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There comes a time when rather than continuing to aspire to be the thing you've worked towards being, you realize you already are. Without effort, it's you. For Robyn Fenty, that's ANTI – the nonsensically long-awaited eighth studio album that vividly and quite vulnerably, encapsulates the sensations and flaws behind the most fascinating pop star in the world. The maturity of Rihanna follows eleven years of work in the hit factory, churning out number one pop singles and seven albums in seven years, while reinventing herself, style and sound with every new opus.
It was on Rihanna's third studio album when she first referred to herself as a bad girl and since then, the unapologetic Bajan star has publicly supported the narrative, while still supplying universally relatable pop deliveries that kept her at the top of the charts and the forefront of everything pertinent in celebrity culture. Rihanna's rebellion, although believable outside of the music, as she drew us in with twerk snaps, a nude-inciting Instagram ban, yacht antics and a diamonds dancing Swarovski crystal dress, was marketing gold. But after a three year album hiatus, Rih has rendered her most profoundly authentic and effortless act of rebellion yet – she’s making the music she wants to make without a singular fuck. Anti-pop, anti-album, anti-industry, anti-expectation, anti-perfection. And still, the anarchic album was certified platinum by the RIAA in a matter of days. In addition, it was given to us for free.
"I got to do things my own way, darling." The words are sung over a down-tempo, retro-infused production, alongside alt-soul singer SZA on the album-opening mantra 'Consideration,' a casual statement considering the weight of her daring declaration of independence. Through thirteen exploratory tracks, Robyn trades gloss for grit - opulence for intimacy and sparkle for realism – through crucial song-choice and particular production.
Like a Western rogue on 'Desperado,' which seems to have replaced country-tinged 'Four Five Seconds' on the resolute track-list, Rih is raw and seductive, while soothing mood-altering 'Same Ol' Mistakes' covers Tame Impala's 2015 Currents original with intoxicating reverb. There's the riotous Hit-Boy and Travis Scott-produced 'Woo,' which panders to toxic relationships, while DJ-Mustard-constructed 'Needed Me,' is a savage-anthem for the self-empowered woman who has no time today or any other day for the fuck-shit. But where Rihanna hits her ANTI-peak is through the whiskey-soaked cries and giddy orchestral-accompanied do-wop shrieks of multi-faceted power-ballads 'Higher' and 'Love On The Brain,' that finds Rih bare and rebuilt as a benevolent artist.
Although stunningly different from past pop sentiments, the initial discourse over whether or not ANTI has any commercial appeal is music critique at its most oblivious. Considering the Drake-featured single 'Work' shot straight to number one on iTunes in the span of 90 minutes and has already burnt radio rubber in repetitious replay within a matter of days, it's a sure-shot that ANTI will serve several singles gracing several charts. But beyond the dialogue over where a pop star lands without glimmering hits is the more applicable question – what does a pop hit even mean in 2016 when internet culture is evenly matched in relevancy with mainstream ethos? While music critics and industry suits may have missed the entire point, disgruntled by Rihanna's brazen rejection and defiance as she opts for dark experimental and artistically ambitious songs rather than neon-toned singles, Rih's 169.6 million collective social media followers have welcomed the deeper look into the mythos of music's favourite bad gal. She's come back on her own terms, rewarding fans who've adorned her despite the musical hiatus by opening the mystery veil and showing us exactly what she’s thinking and feeling when the spotlights are lowered - when her penthouse suite is secluded, when the paparazzi are nowhere to be found, when the blunt has roached, when the sun sets on her Bajan vacation. And here within the dirty drums, unpolished mixes, vulnerable words, and honest rusty vocals, we see Robyn at her most opaque.
"And I know I could be more creative and come up with poetic lines," Rihanna belts whole-heartedly on 'Higher.' She doesn’t have to try to be real. Rihanna just is.
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