I still remember the first time I consciously heard one of Rihanna’s songs. It was back in 2006, and the DJ at the now-defunct Club Element, located on the corner of Essex & Houston St. in the Lower East Side, was blasting it over the sound system. “This sounds like Soft Cell,” I screamed to a friend. “It’s some chick called Rihanna,” she yelled back. The song in question was “SOS,” which does use a sample from Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted love,” and from that moment on Rihanna’s voice turned into an annoying, widespread sound which I constantly hear at bars, the super market, and the DMV.
A couple of my music-savvy friends always tried to peddle the Barbadian singer as one of the more legit performers among the Katy Perrys, Taylor Swifts, Beyonces, and Britneys of the mainstream pop world. Their assessment simply never rang true to me. I’m not gonna say all those artists sound exactly the same because they don’t, but if they do sound incredibly similar it’s because they all work with the same people.
It’s probably best to think about Anti’s carefree, socialistic launch as part of a larger demonstration of power and wealth. At 27, Rihanna doesn’t need anyone else’s coins anymore. Nor, apparently, does she need hits.
Nice burn, Atlantic.
So why pay attention to a record so many people seem to hate? Well, big pop artists make music with the intention of reaching a huge, massive audience. In order to achieve that goal, their music has to be as generic and inoffensive as possible while still portraying the illusion of originality — tricky stuff, kids! So when a record by a heavyweight like Rihanna flops, it usually means one of two things: either she tried to stick to the golden formula and failed, or she actually recorded something interesting but, since most people just want to listen to the same kind of song (even if they say they don’t), Rihanna fans don’t know what to make of her adventurous recording.
Sadly, the problem with Anti is not that it’s too weird for the masses — it just sucks. I do like one song off the record, and it’s called “Same ‘ol mistakes.” Turns out it’s actually a Tame Impala cover and, at least from what I can tell, Rihanna’s rehash uses the same track as the original (sans the lead vocal, of course). Believe it or not, “Same ‘ol mistakes” sounds slightly better with Rihanna’s voice — though, seriously, to call this a “cover” would be gratuitous because I’m pretty sure it’s just a karaoke session.
At least now I can now say that I finally enjoy one Rihanna-sung song. I’d play it for you, but Rihanna’s version of “Same ‘ol mistakes” is not available on YouTube or Spotify yet, and I’m too lazy to look for an embed elsewhere, so here’s the original: