Rihanna has released seven albums in the past eight years. Since graduating to the rarified class of bankable pop stars in today’s fractured Internet-era music industry, she has played the system remarkably well, becoming the most (legally) downloaded artist of the digital age. However, her rapid ascent is inevitably caught up in her highly-publicized abusive relationship with Chris Brown. Throughout the period of her greatest success, Rihanna has often been perceived as a victim of domestic abuse. Chris Brown’s continued success as a pop-star, and he and Rihanna’s continued highly profitable collaborations, have introduced a moralism generally excluded from the post-modern, post-rock pop landscape.
The decision to include “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” a duet with Brown, on her new album Unapologetic is certainly a statement regarding the moralizing that Rihanna has been subjected to throughout the blogosphere and the mainstream media. Rihanna has reached a rarified level of fame at which the music she releases has become less interesting than the insights into tabloid drama that it provides. The lack of involvement in the music is all too clear in the lead single “Diamonds,” which suggests a general musical attitude of apathy. The trite, De Beers jingle aping central metaphor and the languid speed make one dream of the mass cultural fun of “Umbrella,” or the darker but equally catchy “Love The Way You Lie.” Unapologetic flirts with controversy as it foregrounds the Brown-Rihanna relationship. If only the music itself ever tried anything remotely controversial. Apathy, despite its pervasiveness in the album, is not a very interesting emotion.