Based on Rihanna’s past releases, Music of the Sun (2005) and A Girl Like Me (2006), the music industry began to label her as a one hit wonder. However, with her latest album Good Girl Gone Bad, released on May 30, 2007 and re-released on June 2, 2008, she’s been able to turn things around and prove the industry wrong. So far this album has had seven successful singles with three reaching the top ten and three holding the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100. Following the release of her most recent single, Rehab, I can’t help but ask…What makes this album so much better and different from its predecessors?
One reason could be the abandonment of Rihanna’s Caribbean and Dancehall-infused music that dominated her past albums. Also, with producers and writers such as Timberland, Ne-Yo and Stargate, Rihanna had no need to contribute to the creative process of her album and instead let them steer her into an unexpected genre that’s beginning to creep into mainstream music. Her sole contribution and only credit on Good Girl Gone Bad is singer. After listening to Good Girl Gone Bad in its entirety I couldn’t buy into the mainstream hype. There was virtually no uniqueness in the production and composition of the album. In every song I was able to isolate an indie musician that’s done Rihanna’s new found style better and harder. For the sake of article length I have reviewed two un-released singles and two current singles, Disturbia
“Out my life out my head…Feels like I’m going insane”
This song squarely falls into the synthpop/electronica genre with a hint of gothic lyrics. Written by new beau Chris Brown, the song was originally considered for the re-release of his album Exclusive. To date, the song has reached #1 on the Billboard Top 100 and is very much a mainstream success.
Its indie counterpart and one of the artists I consider influential to Disturbia’s writers and producers — Brian Kennedy, Andre Merritt, Robert Allen and Chris Brown is Roisin Murphy with the lead single off her debut album Ramalama (bang bang). Although Roisin did not pioneer the combination of electronica and pop, she is one of the most successful indie artists to perfect the craft. After listening to Ramalama (bang bang) I would suggest playing Rihanna’s Disturbia and take note of the rapid succession and bass drums that steals your attention and hinders your ability to listen to the underlining beat. As a result, it may take at least 3-4 attempts to break free from Disturbia and enter Rehab.
“It’s like you were my favorite drug…The only problem is that you was using me”
Simply and most graciously put this song is the girl’s version of Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around Comes Around. Rihanna’s 8th single, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that both Timberland and Justin wrote and produced this song.
For a soulful smooth R&B song/artist listen to Jeremy Greene’s Never . The main difference between Rehab and Never is the way both songs are presented. With Rihanna’s Rehab her vocals are lost in the beat and natural flow of the song. You miss the meaningful lyrics and her attempt to connect to the song. Whereas with Jeremy’s Never even though there is a 15 second instrumental introduction, you are drawn into the powerful way he delivers his lyrics. There is a real emotion behind every word that falls short of Breaking Dishes,
“I’m roasting marshmallows on the fire…And what I’m burning is your attire”
Breaking Dishes is a rare song on Good Girl Gone Bad where Rihanna steps outside of her comfort zone and tries to push her musical envelope. This song is in the running, along with Rehab, to be the 8th single off the album. In contrast, if Beyonce were singing this song it would have been a lead single simply because of her ability to deliver aggressive songs with grace (Déjà vu and Ring the Alarm). Rihanna, however, massacres the song so much so that it’s too angry for listeners to enjoy.
This clearly was an experimental song in dance punk influenced by indie bands such as The Faint, Liars, Radio 4 and most notably The Sounds‘ Song With A Mission. It’s not a new idea for mainstream musicians to take big band punk and add pop beats and aggressive lyrics but sometimes it just doesn’t work. However, mainstream beat and melodic listeners will make Breaking Dishes successful which is a shameful feat. Ultimately in the end Rihanna will truly manifest into her album title track Good Girl Gone Bad.
“Trying to get enough drinks in her system…Take it to the tele and make her a victim”
The title track on the album is a lyrically cautioning song that talks about the consequences of breaking a girl’s heart. Unsuprisingly, it has the same melodic burn in your brain lyrical content as Beyonce’s Irreplaceable and the same twang as Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris.
More than anything, I wanted to find an indie artist who sung with the passion Rihanna often lacks. A song with lyrical content that makes you stop and get enthralled in the message.
Ironically enough, I found that in Brandon Hines When a Girl Cries. Singing a smooth R&B song with a message is always a safe bet on an album that runs a big risk by releasing punk and electronica songs to make it appealing to mainstream listeners. Rihanna is known to take the easy way out vocally but sometimes her risks do pay off when she acts tough and catty especially on Push Up On Me.
“Let’s play a game, I won’t be a tease…I’ll show you the boom, my sexy little thing”
Reminiscent of SOS, Push Up On Me is Rihanna’s second attempt at a sultry 100% 80’s pop song that has a hint of Whitney Houston’s I’m Your Baby Tonight percussion. Written by Lionel Richie and inspired by 80’s pop music with modern synthpop technology the only thing missing is 80’s big hair to complete the package. This song was by far the hardest to critique and equally as hard to find an indie counterpart for. It’s obvious her inspiration was popular 80’s dance pop music and she stayed in her comfort zone with the delivery.
Although the 80’s are over, there are still 80’s indie bands that have modernized the genre and are worthy to go into head-to-head combat with Push Up On Me. Such bands include Information Society, Cause and Effect and Cetu Javu.
Situations by Cetu Javu stuck out most to be an actual song that Rihanna’s producers would have sampled to compose Push Up On Me. A quick listen to Situation would reveal that all you would have to do is speed up the tempo and feature the synth instruments with a harder recourse.
When it’s all said and done Good Girl Gone Bad is an international best selling album that has already been certified double platinum in the United States. There are no lingering puzzle pieces to pull together to understand that this album was a mainstream success. However, could it have been an underground success? If Rihanna had been an indie artist herself, would she rise to fame using the same material? We’ll never know the answer to that question but it is enough for me to continue walking down narrow alleyways slipping into a tucked away, but not secret, door of indie music.
“Mainstream comes to you, but you have to go to the underground” -Frank Zappa
Contributing Writer: Dee Windt