Look Out, Katy Perry! “Light” Rihanna Is Back, and She’s Headed Your Way (the Top 10) Again!
Since Rihanna released her first single, “Pon de Replay,” in 2005, I can’t remember a moment when she wasn’t invading the charts with yet another one. Including her collaborations with other artists, in the last five years she’s had 15 Top 10 hits, seven of which went to No. 1. That’s a tally many major superstars spend twice as long — if not an entire career — accumulating.
She still has two singles from her last album, “Rated R,” in circulation, and already she’s back with yet another one, “Only Girl (In the World),” the first release from her upcoming fifth album, “Loud.” It’s overkill for sure, and if I weren’t a recent convert to Rihanna’s church, I’d probably be rolling my eyes. Although I found some of her earlier hits, like “Pon de Replay” and “Umbrella,” infinitely entertaining, for the most part, old Rihanna was too lightweight for me. “Don’t Stop the Music,” her biggest Argentine hit, could still pack a dance floor in Buenos Aries, but for me, it was all beat, no real heat and certainly no substance.
Then, following her violent run-in with her ex, Chris Brown, something happened to Rihanna: She became interesting. She seemed to pour all her pain and anger into her music, and the result, “Rated R,” all hand-grenade pop and girl-power boasting, blew me away with stand-out tracks like “Fire Bomb” and “Cold Case Love.” It was the first Rihanna album that I truly loved. For the first time, I understood the fuss over her and joined the chorus.
“I’m so hard,” she bragged on the fantastic second single, “Hard,” which became an improbable Top 10 hit, and I bought it. But some of her old fans weren’t. “Dark” Rihanna was just too much. Although the album received better reviews than its three predecessors, spawned a major No. 1 hit in “Rude Boy,” and has sold nearly 1 million copies in the U.S., it was considered something of a commercial disappointment compared to her previous album, “Good Girl Gone Bad.”
I’m going out on a very short limb and predicting that “Loud” will restore any lost commercial luster to Rihanna’s solo career, and “Only Girl (In the World)” will easily become her eighth No. 1. The song is everything the album title indicates it should be. It’s four minutes of disco nirvana intended to overheat as many dance floors as “Don’t Stop the Music,” which, like “Only Girl,” was produced by the Norwegian duo Stargate. But this party starter is edgier, and it sounds more like a thumping dance remix than an original pop take. Still, it’s easily the most commercial thing she’s done since “Disturbia.” “Want you to make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world,” she sings on the chorus. Clearly, this is not “Russian Roulette,” the suicide-themed first single from “Rated R.” (That the uncommercial track wasn’t career suicide is a testament to the durability of Rihanna’s mass appeal.) Even in the last album’s most commercial single, the aforementioned “Rude Boy,” she was daring her lover to make her scream — in the Biblical sense, of course — not begging him, too. Now, she just wants to be loved. Pretty please, with sugar on top?
Musically, “Only Girl” is far from groundbreaking, but it’s as good as anything you’re likely to hear under the strobe lights next weekend and should swiftly join “I Love the Way You Lie,” her current No. 1 duet with Eminem, in the Top 10. That song’s producer, Alex Da Kidd, recently told Billboard.com that “Loud” is “like a mixture of her two sides” — light early Rihanna and dark “Rated R” Rihanna — but in a September 7 interview on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show, the singer hinted that “Rated R” Rihanna is gone for good.
I’m gonna miss the ‘Rated R’ era too, but NOTHING compares to the album I just made. I wanted the next step in the evolution of Rihanna, and it’s perfect for us.
Sounds intriguing, but I’m hoping she still has a few more red-hot musical fire bombs ready to toss our way.
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