Album Review: Rihanna—“ANTI”

By Alexander Si

Seemingly, Rihanna got lazy this time. Delaying the album release numerous times, venturing out into film and fashion industry, the silence after the surprise drop, no endless promotion, no glossy music videos, the lack of effort is abnormal coming from a mega-pop star. Listening to the album for the first time, it only justified the assumption. All the songs sound rough and unkempt, the arrangement seems spontaneous. This attitude manifests within the first three minutes when Rihanna impassively claims she’d “rather be smoking weed”, on top of all that, cynically named the album ANTI. Where is this listlessness coming from?

In retrospect, Rihanna has been through it all. Emerged from the early-aughts teen-pop mania, she has piggybacked on the triumph of mainstream hip-pop/R&B, came across the sudden rise of EDM, and joined the reggae and funk revival. With an astonishing capability to adapt to the various changes in music industry, she proved her superstardom by simply staying on top. Despite the commercial success, the quintessence of a Rihanna album is the perpetual desolation. This comes from a deeper and more personal perspective. Domestic violence, sex, drug, vulgarity, self-destruction are some invariable topics of her songs, and in a broader sense, her life. Naturally, ANTI dealt with the same old topic of love, but from thirteen different angles. Even on the most uptempo, lively Caribbean vibe song – “Work”, she is rattling off her frustration with the burden of love and the juggle between her personal and professional life. The poignant failure in love and the public’s standard of her exhaust this seven-album-seven-year music marathoner. Thus, she chose to slow down.

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Album art for ANTI

After gaining freedom from the straitjacket that she has been wearing for seven years, Rihanna relocates her focus on the artistic depth on each song. With four years of laboring, she carefully injects an explosive dose of emotion and technicality into this album like a fastidious French couturier hand-sewing every stitch. In songs like “Consideration”, “James Joint”, and “Same Ol’ Mistake”, the tear-shedding soulfulness strike right in the core of the listener and build up layers of emotions like a volcano; eventually in “Love on the Brain” and “Higher” (my personal favorites), the sentiments accumulate to an apex and burst into a ravishing mess; and finally we are tranquilized by the finale “Close to You”. On the other hand, she put more efforts into the conceptual aspect. For the first time, she knocks on the door of that little girl holding a red balloon – her inner self, and asked what she wants to say in this record. With enough wealth and popularity, Rihanna has the chips to withdraw from the game of brown-nosing; and uses music to deal with her ego for the first time. She laid bare her honest self to us – a hopeless romantic who is fixated upon alcohol, sex, and drugs. Moreover, her raw, less-than-polished vocal, which she tends to hide behind mind-numbing beats, has also taken the centre stage this time around. The remarkably honest conversation with the little girl on the album cover is the one last step that elevates ANTI to a higher work of art.

ANTI is a statement cooked up by Rihanna from all aspects; anti-genre, anti-political-statement, anti-bravado, anti-commerciality (you can download and stream ANTI for free on TIDAL), even the album cover is an anti-posey, glamorous, magazine-worthy cover photo. She is too exhausted by love and life to care about these things, not to mention the public perception of her. Miraculously, in the current context, her nonchalance is her main attraction. The more she sings songs about not-giving-a-damn, namely “Bitch Better Have My Money”, the more the public loves her. Ultimately, she exhibitions her attitude towards it all into lines of braille, I guess that’s her way of giving an insouciant shrug. (Westbury Road)

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