Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Problem With Prolonged ANTIcipation: Let’s Talk About Rihanna’s ‘Work’

Rihanna’s ANTI era is finally upon us. Was it worth the wait?

Nearly every time I write about Rihanna, I feel compelled to include the following tidbit: From 2005 through 2012, Rihanna released a new album every year. (She did not, technically, release a new album in 2008, but she did put out a re-release of 2007’s Good Girl Gone Bad, which included several new songs, two of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. So, you know, it hardly counts as a year off.) After 2012’sUnapologetic, though, the singer took a break from releasing music and instead focused on building her brand.

Funnily enough, not releasing an album for three years didn’t slow Rihanna down; she became an even bigger name than she was before owing to her status as a fashion icon, her social media presence, her many tabloid exploits, and her partnerships. Still, predictably, fans and critics eventually began wondering when we’d hear new music from the woman with 13 No. 1 hits to her name. It certainly seemed that we’d finally, finally have a new album in 2015, but the year came and went with nothing more than three underwhelming singles. (In her announcement this morning, Rihanna called “Work” her first single from ANTI, and therefore, despite “FourFiveSeconds,” “Bitch Better Have My Money,” and “American Oxygen,” none of which are guaranteed to be included on ANTI, I am forced to acknowledge “Work” as the album’s official lead single.)
The Problem With Prolonged ANTIcipation: Let’s Talk About Rihanna’s ‘Work’
When you train your fans to expect new music every year for seven years straight, and then you ask them to wait more than three times that amount, the expectation will inevitably be that the new music, which presumably took longer than normal to make, is going to beespecially good. Rihanna played into this game of anticipation: last year, while promoting “FourFiveSeconds,” Rihanna gave a Kanye West / Lady Gaga-esque quote about making “timeless” music, leading fans to believe that she was in the process of concocting something really special. Shortly thereafter, she dropped “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a juxtaposition which speaks for itself.
Maybe you feel that the story of how ANTI came to be (and when it eventually sees release, though word is that it will be out this very week) shouldn’t matter so long as the music’s good. I both agree and disagree. Ultimately, the music is what matters. The problem now is that we are finally hearing the music, allowing it to speak for itself, and one is left wrestling with the following question: did this really take three years (and eight writers!!!) to arrive at this? Had we waited the traditional year for this single, it would have been much easier to swallow. Instead, after years of waiting and false starts and frustration, the less-than-exciting “Work,” which features Rihanna’s friend, the Meme King Drake, feels like an especially big let down. Whether it blows up and becomes yet another smash remains to be seen, but taken as it is, a song separate from its potential chart position, it is no “Umbrella,” it is no “We Found Love,” it is no “Diamonds.”
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