Rihanna’s Melancholic Damage
Here is my looong, unedited, still-in-process post on Rihanna, “Look, I Overcame!” Gaga Feminism, goth damage, and multi-racial white supremacy. Unlike most people who talk about Rihanna, Breezy, feminism, & race, I will actually discuss her MUSIC–chords, compositional and performance strategies, etc. I’ll be talking about this at Wayne State and Luther College, and I look forward to everyone’s feedback on the blog.
1. L’affaire Breezy
Critics and fans filtered their responses to Rihanna’s Unapologetic through Robyn Fenty’s continued relationship with Chris Brown, who infamously assaulted her outside the 2009 Grammy Awards ceremony. For example, Spin’s Caryn Ganz treats Rihanna’s “unapologetic love of Chris Brown”[i] as central to the album’s interpretation and cultural significance, LA Times’s Randall Roberts opens his review with a discussion, not of the lead single, but of “Nobody’s Business,” her duet with Brown. Dan Martin’s NME review reads the album primarily, and almost entirely, through the lens this collaboration.[ii]To his credit, Martin avoids the egregious, paternalist concern-trolling that motivates many of his peers.[iii]The New York Times’s rock critic John Caramancia comes across particularly paternalistically, phrasing his critique of the album as a reprimand to Rihanna: “To make public art with the person who physically abused you is immature, pre-feminist, post-ethics …It doesn’t help at all that her songs with Mr. Brown — the new one, and the remix of “Birthday Cake,” from her 2011 album, “Talk That Talk” — are some of her best” (emphasis mine). MusicOMH’s Philip Matusavage takes the “saving-brown-women-from-brown-men” paternalism even farther:
“to argue that the unpleasantness at the album’s core doesn’t matter…is to enable the misogyny which fuels this record, where an overwhelmingly male group of songwriters play up Rihanna as an alluring cipher, flirting with danger while staring into the void. Whatever Rihanna’s role in this album, it’s to be hoped that she doesn’t believe most of what she’s singing here. As a record it is not only misguided, it’s dangerous. We should not shy away from that” (emphasis mine).[iv]
Both reviewers treat Rihanna as too “immature,” passive, victimized (by Brown, by her management) or uninformed (“pre-feminist”) to fully understand the implications of what she’s done on this album. Sure, she may be defiantly flipping a musical bird, as Caramancia suggests, but that’s still a very adolescent, unreflective behavior. These portraits of Rihanna-the-manhandled-victim resonate with the equally racist, misogynist coverage of Billie Holiday.
Perhaps critics like to paint Rihanna as a victim of Brown and the record industry because they can’t fathom why she would intentionally augment and invest in the damage he symbolizes. Roberts’s LA Times review is especially revelatory. The album is
…a little sickening, because for the first time since the incident, her addressing the complicated issue feels not like a defense of love but a marketing maneuver, a way of turning a negative into a positive. (emphasis mine).
She’s turning a negative (damage) into a positive (profit), but this profit does not come in the form of efficiently capitalizable human capital—it augments and amplifies (so-called) sickness, not (so-called)“health” (‘health’ here is an index of the efficient functioning of hegemonic institutions, the biopolitically healthy society…which is a racist, misogynist, ableist society. This sort of “health” is actually really pathological.) We listeners can’t effectively or efficiently turn her damage in to our own human capital (except, perhaps, by concern-trolling and treating our attempts to save this brown woman from her brown man as a badge of our own multi-racial-white-supremacist-patriarchal cred). The album is “sickening” because it is difficult to capitalize on in any but anti-social ways, in ways that amplify damage rather than amplify surplus value. The anti-sociality of this damage, its diminishment rather than its augmentation of MRWaSP, is what makes it read/feel like illness. It does not optimize the health of neoliberal, multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy; or, the opportunity cost to get it to do this is too high. Like a computational or biological virus, this damage causes its host to run sub-optimally. This capitalizing on anti-social damage is what I will later call “melancholy.”
Before I talk about Rihanna’s gothy bad-girl approach to neoliberal melancholy, I want to address the album’s actual music, and critics’ responses to it. It’s important to consider the music not just because Rihanna is, well, a musician, and we shouldn’t fall in to the bad habit of reducing women artists of color to their biographies and ignoring their work; the music speaks directly to this issue of neoliberal melancholia.
2. Not A Banger
Many critics interpret the music as melancholic—that is, as failing to “overcome” and capitalize on damage. For example, Caramancia describes the album as “bored,” “dull,” and “bland.” The song “’Lost in Paradise’…buzzes and hums but does not take flight” (Caramancia; emphasis mine), as though it does not generate enough lift to rise above the album’s affective doldrums, “sinking” instead, as Alex Macpherson writes, “into directionless drift.”[v] The album’s lead single, Diamonds, both musically and visually evokes directionless drift, a Bermuda triangle of melancholic “meh”.
Musically, the song invokes both tonal and EDM-style compositional devices, but uses them in stunted, under-realized ways.[vi]The song uses some of the language and conventions of tonal harmony without itself being a “tonal” piece. There are no cadences, no resolution, no key changes, etc., so it’s not really tonal. However, it does have a harmonic structure which is rooted in the semiotics of functional tonality. The song is basically a loop of G Bb A (Bb) chords. It plays around with the minor-third relationship between G and Bb, and evokes D as an absent, spectral/hauntological dominant/major fifth (A is the dominant of D, which is the dominant of G).[vii]The song continually circles around the minor third and the absent/hauntological major fifth—the two main functional relationships in tonal chord structure. This looping can be heard as melancholic in two ways: first, as a melancholic failure to get over the lost/lacking D/fifth/dominant; second, the circling around the minor third creates the effect of a harmonic Bermuda triangle. The minor third is strongly associated with sad, depressed, melancholic affect—it’s sad, whereas the leading-tone interval (i.e., the theme from Jaws) is more scary. Constantly circulating around and returning to this minor third, the song generates melancholic affects. “Diamonds” uses the language and semiotics of tonality to produce harmonic melancholy.[viii]
But the song isn’t really tonal in its background or underlying structure; the chord changes are more middle-ground effects than fundamental structures. The underlying foundation has more in common with extra-tonal EDM-pop than with tonal pop. It’s a modular song, composed of 16-bar phrases arranged into verses and choruses, with a failed or mis-fired dubstep-y “drop” as its not-climax. Here’s the structure:
Intro (4 bars)
A (4×4, or 16-bar verse)
B (4×4 or 16-bar chorus)
A1 (4×3, or 12-bar verse)
B – regular chorus
1 4-bar phrase (that leftover phrase from A1)
Many dubstep and EDM-pop songs use a combination of a soar and a pause-drop to create a musical climax. Psy’s infamous “Gangnam Style” and Baauer’s even more infamous “Harlem Shake” both do this: they “soar” up to a peak of rhythmic intensity by increasing the rate at which a percussion and/or vocal pattern is repeated; they then “pause” by dropping out (most of) the instrumentals for 1 bar before landing hard on the downbeat of the following measure. The pause delays “resolution” on that downbeat, thus exacerbating tension and augmenting the intensity of the “hit” by creating a “harder they come, the harder they fall” effect. In “Diamonds,” the extra 4-bar phrase between the last two choruses functions like a pause; all but the barest accompaniment drops out for four bars, after which it “drops” on the downbeat of the final chorus. However, there’s no soar up to this pause-drop. In the same way that the tonal dominant/fifth (the D chord) is invoked as an absence, the song is haunted by an absent soar. The song feels directionless because it leaves the out the climaxes (the soars, the functional harmonic relationship between dominant and tonic) that we expect to find in the musical/compositional techniques it uses. “Diamonds” is a conquest narrative that doesn’t conquer (no tonal development and resolution), and an intensification trajectory that never intensifies (a pause-drop without a soar).
“Diamonds” fails to fully exploit and optimize the compositional techniques it adopts. In this way, it is a failed musical investment. In a context where success, optimization, investment, and capitalization are ethical and aesthetic ideals, melancholy consists in failure, sub-peak performance, divestment, and not profiting. Unlike Ulysses, who conquers the damage wrought by the Sirens, and (as I will explain briefly just below) unlike Ludacris, who, in his “Rest of My Life” video, capitalizes on this damage, Rihanna fails to overcome and profit from her own damage qua “Siren.” The video ends with Rihanna floating—not even swimming or treading water, just floating face-up—in the water.[ix]She is unlike Ulysses because never makes it out of that Bermuda triangle of melancholy, never returns to solid Caribbean and/or North American ground. She is unlike Ludacris because she does not build up to a crest (i.e., a musical soar), as Luda’s video does; instead, she just floats along with the undulating waves. She’s not living life on the edge; she’s just along for the ride.
Top photo from Rihanna’s “Diamonds” video; bottom photo from Ludacris’s “Rest of My Life” video.
This intentional failure reflected in her vocal performance. For example, Macpherson accuses Rihanna of failing to sufficiently invest in her emotional pain and trauma: “frequently, Rihanna seems as if she can barely be arsed to connect to the songs emotionally, opting instead to blare out ragged, aimless vocal performances. (“Just going through the motions / I can’t even get the emotions to come out,” she intones on ‘What Now’: too bloody right).” According to these critics, Rihanna fails to sufficiently invest in the emotional/affective intensity of her record. In a musical economy that values the “work hard/play hard” ethos (both Ne-Yo and Wiz Kalifah have songs based on this premise), Rihanna does neither. Her musical performance is just “meh.”
The musical performance—both Rihanna’s vocal delivery, and the songwriting—doesn’t overcome damage in a way that amplifies listeners’ affective experience of privilege. She doesn’t broadcast the overcoming or the “winning” that we then receive and rehearse as our own. As Jessia Hopper puts it in her Pitchfork review:
On one hand, it’s tempting to give Rihanna props for broadcasting her all-too-real shortcomings. She’s quite a distance from the tidy narrative we’d like, the one where she’s learned from her pain and is back to doing diva triumph club stomp in the shadow of Beyoncé. Unapologeticrubs our faces in the inconvenient, messy truth of Rihanna’s life which, even if it were done well, would be hard to celebrate as a success. But the measurable failure is the album’s music. On a track-by-track basis, the songs make for dull labor, not worth our time and not befitting Rihanna’s talent.
Rihanna does not turn her damage into the best of all possible success stories (she does capitalize on it, as I will argue later, just not in the ‘right’ way, i.e., in a way that amplifies listeners’ experience of privilege)—that’s the “tidy narrative we’d like.” Crucially, Hopper connects Rihanna’s failure to capitalize on her damage to the music’s failure to take flight into a triumphant “club stomp.” Basically, Hopper wishes Rihanna had made another club banger like her Calvin Harris collaboration “We Found Love.” This track is built around two utterly massive soars, and the lyrics and video are about a “hopeless place”—e.g., abject and disgusting council flats, an abusive relationship—becomes a place where “we found love.” “We Found Love” starts in the same “hopeless place” that the lead single from Unapologetic: the opening line to “We Found” is “Yellow diamonds in the sky…,” while “Diamonds”’s lyrics urge us to “shine bright…like diamonds in the sky.” The difference between the two tracks is musical: the former is a veritable club banger with a proper Calvin-Harris-produced soar, the latter is, well, pretty flat and boring. The music in “We Found” performs the musical overcomingthat is absent in “Diamonds.”
This Pitchfork review suggests that we could forget her politics if only she made a banger. She could evoke all sorts of awful damage—her relationship with Brown, domestic abuse, poverty, racism, etc.—as long as she capitalizes on it in the right way—i.e., as long as she overcomes it. This resilience would put her damage in service of MRWaSP. Rihanna’s performance on Unapologeticis read as melancholic and insufficiently resilient because the investments she does make are not profitable enough, not profitable in the right ways. Rihanna does not evoke or perform her damage—her attachment to blackness and black masculinity, for example—in a way that supports MRWaSP. The album is read as an investment in Chris Brown, i.e., in stereotypical thug-like black masculinities, masculinities that cannot be leveraged by MRWaSP.
c. Anti-Social Damage
In MRWaSP, blackness is not so much an “otherness machine” (as Appiah puts it), as an affective amplifier. Some styles of blackness are included within white supremacy’s privileged mainstream, so they don’t generate “otherness” as efficiently as new signifiers of queerly racialized “terrorist” identities do. So blackness—middle-class, homonational—is still instrumental, but it’s a different type of instrument. It “works hard/plays hard”, amplifying the intensity of whites’ affective comportments; black culture workers are like sous chefs, making white affective economies work more efficiently for whites/white supremacy. With their “work hard/play hard” and “living life on the edge” tropes, black artists like Ludacris on “Rest of My Life” amplify whites’ affective experience of “winning”—i.e., of privilege.
Unapologetic amplifies the “wrong” affects: not winning and resilience, but melancholy. Like resilience discourse, melancholy intensifies damage as a site of pleasure and identity-construction, but amplifies this damage-capital beyond an efficient, acceptable opportunity cost. If MRWaSP tried to recycle this noise into signal, it wouldn’t return a high enough profit margin. This sub-optimal profitability is what makes Unapologetic’s pleasures and identities anti-social. Rihanna’s Unapologetic might generate surplus value, but it is never the “right” kind; her social/soft capital does not optimize neoliberal hegemony (rather, it under- or over-drives it). When hegemonic sociality is predicated on damage, Rihanna makes anti-social damage. Anti-social pleasures and identities do not contribute to the optimization of “society,” i.e., MRWaSP. They are damaged in old-school goth ways, in ways that induce loss of fidelity, inefficiency, and waste. “Melancholy,” then, is my term for anti-social damage, damage that is not (sufficiently) capitalizable, or not capitalizable in the right ways/to the right ends.
Reviewers criticize Rihanna’s continued attachments to what she ought to overcome—non-bourgeoise black masculinities. Critics locate this attachment in the album’s implicit and explicit evocations of Chris Brown, who, as I discussed earlier, is read as a symbol of violent, misogynist, “unreconstructed” and “primitive” unruliness. They also, and perhaps more interestingly, locate this attachment in Rihanna’s own performance of black masculinity. They attribute Breezy-style (i.e., unprofitable) black masculine unruliness to Rihanna herself. For example, Caramancia opens his review with the observation that:
The 13th word of the first verse of the first song on “Unapologetic,” the seventh album by Rihanna, is a curse, and she relishes it, hitting the syllables hard, spitting them out sharply as if she hoped they might wound someone. The song, “Phresh Out the Runway,” is a chaotically dense spray of boasts over a muscular, scraping beat. Rihanna sounds indignant and impressed with herself, proclaiming, “Walk up in this bitch like I own the ho”[x](emphasis mine).
Leading off with the hard macho brutality of her vocal performance, and the “brutish and bruised” character of the “music,” Caramancia’s review highlights Rihanna’s kinging on thug/non-bourgeois black masculinity. She intensifies her attachment to unprofitably unruly black masculinity by adopting, embodying, and performing it herself.
Rihanna’s kinging is most evident in “Pour It Up,” a gothy trap-y song[xi]in which she adopts a really macho persona (this could easily be a Drake or Kendrick Lamar track); unlike Minaj’s Zolanski, this macho alter-ego isn’t played for laughs. In her kinging, Rihanna performs entrepreneurialunruliness: she’s not talking about gang warfare, getting shot 9 times, etc., but about profligate spending and investing in her image as a someone who spends a lot of money on strippers and partying. The identity she crafts in this video is not that different than the one Luda performs in ROML—her strippers and booze is not that different than his “women, weed, and alcohol.” However, something causes her performance to be read as un-resilient and noisy, and his as resilient and profitable.
I think the different interpretations of Rihanna’s and Luda’s performance of black masculinity lie in the perceived profitability of their respective investment strategies. In “Pour It Up,” money is everywhere (“all I see is signs/all I see is dolla signs”), but it is for spending, not investing. Like every good neoliberal, she sees everything in terms of an economic rationality—the fungiblity of signs. And, like any good neoliberal, she uses M-M intensification (as opposed to M-C-M commodification) to amplify the value of these signs. She uses “dolla signs” to invest in her human capital/soft capital as a performer: she makes it rain in a strip club—that is, she throws a wad of cash into the air so it flutters down to the floor like precipitation. This is a performance of a specific type of non-bourgeois black masculinity—one that is supposedly ignorant in his regressive misogyny. This explicit traffic in women (strippers) doesn’t square with bourgeois imperatives to “respect” women, to desire accomplished, “respectable” women who are “ladies in the street but freaks in the bed”, as Luda has said. Roberts LA Times review directly addresses this image: “The opening line — “Throw it up, watch it all fall out” — seems like an ode to getting sick, in fact, until it becomes clear that Rihanna is singing about money, strip clubs, doing shots of tequila and “making it rain” with bills.” Roberts perceives this gesture as a waste of capital, and not as an investment in RiRi’s own human capital…she’s investing in the “wrong” human capital. The performance of “making it rain” is an investment in a black masculine hip-hop identity…this is just not the human capital “good white liberals” want to see Rihanna invest in, because it’s not what they want to invest in. They don’t want misogynist rappers who ogle female strippers, they want Frank Ocean—their liking of him boosts their homonational cred—or Drake—they can directly identify with his middle-class anxiety and sometimes not-so-misogynist lyrics. RiRi’s performance of black masculinity does generate social capital, just not the kind that integrates seamlessly into the MRWaSP supply chain. Thug black masculinity is unruly/noisy, and this unruliness/noisiness is recyclable into signal, but at too high an opportunity cost. RIhanna’s narrator in “Pour It Up” performs a too-noisy, too-unruly, perhaps even queerly entrepreneurial subject, one who invests in the wrong human capital. That’swhat’s sickening….her performance renders the MRWaSP entrepreneurial/resilient subject nauseous (in the Sartrean sense)—not b/c of lack of foundation, as in existentialism, but b/c of lack of (sufficient) return on investment…which is the neoliberal equivalent to lack of foundation.
Unapologetic Rihanna is anti-social because she refuses to cut the “color line” in MRWaSP terms. She does not abandon “thug” black masculinity, and she does not capitalize on her overcoming of her attachments to specific constructs of black masculinity. Her overcoming of once-romanticized, now passé “thug life” stereotypes (i.e., violent, misogynist, working-class masculinities as embodied by the ‘angry’ and ‘unruly’ Chris Brown) would, normally, be an amplifier for mainstream society’s “overcoming” of classic white supremacy by/into “post-racial” MRWaSP. If anything, she attempts to capitalize on her continued attachment to what we otherwise demand she overcome. This capitalizing generates a whole hell of a lot of noise, and is thus not the most efficient way to extract value from this experience/affective orientation. (It certainly does generate value—think of all the back-and-forth on social media: somebody profits from that—it’s just not the most efficient way to go about this value-production.)
Rihanna’s investment strategy is anti-social—she does not invest in blackness in ways that optimize MRWaSP—so her performance of black masculinity gets read in terms of a particularly unruly, anti-social stereotype. The “thug” is unruly in MRWaSP because his socioeconomic class (so, both his finances and his habits/attitudes/values—his “culture” in the sense of “cultural racism”) prevents him from achieving the highest levels of “success”—i.e., ascension to the peak of privilege in MRWaSP. His damage is not fully recuperable; he’s still too noisy, and thus she’s too noisy. Because she doesn’t broadcast her overcoming/resilience, Rihanna is a “bad girl.”
d. Bad-Girl Melancholy
It’s difficult to understand why Rihanna expects her fans to hang in this dark space with her (and Chris Brown). The album is unapologetic but it’s also airless, nearly hookless, and exudes a deep melancholy. Given these qualities, it’s hard not to wonder where else the album might have gone. Would it fare better if the topics were the same, but set to songs as combustible as “Don’t Stop the Music”? If her pain and shame and can’t-quit-you-babe motif was delivered with some humor? If she kept her personal drama to herself and sang about rolling fat joints on her bodyguard’s head and did more duetting with the dude from Coldplay?[xii]
Resilience is an index of one’s moral personhood: “good” girls overcome, and “bad” girls give in, like they always do (e.g., to temptation). As Neocleous argues, “good subjects will ‘survive and thrive in any situation’, they will…‘overcome life’s hurdles’…and just ‘bounce back’ from whatever life throws.” Racialized good/bad girl dichotomies are cut on a resilience/overcoming-vs-melancholy axis. Thus, in MRWaSP, resilience distributes racial privilege: black women who “overcome” are granted some of the privileges of whiteness, while women who fail to overcome are racially darkened…this racial de- or non-whitening is the direct consequence of sub-optimal human capitalization. In order to maintain white privilege, you have to keep optimizing your human capital. If you can’t keep up, you’ll fall behind, ever closer to precarity, which is racially non-white. Good girls are resilient overcomers, and bad girls are melancholics.
Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift have their own brands of good-girl resilience: Clarkson comes off as a bit more bruised and experienced, probably because she is older and more seasoned (and, notably, reads somewhat less bourgeois than Swift). Her catalog is filled with resilience narratives: “Stronger” quotes that infamous Nietzsche line “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and her biggest recent hit, “Since U Been Gone,” is all about her post-breakup resilience. Swift also trades in post-breakup resilience. Her 2012 hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is a sarcastic middle-finger to an ex-lover. “I Knew You Were Trouble” details the narrator’s process of rationalizing and working through her breakup pain. Its video closes with the line “I don’t know if you know who you are till you loose who you are.” In order to be a neoliberal good girl, you have to bounce back from loss. Failing to bounce back is a failure in subject-formation. Non- or failed resilience is pathological, and thus, melancholic.
Classical melancholia’s pathology is indexed to classically liberal models of subjectivity: the melancholic is one who can’t resolve or get over a loss. Melancholia is a failure to progress toward and attain a goal, such as wholeness, completeness, self-sufficiency. Neoliberalism normalizes ateleological open-endedness. In a context where “normal” subjects are flexible (open-ended) and YOLO-oriented, melancholia manifests as a failure of resilience. There is still a loss involved, but here loss is figured as diminished capacity (i.e., inefficiency & incomplete optimization) rather than as lack or absence. So, melancholia is like a loss in fidelity, a too-noisy signal. It is a failure in resilience because some noise goes unrecouped and unrecycled into signal; it’s inefficient. Rihanna is perceived as a bad girl because her feedback is too noisy and inefficient. Whatever work or capitalization she might be doing, it isn’t legible as resilience: she “bounces back,” but in a skewed, misdirected way with a signal that isn’t properly tuned. You can try to capitalize on this goth damage, but doing so may not return a profit that hegemony recognizes as such. It may just produce sub-par if not diminishing returns. This non-resilient practice of damage is a failure to recoup loss, and, in a way, a generator of diminished signal. The damage here is not noise, per se, but insufficient/sub-optimal amplification. It is, in this way, a neoliberal version of melancholia.
I would argue that feminists should perhaps be a little melancholic. If our personal resilience is ultimately about MRWaSP’s resilience, then perhaps it’s in our own best interests to kill some of that joy, as Sara Ahmed would say? Maybe we shouldn’t act like we’ve recouped the noise that MRWaSP introduces into our life until, you know, we’ve actually overcome multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy? In that way, melancholia would be a counterposition to post-racial, post-feminist discourse. When resilience means performing culturally racist feminisms (this is Alia Al-Saji’s term), we should reject its imperative to overcome. We should actually amplify our noisy complicities with MRWaSP, and not pretend that we’ve overcome racism & sexism. Repudiating certain types of men of color as irreparably misogynist—one might say, riffing on Spivak, saving-brown-women-from-Chris-Brown—is a racist scapegoating of our own continued complicity in MRWaSP. The self-deception here is that we think we’ve overcome when Breezy hasn’t. Let’s not act like we’ve overcome our damage until we’ve actually done so.
This melancholic approach to damage likely comes from a place of conditional privilege—this is about under-shooting the peak, not sinking below the valley’s lowest threshold. For the precariat, resilience is more like endurance, staying one step ahead of the next disaster; for privileged subjects, resilience is about stockpiling human capital. The precariat is already equalizing a shitload of noise. Privileged subjects are finely tuning an already mostly noiseless signal.
So, just to clarify: I am neither qualified to nor interested in judging Robyn Fenty’s personal life. On that score, I’ve got my own damage to keep me busy. I’m not arguing that we should see Rihanna as a noble victim/savage. I’m not trying to argue that she ought to stay pathological so that we white people can appropriate her pain. I’m not romanticizing her suffering. I am trying to develop an account of why critics pathologize her performance, why it gets read as “sickening.” I am trying to question the presumption that Rihanna, at least the Rihanna performed on the most melancholic tracks on Unapologetic,is any more pathological and fucked up than any of the rest of us white music critics and feminists. The demand that she perform overcoming/resilience (as a structure of subjectivity specific to neoliberal femininity) is actually an attempt to obscure MRWaSP’s own damage/pathologies.And I’m not arguing that Rihanna/Robyn Fenty stay pathological, that she not work through her damage…it’s just that “resilience” and “overcoming” are culturally-specific models of healthy subjectivity, and it is entirely possible to be mentally and socially functional but yet deviate from these models of “health.”
[ii] “…her reunion with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown trumps that. ‘Unapologetic’ not only confirms that the rumours are true, but is a ‘fuck you’ to anyone who dares warn her off the 23-year-old after he beat her up in 2009.” http://www.nme.com/reviews/rihanna/13899#GW7uXBBaq4TqeeVv.99
[iii] “Say what you like about her judgment, but just as Rihanna never asked to be assaulted by Chris Brown, she also never asked for millions of Twitter followers determined to opine about her every decision. ‘Unapologetic’ makes a compelling case for Rihanna knowing what she’s doing.”
[v]Alex Macpherson in Fact: http://www.factmag.com/2012/11/23/rihanna-unapologetic/
[vi] It’s not minimalism, because this implies an intense focus on a very small sample (e.g., one pitch, as in Riley’s “In C”); these devices suggest avenues for development and intensification, but then fail to follow through with them.
[vii] For a clear account of all the song’s chords and its melody, see: http://www.onlinepianist.com/songs/piano_tutorials/1720/Diamonds-Rihanna.php
[viii]In a way this song is structured like Ravel’s Bolero: it’s one long crescendo over a rhythmic ostinato. But if this were just about building up tension and releasing it, why doesn’t it end where the vocals climax, on the “woah-oh-oah-yeah” at 4:06-:08? The denouement or coda of another bar of “shine bright like a diamond” diminishes the impact of that climax: we don’t rise to a peak and stay there, but start heading back down. The song leaves us on a downward trajectory, not a plateau or a peak.
[ix] The pan-out is preceded by a close-up of Rihanna opening her eyes, which implies that she’s both conscious and alive, and gazing at the camera. This also gives a sort of intentionality, if not “authorship” (note scare quotes), to her lack fo resilience: she’s not drifting because she’s dead or unconscious, but because she’s decided not to struggle, not to swim to shore or shout for help. She’s not maximizing the opportunities this crisis lends her.
[xi] According to Caramancia, “Pour It Up” sounds like a track the ambient-goth outfit Salem might make for a strip club.”
Caramanica, not Caramancia
Also, “yellow diamonds in the light,” not “sky”
Great to see this discussion being held on a musical level!!!