A comeback... or no?
The world has been waiting for Rihanna. Since her 2012 Grammy-award winning, urban-contemporary Unapologetic soared the charts – her debut #1 album on Billboard – #RihannaNavy fans and music critics alike praised her dynamic performance, from her upfront, raunchy vocals (“Pour It Up”), to heart-wrenching ballads (“Stay”), and to trap-infused, romantic R&B songs (“Looooooove Song”). In that year, she self-promoted herself as an exemplary performer who refused to be stiffly labeled into one generic box.
She had a lot on her shoulders, and for the next four years, Rihanna fanatics everywhere were anxiously anticipating for the next big thing. She then planted her new invention, Anti, which seems as if it was a deliberate attempt to reinvent herself and place an indefinite, timeless mark into the pop industry. Unfortunately, Rihanna fell short of this feat.
So... what is Anti?
In its themes, Anti is no different than her past works, focusing on love/relationships, including its intricacies, triumphs, and troughs. Anti, however, takes a more stylistic (and minimalist) approach, which although its intention perhaps was to embody a new, creative sound, it instead comes off as directionless and not well thought out. Her songs are seemingly shorter this time around, and for many of them, there is a looming feeling as if it is not justifiably so. The darker nature of this album attempts to bring a nostalgic journey back to Rated R, but unlike that 2009 gem, Anti lacks the hardcore fervor and personality to attach to it.
Anti puts you in a whirlwind – you are not sure where you are supposed to go. In “Never Ending,” “Closer,” and “Higher,” Rihanna puts in the effort to be as deep as possible by not saying very much; yet, in “Consideration” and “Desperado,” she uses more lyrics without much thoughtfulness and significance. “Love on the Brain” sounds like a more soulful reprise of “Stay,” breaking away from the eerie consonance of Anti, and feels as though it cannot find a place to situate itself in the album. Moreover, while Rihanna utilizes this song to show off her vocal chops, it feels as if she refuses to test the boundaries of her range.
“Same Ol’ Mistakes” takes the concept of a cover quite too literally, where not only the sound production mimics the original “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” by Tame Impala, but the vocals are mixed and synthesized to almost completely match the original singer. Given the opportunity to add her own originality and “RiRi” flavor to spice up the album, Rihanna turns that down – thus adding another lost song to the sour pot that is Anti; she fails to identify her own artistry and to know exactly what direction she wants to take.
Arguably, the only song in which Rihanna tries to redeem herself is “Woo,” the stand-out, halfway point of the album. She desperately asks her lover, “Send for me,” as she refuses to admit her love, while also pointing out how she desperately needs it. The ins and outs of the vocals and grungy-soul rhythm of the song reflect the ups and downs of her seemingly-failed relationship; the whole song itself is undeniably enchanting, as if she puts her audience under a spell as she nearly finishes with her screaming, “I don’t even really care about you no more!”
Anti truly had the potential for greatness, but sometimes when artists look for reinvention and new artistic approaches, their products may come out rather ill-organized, placeless, and confusing. In Rihanna’s case, she was victim to this.