the promotion ended, and those who were aware of its existence likely owned all the related tracks. There are not even any pictures of it online.
- Cover Album: Swing When You're Winning and much of Swings Both Ways.
- Cover Version: Three were big hit singles — his first solo single "Freedom" was a cover of George Michael's "Freedom '90", "She's The One" was a cover of a World Party song, and his collaboration with Nicole Kidman was a cover of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra classic "Something Stupid". Several B-sides were also covers, especially in the Life Thru A Lens period.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: His vocals on "Old Before I Die" and its B-sides are noticeably Liam Gallagher influenced, something he would not do on subsequent releases.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: "Party Like A Russian" drops a few Russian words.
- Incoming Ham: "Let Me Entertain You" seems to exist for the sole purpose of Robbie being this at concerts, and it works.
- Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: the "She's Madonna" video, which features Robbie in a wig and spangly, low-cut black evening gown, which does absolutely nothing to hide his Carpet of Virility.
- Intercourse with You: "Lazy Days", "Let me Entertain You".
- Isn't It Ironic?: Two examples related to his songs being featured in Brazilian telenovelas.
- The first instance happened in 2003, when "Sexed Up" was featured in the soundtrack to Mulheres Apaixonadas ("Women in Love"), as the theme song to the characters Diogo (portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro) and Marina, a young married couple whose relationship was plagued with jealousy and infidelity thanks to Diogo's affair with Marina's cousin Luciana. Although the song did fit the couple's storyline, given that the characters ultimately divorce and end up with different people, many viewers at the time didn't read into the true meaning of the song, and ultimately misinterpreted it as being a romantic ballad.
- The other, less commented but nonetheless notable, instance came in 2006, when "Advertising Space" was featured in the soundtrack for Cobras e Lagartos ("Snakes and Lizards"), as the theme song to the relationship between leading man Duda and Rich Bitch villainess Leona. This is arguably an even worse example because, unlike "Sexed Up", it's not about a relationship, instead being a Celebrity Elegy describing the downfall of Elvis Presley's career and condemning the usage of his image as a marketing strategy following his death.
- The Knights Who Say "Squee!": He's a fan of a YouTube channel called True Geordie and appeared on one of their podcasts. According to the man himself in the podcast, he felt a mutual weirdness since both him and the hosts were fans of each other.
- Large Ham: This is the entire point of "Radio" and its video. Williams performs the song in a voice that seems part Bryan Ferry and part Bond villain, and dresses as an admiral in the video.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Stalker's Day Off", the secret track on I've Been Expecting You, is a minimal piano ballad about a Stalker with a Crush.
- Mr. Fanservice: Provides a lot of this in his music videos and various photoshoots. "Rock DJ" features him stripping down until he is nude, while "Radio" has him shirtless, wet and being fondled by a crowd of cheerleaders as well as giving the audience various pleasing shots of his bulge. He also takes his shirt off in the videos for (deep breath) "Let Me Entertain You", "Millennium", "Kids", "Eternity", "Feel", "Come Undone" and "Shame".
- New Sound Album: Sing When You're Winning. It features a far more mainstream pop sound, with less of the rock influences and more ballads. The only song that really resembles Williams' older work is "Forever Texas", which not coincidentally was written and played live over a year before the other tracks.
- Rudebox was a later confusing left-turn that at least temporarily lost Williams much of his audience. As The Guardian's review put it, it "throws a lot of musical styles at the wall: R&B, 80s cover versions and electro among them", not to mention splodges of reggae and hip-hop. It sold around a quarter of what his preceding half-dozen albums had each shifted.
- No Animals Were Harmed: The Body Horror filled video for "Rock DJ" ends with the disclaimer "No Robbies were harmed in the making of this video".
- The Not-Remix: On Escapology, "Come Undone"'s verses noticeably rise to reach the chorus. On the single version, the verses were changed to end in a lower key (the same one the chorus ends in). The two mixes of the song are identical but for this minor change, something which makes you wonder why they took the time to do it.
- Ode to Sobriety/Ode to Intoxication: Often found in his lyrics.
- Power Ballad: Most of his career, though mainly because of the success of "Angels".
- Precision F-Strike: "Come Undone" has the line "So need your love, so fuck you all" delivered in this manner.
- Pun-Based Title: Swing When You're Winning, Swings Both Ways, and in possibly a Self-Deprecation for his Small Name, Big Ego fame, The Ego Has Landed.
- Rearrange the Song: His late-'90s solo live arrangement of Take That mega-hit "Back For Good", after his acrimonious departure from the group, humorously had the chorus rearranged in a thrash punk style — complete with him shouting "Mosh!!". An example of this is on the "Angels" CD2 single. Whilst the verse melody is the same he changed some of the lyrics to highlight his (then) dislike of his former band. Doubles as a Funny Moment.
- "Sexed Up" was first demoed acoustically in 1998, and released on one of the "No Regrets" CD singles, then was recorded as a full song for Escapology in 2002. The re-recording has an orchestra and a few lyric changes. The song was written for Natalie Imbruglia, who declined recording it for either of the two albums she released in this period, so Robbie took it back for himself.
- Recycled Lyrics: The 2001 B-side "Toxic" has the line "but when you're coming down I'll be asleep", which pretty much is near identical to the 2002 song "Come Undone"'s line "I pray that when I'm coming down you'll be asleep".
- Rock Me, Amadeus!: His baffling 2016 single "Party Like a Russian" features a sample of Sergei Prokofiev's Montagues and Capulets at the chorus.
- Rock Star Song: "Come Undone", "Me and My Monkey".
- Sampling: "Millennium", with John Barry's strings from Nancy Sinatra's James Bond theme for You Only Live Twice.
- "Rock DJ" is largely made up of rearranged samples of Barry White's "It's Ecstasy When You Lie Down Next To Me".
- Silly Love Songs: "Heaven From Here", "She's the One", "Grace".
- Shout-Out: It's in his tradition to shout out to something in his songs. For instance, "She's Madonna" is a love song to the singer, and "Advertising Space" is about Elvis Presley with similarities to True Romance (not to mention name-dropping Marlon Brando in the chorus).
- "Rock DJ"'s line "Pimpin ain't easy" was the catchphrase of then-popular WWE wrestler The Godfather.
- Slut-Shaming: "By All Means Necessary". Somewhat Self-Deprecation since he likes putting on the image of one himself.
- The Show Must Go On: The incident where some maniac pushed him off stage. Robbie tweaked his knee, but continued, just to not give said maniac the satisfaction. And despite the fact that, as he later admits, he's now seriously scared for his well-being.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Old Before I Die".
- Urban Legend Love Life: The closing rap to "Kidz" address public and tabloid speculation into his love life, saying that the rumors have all been overblown before cheekily hinting that there might be a grain of truth to them.
- We Used to Be Friends: The reason that he took so long to rejoin Take That (Band) after the group reformed was due to Robbie's long-held dislike of former bandmate Gary Barlow, which during the late '90s he made sure to mention in many interviews. When they did eventually reunite in 2009, the two had realised they were older and more mature and ironed out their differences.
- Word Salad Lyrics: At times, such as the Meaningless Meaningful Words of "Millennium", which as put by the song's co-writer Guy Chambers, "I don’t know if the song really means anything, but it doesn’t matter. The lyrics are funny. Quite often when Rob is writing lyrics he’s just trying to make me laugh." Also, "Bodies", which Robbie himself implied was the result of him watching too many documentaries while stoned.
- You Can Leave Your Hat On: The video for "Rock DJ". Though Robbie follows the striptease by literally taking off his skin and throwing it around at ladies, leaving only his skeleton visible.
- Even the single's cover is his skinless appearance from the video.