You know you’re getting old when the news arrives that Rihanna’s new album, ‘Talk That Talk’, is scheduled for a November 18 release. That would be her sixth. In six years. Just how the girl from Barbados, who first hit the airwaves back in 2005 with the reasonably inoffensive ‘Pon De Replay’, got to this stage, where Def Jam and Roc Nation consider her such a cash cow that they’ll milk her for a new album every year, is something worth considering. When ‘Pon De Replay’ dropped, it was something of a kiddy favourite. It was dancehall before anyone ever really knew what dancehall was and had enough of that local Barbadian flavour to make it sound exotic, but it wasn’t a particularly commercial song. Listening to it now, all these years after it became standard fodder at birthday parties and post-scoring football replays alike, it sounds incredibly tame. Rihanna hardly leaves the lowest register and the change in dynamic between the verse and chorus is barely perceptible; throughout the understated reggaeton prevails and Rihanna is made to herald, somewhat unconvincingly, the arrival of a new, island-tinged sound on the popular stage.
Fast forward six years and What the fuck? Somebody over at Def Jam thought it’d be a fantastic idea to tart up the promising young star whose first two albums ‘Music Of The Sun’ and ‘A Girl Like Me’ had been pleasingly successful but who quite obviously was harbouring the latent desire to become the sexual deviance spokesperson for her generation. As such, track names transformed from ‘If It’s Lovin’ That You Want’ and ‘You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)’ to ‘S&M’, ‘Skin’, ‘Wait Your Turn’ and ‘Rude Boy‘. The corruption completed, of course, by cutting her good-girl locks and tragically, being the victim of some C-Breezy anger management issues. That I can remember a time when Rihanna and the laid-back tropical groove of ‘Pon De Replay’ were synonymous really dates me. Speak to anyone of the current tween generation and Rihanna is a signifier for sex, bondage and submission. It’s somewhat depressing to note, as I did this morning, that Rihanna no longer represents her Barbadian heritage but has been well and truly turned into a hit-making machine whose persona has taken on a chimeric quality: a play-doh figurine that can be molded to fit whatever current taste demands.
The collaboration with Calvin Harris makes perfect sense then. ‘We Found Love’ is so obviously removed from Rihanna’s Carribean roots but so patently in line with the Swedish House Mafiazation of the Top 40 that it represents just another stage in the unnatural evolution of the 23 year old’s career. There is no doubting Harris’ work. As J has contended previously, Calvin Harris could make Osama Bin Laden look good (potentially less so now). Where ‘I Created Disco’ was slightly out of left field, Calvin has realised which side his bread is buttered on and, through collaborations with Kelis and his own sensational sophomore offering ‘Ready For The Weekend‘ has demonstrated a startlingly accurate midas touch when it comes to turning out bangers. What I’m more concerned about is the long-term viability of Rihanna. ‘We Found Love’ is a massive song and will undoubtedly return the pop princess to the clubs she has been absent from since ‘Pon De Replay’. But at what cost? As her image loses its solidity and her sound its coherency, this sort of wild ‘attack-on-all-fronts’ tactic might win her hit singles but won’t win her fans hoping for any sort of consistency. Frat party favourite, surely. But it might also serve as a harbinger for the slow unravelling on the innocent girl from Barbados.
Rihanna Ft. Calvin Harris – We Found Love
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