I've always maintained that Beyoncé is like that one cousin who acts like she's better than the rest of the family while Rihanna is the cousin who shows up to Thanksgiving with a bottle of Patrón and a box of fireworks. Queen B is the paragon of pop perfection, a carefully curated assemblage of what her publicists believe we want. RiRi, on the other hand, is the accessible one, a pop artist of the people, and if you don't believe me, just look at how she doesn't let her fame stop her from dragging people on Twitter.
When's the last time you saw a picture like this of Bey?
On January 28th, Rihanna released her highly anticipated 8th studio album "Anti," her first release since 2012's (subpar) "Unapologetic." While her music in years past, despite its commercial success, has been dismissed by critics as little more than club fodder, curiosity was peaked by the singer's four-year hiatus.
Rihanna's last seven albums very obviously catered to the listening public, offering a bevy of pop hits that, while giving Ri an impressive 13 #1 songs (a feat tied by the King of Pop himself and surpassed by only Mariah, Elvis, and The Beatles), left little in the way of a truly substantial repertoire.
Rihanna, demonstrating remarkable growth as an artist, has made the leap from dance floor staple to a veritable artiste. "Anti," described as "the very antithesis of what the public expects," offers a starkly different view of the superstar. The overall implications of the album are existential, stripping away the veneer of fame to prove her humanity. The overall result is a talented and tortured singer who interpolates a wide range of musical influences while simultaneously creating something fresh, exciting, and vaguely unsettling.
"Consideration" both starts the album and establishes its overall theme; RiRi is going through self-discovery and she wants her art to reflect that. The song has a swaggering and pulsating Reggae-flavored beat and a catchy chorus by featured artist SZA, but it is Ri who draws most of the attention when she pleads to the listener (to her fans? to herself? to a lover? all of the above?) "I needed you to please give my reflection a break / From the face it’s seeing now / Darling would you mind giving my reflection a break / From the pain it’s feeling now?" This overt expression of dissatisfaction with herself lends a humanity to this artist which we've never seen.
"Love On the Brain," a track with roots in doo-wop, finds Ri meandering through meaningful lyrics, demonstrating her vocal range while explaining how she's "fist fighting with fire / Just to get close to you." From a sensual whisper to a wailing falsetto, Ri proves she can hold her own.
"Kiss It Better," the standout track of the album, is a blend of Rihanna's aggressive and hypersexual (both in delivery and content) vocals, 80s guitar riffs, and synthesizers. The result is a catchy ballad that sounds equal parts Prince and Journey, but make no mistake about it, Ri's soaring voice steal the show and makes this song undeniably hers, guitar riffs and all.
Rihanna's new album is powerful, sensuous, evocative, and above all else, intimate. While her past hits such as "S&M" and "Umbrella" have kept us at arm's length, "Anti" throws open the emotional floodgates, setting Rihanna's recent melancholia to music and offering the public a rare insight into the conflicted mind of one of the century's most successful artists. "Anti" lacks the danceable hits which made her a star, yet, despite this change of pace, stands as Rihanna's greatest album to date.