I miss Rihanna. Selfishly so. I wonder why she has abandoned the music industry— though I was briefly satisfied by her feature on the Fall 2017 hit “LEMON”, it left me wanting more. The hunger I had couldn’t be satisfied through her then rapidly expanding makeup brand FENTY Beauty (even though, at that point, I had acquired quite the collection of her products). I decided to wait it out instead, settling for exploring the ins-and-outs of her 2016 album ANTI.
I sat and I waited. It’s 2018. She performs her Carlos Santana-esque 2017 hit single “Wild Thoughts” at the Grammy Awards. Still no music. Later in the year, she hosts her 4th annual Diamond Ball for the Clara Lionel foundation. Still no music. Mid-year rolls around, still no music. However, she just became one of the ambassadors of Barbados— she has an excuse.
2019, still no music. She’s busy now, and she knows it. Anyone would feel busy with an empire worth 600 million under their belt. Thanks to her fashion house with LVMH (a high fashion company that is essentially the love-child of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy), and her still expanding makeup brand and lingerie line, Rihanna has become the richest female artist yet. She’s promised a music release for the year, but doesn’t have any time for it, at least not now.
It’s not that she doesn’t have any music ready; We know Rihanna has what we need. Teasing us with muted Instagram videos, captioned with something along the lines of “in the studio”, Rihanna knows she has it. She also knows that she may not release a new album this year as promised (she implies this in her July 11th Instagram post). We are left hungry once again.
This hunger won’t be satisfied. Even if Rihanna does release new music, even if her new music charts, even if her new music wins awards- we will always want more from her. To put it simply: music consumers are restless. Consumers tell the artists to make more and more music, and when the quality inevitably falters because of the effects of mass production, consumers surely aren’t happy. Music mass production goes like this: consumers want more; Record labels tell artists to make more; Artists don’t have the time to make music that they’re passionate about; All the music they make sounds the same and— to be frank— sucks.
For me, at least, when you can hear the depth in a newly released song, it’s euphoric; It’s the type of excitement that draws you in for a second listen to make sure you haven’t missed anything important. It’s the type that will make you afraid to listen too many times in fear of growing tired of the song. Conversely, it’s obvious when a song was made in one session, on one computer, with only one thought that went into it. I can’t help but fear the day I listen to a brand-new Rihanna song and feel like I’ve heard it before.
Right now, my track record with Rihanna’s music has been great (an understatement to say the least). For reference, I’ve never been keen on walking around with anything but Rap music playing through my headphones. Something has always felt off about walking to anything but. I’ve tried mellow bedroom Hip-Hop, but Frank Ocean’s delicate and melancholy “Pink + White” has always had a way of making me shed a tear. Why? Maybe, just maybe, I wish I was singing the vaguely nostalgic song to someone on the top of a roof, fingers interlaced and looking out at the pink clouds floating by to the tune of teenage romance— Just maybe. I’ve tried Classic Rock, and it’s very hard to listen to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” without feeling like the school delinquent in an 80’s classic film, stuck in detention with only a Walkman CD player as entertainment. I’ve tried R&B, and though SZA and Travis Scott’s “Love Galore” sets a good pace to walk, I’ve now listened to the song too many times and fully understand the meaning. Sexual innuendos and misheard lyrics are no longer new- the song is far too predictable for my taste. Pop isn’t my cup of tea; Disco makes me act drunk; Classical is only fun when you can listen to it in peace.
Case in point: you name it, I’ve tried it.
I never had any real genre-variety until I cracked open Rihanna’s ANTI for the umpteenth time. Complex and confident, I couldn’t resist walking to the album. The album opens with “Consideration”, and Rihanna somewhat addresses her intent with the album— she’s doing things her own way. She’s not waiting for respect; Rihanna’s growing on her own. “Consideration” must be my favorite song on this album- it’s the one I connected to the most. Combined with a steady bassline, a glitchy snare and hypnotic cords, the message of the song is easy to see─ “Consideration” is not a song of desperation, but instead, lyrics that crave liberation. It’s not a cry for help, it’s the realization that independence is what she needs. My other favorite song is “Same Ol’ Mistakes”. While I love the songs that come in between the two, the take on Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” is one that could not be forgotten. The song opens with a faint drone of Rihanna’s hum: Then comes the bouncing bass guitar with almost an E.T twinge to the notes; Next, a snare and cymbal that makes you rock in your seat; The melodic keyboard line swims under the bass. Suddenly, the song goes silent for a second, and only the snare can be heard until Rihanna begins her siren song. She feels like a “brand new person”, she says. She’s breaking away from expectation, and, to put it bluntly, she doesn’t care. It’s six-minutes-and-thirty-seven-seconds of other-worldly confidence.
Confidence: I figured out that confidence was what I could walk to. The Rap I was listening to was full of it. I was listening to chaotic, loud, deafening Rap that was created as a middle finger to anyone who had done the rapper wrong. “Nuketown” by Ski Mask the Slump God featuring Juice WRLD, “RENTAL” by BROCKHAMPTON, “Suge” by Da Baby─ the Rap I was listening to exuded confidence, the same way that Rihanna’s music did. It’s confidence that came from experience and passion, not materialistic possession. It’s confidence that comes with pride for your heritage. It’s a confidence that can’t be mass produced─ I hope it never will be.
Mass production is not the only thing making people (including me) nervous in the music industry. Contradictory to consumers constant hunger for new music, consumers are worried that artists are only using their platforms for music. They ask: why is it right for an artist to only use their influence for personal gain?
Better yet: how can you expect an artist to constantly make music and then get mad that it’s the only thing an artist has time for?
I agree: influence is power that shouldn’t be wasted. But, it’s ridiculous that artists are being treated like aliens that have never experienced the pitfalls of the human race: stress, burn-out, and depression. Selena Gomez was hospitalized for exhaustion in 2014; Ariana Grande has decided to opt-out of traditional album promotion methods due to how detrimental it is to her mental health; No one forgets Britney Spears’ 2007 breakdown. Even Rihanna had a burn-out moment in 2011, post-production of her album Talk that Talk.
It’s almost absurd to assume that musicians have the time to manage multiple careers at once. So, while Rihanna is juggling a fashion house, makeup brand and a lingerie line, it’s easy to wonder: Is Rihanna neglecting the music industry because she wants to? Or because she needs to? Is she choosing to spend her extra time on things other than music? Or does she not have the extra energy needed for an album release?
Either way, isn’t she doing enough already?
Part of me feels like Rihanna is already offering so much of herself─ whether that be through her charity work, or her makeup line that set a new standard for diversity in the beauty industry, or her take on masculine clothing in her feminine fashion line. I mean, what more can she do? She’s literally been proclaimed a humanitarian.
However, the other part of me understands that her fans don’t associate themselves with hand-picked lipstick shades and quite expensive clothing. They associate themselves with the soulful, tear-jerking vocals in “Love on the Brain”. They dance to the hypnotic hip-rolling “Work” and pretend they know the lyrics. They have their hearts broken and decide to patch it back together by getting black-out drunk with their friends and preaching the gospel of “Needed Me”. They toast to success with “Pour it Up”. Her fans are hungry for something greater than the physical and greater than the tangible. Saying that Rihanna fans want to be like her may seem ludicrous; But, no one can deny that her fans find the messages in her songs more appealing than new eyeliners. I didn’t become confident in myself because I mimicked Rihanna ─as wrongly immature as it sounds─ Rihanna showed me how.
Her fans aren’t hungry for perfectly placed snare and elaborate key changes─ they’re hungry for the Rihanna mentality expressed in her lyrics. They just don’t know how to politely ask for it. They push and shove their way to the top of Instagram comment threads. She’s made a shirt that says ‘No More Music’, acknowledging their relentless bullying. Her fans still haven’t caught the hint. Though I hate to admit it, they’re going to stay hungry. We’re going to stay hungry. Except, if our hunger for new music isn’t satisfied soon, we’ll just take the artist instead.
2019. Still no music.