By Kyle Kramer
November 19, 2012
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when Rihanna transitioned from being the singer of arguably the best song ever made about rain gear (“Umbrella”) to becoming an object of constant scrutiny. Whether it's due to deft marketing or just societal inhibitions that we’ve reached a point where people are outraged over a singer making a song full of sexual innuendos about cake frosting (last year’s “Birthday Cake (Remix)”), here we are.
Rihanna’s new album, “Unapologetic,” squarely takes aim at our more trolling-attuned reflexes, begging us to talk about it as if we’re somehow offended. I’m not offended, though. In fact, I’m completely buying into RiRi, so I’ve compiled a list of common grievances that Rihanna has absolutely no reason to apologize for.
It’s tempting to fault Rihanna, or the massive songwriting brain trusts that create the sound of “Rihanna,” for following money-making trends rather than staying true to the R&B radio format that helped her rise to prominence. After all, this approach means more Calvin Harris collabs (or Slash guitar solos, or David Guetta tracks, or Coldplay songs, etc.) and fewer Jay-Z verses. Even worse, though, would be making assumptions about the kind of music Rihanna is supposed to make based on the industry’s weird, pre-programmed genre molds. Because you know what? That Coldplay song was kind of dope, and I like Swedish-songwriter-powered Rihanna, too. Although I’m not complaining when she decides to interpolate Ginuwine’s “Pony” either (as she does on “Unapologetic”).
Crushing the charts
Every once in a while, you'll see one of these things passed around online comparing “good” music to pop music, juxtaposing Beatles and Ke$ha lyrics or whatever. A wildly popular BuzzFeed post last year lamented that Rihanna has had 10 number one Billboard singles (now 11), while bands such as Led Zeppelin, REM and Radiohead have had none. Rihanna has broken all kinds of chart records, but this isn’t depressing--it's what pop stars are supposed to do! It’s actually pretty great that there’s still music we can all gather around even as music fans splinter into increasingly narrow niches online. You may not like “We Found Love,” but at least you can sing it or dance to it at parties, which is more than can be said for the weird mystical stuff Zeppelin was making songs about. (Not that they were going for dance-y party music, but you get the idea.)
If you're not up on the experimental Tumblr art or #seapunk scene, you'll be forgiven for having missed Rihanna's latest “scandal,” in which her recent SNL performance adopted the type of Web 1.0 digital imagery beloved in certain online music and cultural circles. This isn't the first time Rihanna's hopped on board with a new cultural aesthetic -- she scored a number one hit singing about S&M; she deservedly received some criticism for dressing as a goth Chinese “geisha” for a Coldplay video; and she made Eurodance music before it was popular, among other things. But while someone like Lady Gaga does this stuff all the time and gets praised for her artistic brilliance, Rihanna’s forays are immediately assumed to be calculating attempts to leech off something cool. Take a lesson from Drake, y’all: Plenty of people would also like to be leeching off whatever cool stuff Rihanna’s doing.
Very simply: If you find Mr. Brown's past behavior toward Rihanna disgusting (as everyone should), then you should also stop constantly blaming her for continuing to associate with him. That's her own choice! People should be encouraged to deal with unpleasant experiences on their own terms, not according to a prescribed societal response. To be fair, Rihanna's not exactly discouraging the conversation by recording a duet with Chris Brown ("Nobody's Business"), but she is shifting it toward the fact that said song is fantastic.
If you're not following Rihanna on Instagram, you're missing out not only on a fantastic experience but the ability to be a day ahead of the gossip sites. Yes, Rihanna's Instagram is literally newsworthy. Pictures of her using her bodyguard's bald head to ROLL DRUGS at Coachella this past spring, or, more recently, of her STRIPPING in her dressing room at the Victoria's Secret fashion show sparked SERIOUS TABLOID SCANDALS. While some hypothetical mom in Middle America may find these things off-putting, I contend that most people should find them awesome (seriously, ON HER BODYGUARD'S HEAD) and that you'd be crazy not to want to follow along (follow her Instagram, that is, not her example). Rihanna uses Instagram like a normal person, except her life is infinitely cooler than whatever latte art your other friends waste your time with.
Future is on the new album (“Loveeeeeee Song”)
For those that don't know, Future is the mastermind behind the year's best song, “Turn on the Lights,” and Rihanna is doing a wonderful, wonderful thing by introducing him to the wider world. Whatever the opposite of an apology is, she should do that.
Things Rihanna should apologize for, however:
Her role in “Battleship”
RiRi’s performance made Brooklyn Decker look like Meryl Streep. Um, she can only get better with time?
And, most importantly
While RedEye's esteemed correspondents compiled the detailed analysis of all things RiRi, the subject in question (along with fans and journalists) was engaged in her VIP, 777 Tour to promote her new album. Rihanna, seriously, next time you're planning one of these, hit us up @redeyechicago!
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