Rihanna Reached New Heights With ANTI This Year
There are very few albums I can listen to from beginning to end that continuously make me fall in love with the artist or song just over and over again while listening, but Rihanna’s “ANTI” is one of those albums.
I have to admit: I was not into Rihanna before “ANTI.” I liked her, sure. I knew all the words to her radio hits, mostly because they’re repetitive. She’s gorgeous, fucking duh. But I had never looked into her discography or anything serious. I didn’t know her.
And even worse, when “Work” came out in January, I hated it. I listened to it with a few of my friends, and halfway into the song, I ripped my headphones out and literally asked my friends, “What the fuck is this?” I found it anticlimactic, with a hook that failed to get stuck in my head on first listen. It was one of those songs where, after it ended, I couldn’t remember how it went. It didn’t make an impact.
The next day, the album was supposed to come out, and I had accepted that it would be more of the same. I was ready to move on. And holy shit, was I wrong.
Like many first impressions, mine ended up being proved wrong. As I got to know ANTI, I realized those first judgments were totally superficial.
What strikes me the most about this album every time I listen to it is the variety of sounds, personae, and voices Rihanna takes on. She embodies the blunt-smoking badass bitch you don’t want to fuck with on “Needed Me” and “Kiss It Better”. She’s vulnerable, yet formidable when belting out “Love on the Brain.” She’s experimentally raw on “Woo” and “Pose.” If anything, this album blurred any understanding we had of what Rihanna is as an artist, and for someone like me who had barely known of her beyond the pop star façade, this confusion excited me.
For Rihanna, this was the album she needed to make. It never stands still, not even for a second, and drags the listener through a full range of emotion. I feel nostalgic listening to “Close to You,” and “Yeah I Said It” makes me feel remorseless and powerful.
Her previous albums are all definitive and exist in a predictable space. They were relevant at the time and perfectly suited to the years of their release, but “ANTI” stands on its own, not as a pop artifact of 2016 but as something quintessentially Rihanna. This is what pushes it to that next-level greatness. There’s nothing else in music right now that sounds or vibes like “ANTI.” There’s absolutely nothing in the mainstream to compare it to. Although iTunes categorizes it as “Pop,” I think the record exists in a world where genre is irrelevant. It is truly an anti-album.
The level of newness and innovation that surrounds “ANTI” is what is so awesome to me about it. She took sounds that would never go together in the natural world and spliced them together in songs that also would never go together cohesively on an album. The only other album released this year that was on par with Rihanna’s musical innovation was Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo.”
The first week after the album dropped, it was all I listened to. Eventually, I convinced my entire family to go see the “ANTI” tour with me. I’ve been to more concerts than most people, so when I say her show was THE BEST concert I have ever been to, it carries some weight.
I was in tears as this bitch effortless tore up the clear suspended runway over the crowd on the floor, marching in a way that made me feel afraid of her. But before I could identify what I was feeling, she playfully asked the crowd if they have the sauce, and then casually dropped to all fours for “Sex With Me.” Everyone lost their minds.
Of-fucking-course I had the sauce.
The tour, its design and feel, was more like a traveling art installation rather than something you would expect from a pop star. My favorite moment, however, was her performance of “Same Ol’ Mistakes” because it truly felt like she took the entire arena on an acid trip with her for the entire six minutes of the song. The lights, the John Lennon-esque sunglasses she slipped on all felt perfectly placed. It was mature, almost serious at times, but also a bit of a tease: just like the album.
This could only exist because of the personas that Rihanna is able to embody. Without every single part present, it would have fallen flat on its face.
Same with the album though: without all the key components, we’d lose some of the ferocity that makes Rihanna who she is. And I love that this album proved me wrong.