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Intersection of Life and Faith

Rihanna's Rated R Reveals Darker, Angrier Side

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • 2010 8 Jan
Rihanna's <i>Rated R</i> Reveals Darker, Angrier Side

Artist:  Rihanna
Title:  Rated R
Label:  Def Jam

The aftermath of abuse and her failed relationship are often front and center in the lyrics ...

Considering all that 21-year-old Rihanna has been through since those ghastly photographs of her badly bruised face went public (the abuse came at the hands of then-boyfriend, fellow performer Chris Brown), it's not surprising that her latest album has taken a decidedly darker turn.

For the record, there's little resemblance to anything Rihanna has done in the past on Rated R. Not only are there far more four-letter words littering the lyrics (the f-bomb is clearly her expletive of choice), but her vocals, not to mention the accompanying soundtrack, have taken on a new personality as well.  

Not only do we hear more of the Barbados-born artist's Caribbean accent than ever before, but there's a defiant assertiveness in her delivery that's clearly meant to send a I'm-not-a-victim-anymore message to her listeners.

But as much as Rihanna seems to want to put the past behind her, it still makes its presence known in every song.  Basically, anyone hoping for a creative reprieve (perhaps even the sequel to her light-hearted, multi-format hit "Umbrella?") will definitely want to look elsewhere because there's no sunny pop craftsmanship here.

In what's probably a case of art imitating life, listeners will inevitably be exposed to the pop star's darker, angrier side, whether she's singing about how "sometimes it takes a thousand tries to win" on "Wait Your Turn" or dealing with the love/hate relationship with her ex on "Stupid in Love" where she declares "I still love you" in one line before adding "But I just can't do this/I may be dumb/But I'm not stupid."

When she's not addressing the emotionally challenging pratfalls of less-than-ideal relationships, the inspiration behind "Photograph," "The Last Song" and "Cold Case Love," she segues into full-on rebellion mode. 

If the album's imagery didn't provide enough indication of this new defiant attitude (she poses suggestively in lingerie, barbed wire and at one point, buck naked with a snarl on her face and cigarette in hand), the songs certainly fill in the proverbial blanks.  In "Fire Bomb" she addresses the lover who scorned her by singing about how she can't wait to her plow her car into his house and blow it up. Then with equally brash bravado, she cops an I-don't-care attitude in "Rockstar 101": "Rocking this club/Got my middle finger up/I don't really give a f---/I'm a rock star."

Even more disturbing is when sex and violence co-mingle, whether it's in a crude invitation for rough sex in "Rude Boy" or in "Russian Roulette" where deadly foreplay is used to impress a guy. Sexually aggressive sentiments also pepper the lyrics of "GL4", "Mad House", and "Hard" while "Te Amo" laments the end of a romantic entanglement between two women.

Given how she's wearing her shattered heart on her sleeve in every song on Rated R, one still can't help but feel sorry for Rihanna, especially when few indications of redemption are found in this mess of a situation. 

One only hopes that as she continues to heal (and hopefully, seeks some wise counsel in the process), she'll have something far more positive to share in the future. But for now, listeners be forewarned:  Rihanna's provocative Rated R lives up to its title. And unlike another story of abuse currently on the big screen in Precious, it's even less encouraging.

**This review first published on January 8, 2010.