Like most of her personal and professional choices – you won’t agree with all of it. Some of the tracks on Unapologetic are boring and downright offensive in their lack of lyrical creativity, but she will draw you in somehow, like it or not. At her most vulnerable, Rihanna clearly and repeatedly addresses the relationship difficulties and abuse we’ve all speculated about. If it was anyone else, we might interpret lyrics like “I was flying till you knocked me to the floor” as analogous, but here we can’t help but make the obvious connection. I can’t tell if it’s courageous or narcissistic, especially when she has a track with Chris Brown, “Nobody’s Business”, where they’re “singing to the world; you’ll always be mine”. This is the genius of Rihanna: she’s somehow rebellious without crossing over into offensive…probably due in large part to her being so unapologetic about it all.
Rih started recording this album (her 7th) in June 2012, while promoting her prior album, Talk That Talk, and released the lead single, “Diamonds”, in September. On November 14th, just five days before the album’s release, she went ‘on tour’ with a gang of fans and journalists. The 777 Tour produced seven shows in seven different countries in seven days. Rihanna and the rest of the crew traveled together to Mexico City, Toronto, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, London, and New York via a chartered Boeing 777. She takes off again in March on her Diamonds World Tour, which she has slated to be bigger and “more impactful” than anything she has done before.
“Diamonds” is currently #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and topping charts all over the world. It’s her 12th time taking the top spot since 2006, an honor she shares with Madonna and the Supremes for now, but will surely outgrow. Fans were also introduced to “Stay” on November 10th via live performance on Saturday Night Live. These two tracks are definitely strong and, like most on the album, were helped significantly by edgy, accomplished writers and producers. “Diamonds” was co-written by Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler (“Titanium”, “Wild Ones”) and 24 year old prodigy Benjamin “Benny Blanco” Levin. “Stay” is a beautiful, etherial ballad featuring, written, and produced by Mikky Ekko, a relative unknown (until now) out of Nashville. This song has crossover and remix written all over it and will likely be another huge international hit.
While Unapologetic definitely delivers several solid club bangers, it’s also unexpectedly peppered with slower, more revealing tracks. She’s especially exposed, both lyrically and vocally, on “What Now” and “Love Without Tragedy-Mother Mary”, which journeys into a spiritual awakening halfway through. Connecting to Rihanna’s softer side is far less appealing on “Loveeeeeee Song” and “Get It Over With”. In other disappointing news, “Numb” (featuring Eminem) is a total miss, with a lengthy and confusing instrumental leading up to Em’s tongue-in-cheek flow about being wasted…again. Some songs you’ll likely hear at the gym, in the club, and on the radio are: “Fresh Off the Runway” (produced by Grammy nominee The-Dream), “Power It Up” (about strip clubs, dollar bills & Patron shots), “Jump” (which samples Genuwine’s 1996 hit “Pony”), “Right Now” (produced by and featuring of-the-moment DJ/producer David Guetta), and “No Love Allowed”, which showcases Rihanna’s Barbadian roots and will definitely make you bounce.
I wanted so badly to dislike this album for being such a mixed bag, but before I could get the words on paper, it had grown on me. Rihanna is conscientiously controversial in most areas of her life, and it might just be the direct cause of her success. I guess that’s the difference between a pop star and an international superstar – knowing how to stay in the spotlight by constantly grabbing peoples’ attention, without simultaneously pushing them away. Oh and working really hard and being generally gorgeous and badass never hurt either.