Rihanna is back at it again. Taking over the Billboard charts and breaking records with her latest release ANTI. The long-awaited and overly publicized project finds the Bajan beauty taking the reins of her own musical sleigh and riding it out with a blend of modernized ’90s pop, rock, soft rock, trap, and, of course, Caribbean soul. The chart-topping singer gradually departs from her formulaic pop catalog of catchy dance jams and melodic ballads to deliver something that is truly experimental and different from any other project she has released in the past.
For over 11 years, Rihanna has been consistent with staying relevant in the pop scene. It was not until the phenomenal success of her third project Good Girl, Gone Bad that the young artist became a force in the industry and, most importantly, a trendsetter. Her influence since the project’s inception gradually broadened further throughout the music world and into fashion. Eventually, Rihanna became more than just a pop superstar with a flair for reinvention and moderate controversy, but an international icon.
Even with such power and influence in the industry, the singer was still more categorized as a ‘single’s artist’ without really delivering a cohesive, solid body of work. ANTI is this attempt. Three years into conception, the singer dropped the streaming project and gave a proverbial middle-finger to any of the naysayers. Claiming her independence, the project invites listeners into the jumbled world of insecurities, confidence, sexuality, and loneliness.
From the strategically planted opener, Consideration, Rihanna makes no mistakes in addressing her independence and, metaphoric, music revolution from her former incarnations. Teaming with TDE’s vocalist SZA, the two songstresses blend their unique vocals over an old school, beatbox-esque Scum and Kuk Harrell production. The track comes across as a literal intro into the world of ANTI and the artist’s mindset. It also finds her returning to her roots and rapping in Bajan dialect.
Moments where Rihanna returns to what comes natural to her are also the highlights of the album. As the lead single, Work draws in dancehall influences for an infectious listen. Though her words may not be the easiest to comprehend, the rhythm of the laid back approach to her vocals and the beat do not take away from the sheer care-free vibe. The only thing that seems out-of-place is Drake’s quick and, at moments, cringeworthy feature. It was clear that this Boi-1da produced track was a necessary filler to up the tempo and mood of the project as a whole.
Although that lead single is the most upbeat of ANTI, it still finds Rihanna conveying the same message of disappointment in love and bringing taken for granted. She chants that all she brought was love and new experience and the recipient mistook it for a new chance to take advantage. Almost foreshadowing the further wary element and sadness theme that the rest of the project follows.
Rihanna’s sense of independence and wanting to find something real is further reiterated in the Schultz produced track Desperado. Invoking a western feel, the Bajan beauty chants about leaving a bad situation to claim some freedom with the only one that gets her. As independent as she may feel, the track brings a sense of romance; if the setting was an old out west and she was a lone ranger leaving out for new opportunities with her damsel.
Since her days of Good Girl, Gone Bad, Rihanna has traded in that naive and innocent persona for a tougher, confident artist. Embracing this confidence is what makes her brand of cool come across so charismatically in music and life. With the Hit-Boy and Travis Scott produced track Woo, she takes on that cool island girl persona over a seductive, guitar-driven, trap anthem. Laced with choppy vocals and aggression about taking away a guy from his girl then pushing him to the side, Rihanna lets her level of savagery and femme fatale quality be known with ease. She continues this persona with slower tempo DJ Mustard Needed Me. Still bringing in similar synth elements and trap-influences, Rihanna flips the roles of the player. She takes control to let a man know that their situation was nothing more just fun and further solidifies the realness of rejection.
It is not all a tough exterior and confidence with Rihanna on ANTI. As much as she plays the player before she gets played, the young singer has her moments of vulnerability and need. Leading this change in momentum and pace, Same Ol’ Mistakes follows the laid back, carefree attitude but also speaks on anxiety. The original Tame Impala performed, Kevin Parker-penned cover track of New Person, Same Old Mistakes is one of the most atmospheric on ANTI and one of its strongest. Bringing an airy, pop-rock element that finds the singer blending her echoing vocals harmoniously with the re-worked Parker production.
Rihanna’s plays a necessary backdrop to the trip production. So melodic and perfect, the track gives listeners an almost psychedelic vibe. Like listening to what the sound your brain would make after a Xanax-induced binge to cope with overwhelming anxiety and the fears of disappointing, the track finds its beautiful moments in the little guitar rips and driving bass. Though Rihanna’s voice is muffled throughout, her haunting vocals further perpetuate the rhythm and compel the listeners to sit-back and get lost in sound.
Moments like these on ANTI are where Rihanna digs a little deeper and gets more experimental in her sound. The Sabo and Harrell co-produced ballad Never Ending finds the singer playing with a country-esque vibe with this guitar heavy tune. The late-night drunk text anthem Higher has Rihanna’s raspy vocals taking center stage. The Faunterloy and Brian Seals co-written Close to You is very reminiscent of Rihanna’s past chart-topping Stay. Driven by a simple melody, vocals, and piano rhythm, the singer longs for a long-distance love.
Though Rihanna may find new ways to package and reinvent herself with every project, there is still one underlying theme in majority of her LPs–sex. Out of the majority of chart-topping posters over the past generation, Rihanna has been one of the most vocal and prevalent with her sexuality. Not at all vulgar in her approach, but neither subtle, she has taken charge of her sexual prowess and there is nothing wrong with that. Her slow tempo, ’90s pop ballad Kiss it Better romanticizes oral sex over a guitar heavy Bhaskar and Glass John production.
There is no denying her growth in confidence vocally and personally over the past decade. The blatant self-loathing track Sex With Me is a self-explanatory ballad to her performance in the bedroom over a trap-esque Boi-1da production. Though it can only be found on the deluxe version, this anthem may be blunt but still catchy.
After over 11 years in the music industry, Rihanna has managed to adapt to the growing trend of American pop music while still staying pushing the boundaries in her own way. Bringing in sounds of hip-hop, the dancehall, and rock, she has always been able to keep up with the ever-changing trends of the music industry while still keeping her cool persona. ANTI is no exception. Though it is something different from her usual flashy dance tunes or shallow, but catchy, ballads, Rihanna is maturing vocally and in production and making listeners begin to respect her confidence. In switching up her usual aesthetic to produce a minimalistic, experimental project that is more than just riddled with easily charted singles, she has definitely moved past misconceptions of not dropping a pop project without substance.
Opinion by Tyler Cole
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Rihanna’s Official Website
Rolling Stone: ANTI Review
Featured Image Courtesy of Kevin Winter of CBS Radio, Inc.
Top Article and Third Image Courtesy of Samsung
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