If you had told me a year ago that I would buy, and much less enjoy, a Rihanna CD, I probably would have laughed in your face. I’ve never been much of a Rihanna fan; I found all of her radio singles (particularly Pon De Replay and SOS) extremely annoying, and nothing about her manufactured/stereotypical R&B sound appealed to me.
Fast forward to last summer, when Umbrella was released. I immediately fell for the song and slowly started to change my mind about Rihanna and her music as I also enjoyed the other singles from her third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad. I never would’ve guessed it, but here I am, biting my tongue and actually loving a Rihanna CD.
The album starts with the aforementioned first single, Umbrella. I can’t explain it any simpler than this- no matter how many times I heard this song last summer, no matter how many times I listen to the Mandy Moore and Marie Digby cover versions, and despite the hundreds of times I’ve seen the video, I still absolutely love this song. From the opening rap (courtesy of Rihanna’s producer/musical mentorJay-Z) and the sentimental lyrics (“When the sun shines, we’ll shine together/Told you I’ll be here forever/Said I’ll always be a friend/Took an oath I’ma stick it out till the end/Now that it’s raining more than ever/Know that we’ll still have each other/You can stand under my umbrella”), to the bass-heavy beat, it’s easy to see why this song was (and still is) such a smash hit. Even the enunciation of the word umbrella (“umbrella ella ella eh eh eh”) adds to the song’s originality and charm. I seriously never get tired of hearing this song, or singing along to it, and that’s saying a lot, since most popular R&B/pop songs become annoying and repetitive to me after awhile. Simply put, Rihanna and Jay-Z created a fantastic song, which was probably one of my favorite songs of last year.
The energy stays right up with Push Up On Me a pulsating dance song. 80’s R&B star, Lionel Richie is credited as one of the song’s writers, and while the lyrics aren’t particularly in-depth (“The way that you stare, starts a fire in me/Come up to my room you sexy little thing/And let’s play a game, I won’t be a tease/I’ll show you the room, my sexy little thing”), the focus is less on the lyrics (or even Rihanna’s diminutive vocals), and more on the beat. The same could be said of Don’t Stop The Music, which is currently the album’s fourth single. The song has an 80’s dance feel/techno sound to it that would fit in perfectly in several clubs or high school dances across the world. Again, the focus is less on vocals and lyrics and more on making the listener want to dance, which is definitely not a bad thing. The song also samples the classic Michael Jackson song, Wanna Be Starting Something (specifically the “Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coo sa” part at the end), and the combination is genius.
Breakin’ Dishes appears next, and is the first song (besides Umbrella) that has both a great beat and some sort of lyrical content. The song deals with Rihanna realizing that her man is out cheating on her and while the lyrics won’t win any sort of songwriting awards, they do a good job of conveying the story (“I’m still waiting, come through the door/I’m killing time and I’m bleaching ya clothes/I’m roasting marshmallows on the fire/And what I’m burning, is your attire”). The melody is upbeat and the chorus is one you’ll want to sing along with. Shut Up and Drive is less of an R&B dance song and more of a pop/rock song, but Rihanna handles the genre smoothly. The song opens with a loud electric guitar solo, setting way for another upbeat and fun song. The lyrics use cars and driving as a metaphor for sex, and while it has been done before and better (see Prince and Little Red Corvette), Rihanna pulls it off in a sleek and sexy way without being too sexual or crude.
The album slows down a bit with the first ballad, Hate That I Love You. Now, I definitely would’ve laughed at you before if you told me that I’d enjoy a song by Rihanna and Ne-Yo. I’ve never had any strong opposition towards Ne-Yo, but I’ve found his R&B sound watered down and uninspired (and if you’re “so sick of love songs”, then stop writing annoying ones and releasing them on the radio!). However, his collaboration with Rihanna actually works well. The mid-tempo love song is clever (“And I hate how much I love you boy/I can’t stand how much I need you/And I hate how much I love you boy/But I just can’t let you go/And I hate that I love you so”) and both singers sound great together.
However, the songs hit a downward spiral from this point on. Say It sounds like an old Destiny’s Child song, which is unfortunately not a good thing. The whiny melody irritates me, and even Rihanna’s vocals are grating. Sell Me Candy is a lightly-Reggae influenced song produced by Timbaland, and while the song is better than the one before it, it’s still not as catchy or charming as the first few songs on the album. Lemme Get That (also produced by Timbaland) also draws on Rihanna’s Barbadian heritage, and while the beat is nice, I have to shake my head at the lyrics, which basically glorify being a gold-digger (“I got a house, but I need new furniture/Why spend mine when I could spend yours/The truth is I will love you the same/But why complain you buying Gucci babe”).
Timbaland writes and produces one more song (along with his current collab partner, Justin Timberlake) on the album- Rehab. No, it’s not a remake of the Amy Winehouse song of the same name, but rather a mid-tempo love song. The lyrics are better than some of the other songs (“And now I feel like/You’re the reason/Why I’m thinking/I don’t wanna smoke all/These cigarettes no more/I guess this is what I get/For wishful thinking/Should’ve never let you into my door/…It’s like I checked into rehab/ Baby you’re my disease”), and Rihanna sounds really good during the chorus (Timberlake also sings backing vocals during the chorus and bridge).
The worst song on the album, however is Question Existing. Honestly, there is nothing I hate more than celebrities complaining about their lives. Sure, it probably sucks to not know who to trust or having to run from paparazzi all the time, but unless you’re someone like Michael Jackson or Britney Spears (who can’t even live their lives because of their celebrity), your life as a celebrity isn’t that hard. I don’t want to hear a singer complain about how hard his or her life is when they’re getting paid gazillions of dollars to do what they love. I’m a struggling college student- if anyone should be complaining about life, it should be me. So, as you’ve probably figured from my rant, Rihanna uses this song to complain about how hard celebrity life is (“Round of applause, Take the abuse/Sometimes it feels like they want me to lose/It’s entertainment is that an excuse? (No)/But the question that lingers whether win or lose/Who am I living for?”). Besides the whining going on in the lyrics, the song just sort of drags on in an obnoxious way, and makes it hard for me to listen to it all the way through. The worst part of the song, however, is towards the end, when Rihanna talks about how hard her life is over the annoying beat. She sounds ridiculously stupid, and once again, I don’t really have much sympathy for her “hard” life when she makes about 80 times more than I do for just singing songs (and not even writing her own music) and dancing. Sure, celebrity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but she should’ve thought about all that before she entered the business. Shut up, Rihanna.
The album ends on a dull note with the title track, Good Girl Gone Bad. I’m not exactly sure why I don’t like this song; perhaps it’s the poorly written lyrics (“He thinks because I’m at home I won’t be getting it on/And now I’m finding numbers in the jacket pockets/Chicks calling the house, non stop/It’s getting out of control/Finally I can’t take no more/He finds a letter on the stairs, saying this is the end/I packed my bag and left with your best friend- Oh!”), or the cheesy chorus, or just the fact that the title alludes to a much better song than is actually presented.
For the most part, Good Girl Gone Bad is a stellar pop/R&B/dance album. Rihanna surprised me by pairing up with the right producers (namely Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Stargate) and compiling an album of upbeat songs that just make me want to dance and have fun.
1. Umbrella – (with Jay-Z)
2. Push Up On Me
3. Don’t Stop The Music
4. Breakin’ Dishes
5. Shut Up And Drive
6. Hate That I Love You – (with Ne-Yo)
7. Say It
8. Sell Me Candy
9. Lemme Get That
11. Question Existing
12. Good Girl Gone Bad