Thursday, December 15, 2011

RiRi's Sloppy Singles


At this point, y'all know I'm a RiRi fan, but I can't help but be seriously annoyed by how terribly mismanaged her single choices and song release schedules have been since the Rated R album. I'm aware she has minimal control over what gets released (except on Rated R), but how has SOMEONE not noticed that there's a major issue?

With Rated R, Rihanna was reeling over her nasty abuse at the hands of Chris Brown and the scandal it caused, and so the album was angst-filled, dark, and actually quite good. However, just because a song is good, doesn't mean that it's a proper single. The right choice for radio release must have spark, energy, and some sort of crossover mainstream POP appeal. With this album, Rihanna likely had more control over what became a single than on any of her other records. Her label saw the Rated R project as a way to build RiRi's artistic credibility, or at least that's what they said. We all know what that means - they all didn't like the album and thought it was blech. Like I said, I enjoyed it, but Rihanna's not the type of artist that requires credibility, and her label is hyper-aware of this. She's not a true musician or songwriter. She's only gotten songwriting credits on a few tracks, and I doubt that was a difficult feat - she probably penned two words on each of those. Girlfriend is a POP songstress, which is no to say that musicianship and POP stardom are mutually exclusive (i.e. - Michael Jackson, Prince, GaGa, Katy Perry, etc.), but let's not pretend that RiRi is anything other than an enjoyable sugary confection. A few of her songs may have meaning, but her celebrity persona doesn't, so unless that meaning is rolled up into POPtastic hits, it's lost on most folks.

During the Rated R era, the Def Jam execs should have allowed RiRi one angsty, emotional song for all the hard work she put in and money she made them (and herself). Her number one choice was probably Russian Roulette, considering it was the first release from the album. After that, the only singles should have been Rude Boy, which I called as single-worthy months before it went to radio, and Te Amo, which probably wouldn't have been as big of a hit as Rude Boy, but would've charted higher and made more money than Hard or Rockstarr 101, due to it's Stargate produced synths and catchy, hummable melody. This song would have been the perfect single choice after Rude Boy slid down the charts in late spring 2010 because it SOUNDS LIKE SUMMER. Ugh, why oh why did they release it as the single everywhere but the States, where we were dealt Rockstarr 101, a song most people couldn't wait to end?

Let's move onto the next record, shall we? Loud was supposed to be RiRi's return to breazy, danceable POP, with the occasional side of West Indian spice. While Only Girl (In The World), What's My Name, and S&M were absolute knockouts, the other singles were totally wrong for radio, which is probably why you've never heard of them. Do you remember Raining Men (which was so unsuccessful, they didn't even make a video for it), Man Down, and California King Bed? No? NOT surprised. The first two tracks aren't very catchy, and while the latter is a beautiful ballad, RiRi isn't known for belting out an instrumental song - the only girl who can shoot a piano ballad to the top of the charts is Adele. Cheers (Drink To That) was a an okay track. I went from hating it to loving it to hating it, to loving it when I heard it on the radio, to hating it two weeks later. It's just not that melodic and catchy. It's like a slow, more depressing version of Katy Perry's insanely addictive Last Friday Night. No gracias. The perfect single choice would have been Complicated, a synthy, groovy, but super catchy track that sonically reminds me a lot of Katy's E.T. The success of Katy's song should have indicated that Complicated would be a hit, and it's electro-vibe would be PERFECT for remixing in the clubs. Like, hellooooo?

Now, here we are, with Rihanna's sixth album, Talk That Talk, which, like most of her records, is a hit and miss affair. Seriously, Katy Perry deserves major props for SPEARHEADING (yes, it was her decision, not the execs, which is not to say that they opposed her) to make an energetic bubblegum POP album, Teenage Dream, in which almost every track hits it out of the park (oy, did I just use a sports metaphor?). A feat like that is most definitely NOT a common occurrence. Anyhow, We Found Love is one of the greatest songs ever. The song is emotional and intimate, yet simultaneously epic, electronic, and utterly danceable. It's the new Like A Prayer (minus Madonna's commentary on race/religion), in that it's this dance-POP carnival shell filled with a warm, gooey, tear-jerker core, kind of like a chocolate covered caramel (although candy doesn't typically make me cry). NO song on this album is as good as We Found Love, which is sad, but understandable. It made me have incredibly high expectations for the album, and what could live up to it? Anyhow, when I heard that Dr. Luke would finally be working with RiRi, I thought they would produce some amazing material together. He's THE hitmaker, but RiRi's second single, You Da One, doesn't do it for me. It's almost too gritty, too hip-hoppy and islandy. Yesterday, I heard Talk That Talk featuring Jay-Z on the radio. Is someone trying to recreate Umbrella or Run This Town? It's not working - the song is decent, but it's a bit flat and lacks sugar.

It seems like a lot of producers give Rihanna material that's Caribbean-esque and hip-hoppy because she's Bajan and Black, without realizing that she is more than her race/ethnicity. She is the dance diva PREMIER - that's what she does best, but it appears as if record execs, producers, and RiRi, herself, define the POP star and her demographic very narrowly. Her Dr. Luke collabs could have opened the gates to dance-POP heaven, but instead they fall quite short.

Anyhow, there's not much we can do but choose properly from the best songs on the record. The second single should have been either Roc Me Out or Drunk on Love. Both songs are structurally quite similar, but are sung in different pitches/scales. The former is a catchy mid-tempo track, while the latter grabs you with its melody and beautiful moodiness created using a sample of the XX's Intro. The third single (insert Where Have You Been) should bring things back to an up-tempo pace. This song is a club-banger written and produced by the combined efforts of Dr. Luke and Calvin Harris. While it definitely does NOT measure up to We Found Love, it's danceable and both radio and club-friendly. The fourth single should be the song that wasn't picked for the second (so either Roc Me Out or Drunk on Love). If Island Def Jam and RiRi decide to go for one more single, We All Want Love is the perfect choice. It's kind of ballad-esque, but in a fun dancehall way. Although this track provides more proof of how pigeon-holed RiRi and her music are, it's done well. It glows, and would make for the perfect conclusion to the Talk That Talk era.

I hope that on Rihanna's next album, the people in charge will stop trying to place this girl in a box and embrace the endless possibilities of dance music. You might think that club-bangers form their own box, but there are so many types. The genre is large enough to accommodate a number of influences.

Also, one final issue. RiRi and her team MUST STOP putting out the next single while the current one is still hot. They did it on Loud by releasing What's My Name before Only Girl (In The World) peaked at #1, and have done so again by putting out You Da One while We Found Love is still all nice and steamy at #1. A little bit of air keeps a flame going; too much, and the fire's out! What are they trying to achieve? RIHANNA'S   ALREADY   SUPER   RELEVANT. Overexposing RiRi and her music WILL   ONLY   MAKE   PEOPLE   SICK   OF   HER   AND   SHORTEN   THE   LIFE   OF   THE   ALBUM. They should give the singles time to simmer and reach a full boil. Look at Katy Perry - she and her label don't put out a new single until the last one is sliding down the charts and out of the Top 5 for good. Katy is STILL working singles from an album that came out before Loud, while RiRi's already onto her next record. It's about quality, not quantity! From May 11, 2010 (the release date of California Gurls) to today, Katy has had one album with six singles, all of which have been memorable and culturally relevant. In that same time frame, Rihanna has released two albums with a combined total of nine singles, but only four (maybe five, if you include Cheers (Drink To That)) have been pop-culturally relevant.

Girlfriend (RiRi, sometimes I pretend we're POP star friends, sipping green-apple martinis in our Ray-Bans while trading stories about how we love being famous), listen up! You have GOT to sit some of your people down and TALK   THAT   TALK.  These rush-released singles reek of inadequate management. Better yet, go hire Katy's people! It seems like you two besties already share wigs, lip gloss, and private jets; why not add management to the list?

Love you, RiRi. Hope you and your team (the members with your best interests at heart - the rest deserve the boot) take our advice. Your star is one that does well when shining super bright.



P.S. Don't forget to take a nice long nap! You must be exhausted after three years of non-stop touring and promotion. It's OKAY to take a break. We'll still be here when you're all rested up. :)


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