Growing Up with Rihanna

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February 4, 2016 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas


As we get older, I can’t help but suspect that we start to look back on the past in disbelief; disbelief that things in our past, things that seemed so recent, are actually buried further in the past.  We start to look back on memories that are years older than they seem to be, and we start to look back at things more fondly than they initially were.  It could just be because we want to remember the good over the bad, or because we romanticize the past.

For whatever reason, I tend to get very nostalgic; I just can’t help it.  I can’t believe that high school was seven years ago, and that it’s been almost four years since I graduated college.  It just doesn’t make any sense that all these memories I have of those stages of my life could be that old.  Obvious answer aside, it’s like, well, how did those memories get so old?  How could so much time have elapsed between writing this article now and a drunken college night with my friends back in January of 2011?

Songs in particular always always trigger my memory; certain songs remind me of specific people, events, occasions, etc.  When I look back on my high school and college years in particular, no other artist has more songs that jog my memory than Rihanna.  It’s almost like she singlehandedly wrote the soundtrack to my entire adolescent and early adult experience.  Beginning with her first #1 single in 2006, “SOS”, all the way through to her most recent #1 single in 2012, “Diamonds”, pretty much every major social event in my life during those six years has been colored by Rihanna.  And it goes a little something like this:



2006 was a huge year in music.  Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all released albums that year.  Also this year, Rihanna scored her first chart topping single in the U.S.  That summer after my freshmen year of high school all the girls were singing “SOS” and “Sexyback”, and even though I haven’t heard “SOS” since 2006, it’s forever engrained in my mind.  Those summer days of band camp will forever be marked by “SOS” and those random trips to the K-Mart that was right across the street from the high school.  Not that I was by any means, but around the ages of 15 and 16, I started to feel like I was growing up; right around the time that Rihanna was starting to take off.



If “Umbrella” came out in 2016, it would have broken the internet, while its accompanying music video would have held the YouTube record for most views.  Maybe because back in 2007 social media wasn’t the monstrous hydra that it is today, but it’s easy to forget just how huge this song was.  The music video was one of the last few to actually matter and the song was the hit song of the summer, much the same way that “Sexyback” was for the summer before.  Even though “Umbrella” topped the charts during the summer, it’ll always remind me of a school trip to Greece I took during spring break of 2007.  We left for Greece two days after the single was released, and it always reminds me of all the girls I spent that trip and the ensuing summer pining over despite the fact that I had absolutely no chance with any one of them.


Shut Up and Drive

Released while “Umbrella” was sitting comfortably at the top spot of the charts, “Shut Up and Drive” wasn’t the hit that its sister track was, but it still reminds me of that same summer of 2007.  Here I was, 16 and not one of the popular kids who could spend their weekends going to parties, getting drunk, and hooking up with classmates whom they’d pretend not to know come Monday.  But that’s what I wanted to do though.  I wanted to do the stereotypical 16-year-old things, but I was much too timid to try.  I was all revved up with no place to go, like a race car stuck at a red light.  In high school I was a talker and a joker, but during that summer I just wanted to shut up and drive.



Just like “Umbrella” changed the game, so too did “Disturbia”, released one year later in 2008.  The frenetic gothic pop masterpiece marked Rihanna’s foray towards a darker, more aggressive sound.  “Disturbia” represented a more mature direction for Rihanna, one that mirrored my own during the first half of my senior year in high school.  I specifically remember my sister’s Sweet 16 and how when the DJ “Disturbia” everyone under the age of 30 got on the dance floor and turned a birthday party into a rave.  I was 17 and torn between two girls who were both at the party with the looming presence of college hanging over my head.  By the beginning of my senior year of high school I was starting to go to parties and socializing with a larger group of people, people that I had never spoken to before.  By senior year of high school, the party had started and however mild it actually was at the time, it felt like my mind was in disturbia.  Oddly enough, this song was stayed played regularly at college parties some three years later.  A classic never dies.


Rude Boy

“Rude Boy” is secretly one of my favorite Rihanna songs of all time…you know, male ego and all.  For some reason this song and Diana Vickers “My Wicked Heart” were the two most played songs on my laptop of my freshmen year of college.  In all honesty “Rude Boy” reminds me of every night that I went out during my freshmen year.  Maybe it’s because it came out during my freshmen year, or because, sad as it may sound, the spring of 2010 was the first time in my life where I felt that I was actually attractive to girls.  I became comfortable in my own skin.  As much as I wanted to, I had never really gone to parties, gotten drunk or hooked up with girls all that much in high school, and so college became this new adventure where there was a party every weekend, drunken adventures waiting to be had, and a dance floor rife with singles looking for temporary romance.  I wanted to do all those things, and the build up, the sheer anticipation of venturing out into the exciting unknown, was somehow captured by Rihanna’s sixth #1 hit single.


Rockstar 101

By the end of freshmen year of college, I stopped hanging out with the people I first met and somehow forged my own cadre of castaways.  We were our own core four and leaving college after that first year, I knew that sophomore year would be even better.  That second year of college I felt like we were rock stars…you know, male ego and all.  Every weekend there were at least two parties, parties that kept us out well past 2:00 AM.  We’d pregame with either eight beers each, or two Four Lokos (before they had to change the formula because of all the heart attacks it was inducing) and then come back after the party, keep drinking, order chicken wings, and watch Batman Forever.  We were young; we were stupid; we thought we were rock stars even though that’s exactly how every else around us felt about themselves.


Only Girl in the World

Hookup culture is a phenomena unique to my generation.  While people have always had lust filled liaisons, it’s never become more acceptable and more visible than it is now.  Often times it seems like we just hookup with randos just out of convenience or the lazy thought of “well, they’re there”.  It doesn’t even seem like most of these hookups are driven by lust anymore, just apathetic willingness and desperation.  But in the heat of it, when you see someone at a party or on the dance floor and you know you just have to be with them for however short a time, and they look at you that same way, nothing else and no one else matters.  Dancing with that person and caressing this stranger as if they were a long lost love betrays that sense of monopolized importance they have in your life at that moment.  For all those nights where such a girl was to be found, she was the only girl in the world that mattered to me.


What’s My Name

This is my favorite Rihanna song, and thankfully I got to hear this at almost every party during the second semester of my sophomore year and the first semester of my junior year.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my favorite Rihanna song draws memories of my heaviest partying days, but those were good times with a great theme song for those times.  It’s about the excitement and the mystery of meeting someone and during my entire sophomore year in particular, it seemed like there was always someone interesting to meet at every party.  Regardless of hooking up or not, even just a great half hour long conversation with a total stranger, getting to know them in intimate ways was excitement alone.  Along with the excitement is the added sense of sadness because of the fleeting nature of drunk conversations and encounters.  You knew though that you’d probably never see this person again and if you did you probably wouldn’t say anything to them as you passed them on campus.  All you could do is hope that they at least remembered what your name is.


All of the Lights

Introduced to me by one of my friends in our cadre, “All of the Lights” became his hype song.  That spring semester of my sophomore year we played “All of the Lights” during every pregame, not only because it’s a killer song, but because it reminded us of where we were going.  With its manic sound and blitzing maximalist production, “All of the Lights” surmised exactly what we wanted of the night.  We wanted to be swarmed by a huge, maximalist party.  I guess in a way, the kinda represented everything we hoped to find on a Friday or Saturday night.  Whether it was strobe lights, black lights, or the street lights, we wanted to be always looking to partake in the typical college experience.  The beats say party, but the lyrics denote stress and apprehension, the perfect dichotomy of our lives at that point.  We were living for the excitement of a new weekend as an escape from the stress and grind of the week.  After being stuck under the oppressive lights of a claustrophobic classroom, we craved the lights of a good time.



Once Rihanna came out with “S&M” I started to think that maybe she was going a little over the top with that one.  It wasn’t because I thought a song about sadomasochism was deplorable, but because I thought she tried way to hard to sell that image.  You don’t have to convince us that you’re a latex wearing, fuck in a harness, dominatrix for us to like you Ri Ri, we already do.  “S&M” is the sound of going over the top.  In some instances, that second semester of my sophomore year, myself and my cadre all became caricatures of ourselves.  By the end of the year though, we had all had enough of each other and were itching to get away from everyone else.  We became so wrapped up in hanging out and forming our gang of misfits that we turned into stereotypes and alternate versions of ourselves.  Even in the name of fun, we sometimes went over the top.


We Found Love

Somehow this song became the anthem of all college couples, when it was released in the fall of 2011.  Because all of these couples who declared “We Found Love” as their song were really in love, and that college is such a hopeless place.  At literally every party though for the entire year, this song was played.  Regardless though, this was a maturing step for Rihanna, and during my junior year I did a lot of growing up.  The party scene was drying up, and I felt that my life was becoming (somewhat) sincerer.  However, I still retained some youthful self-delusions that weren’t too helpful.  This dichotomy was perfectly capture by “We Found Love”, a sincere and thoughtful dance ballad, but one that lacked a certain degree of self-awareness.  Seriously, Rihanna’s stab at an Irish accent is absolutely absurd and completely misplaced.


Princess of China

For some reason, I fell in love with “Princess of China” during my penultimate semester of college, which is strange because I’m no fan of Coldplay.  In a way I guess it reminded me the few remaining days of capriciousness that I had left.  This was a mature and despondent track with an electro-dance beat that belayed both my realization that this chapter of my life was slowly coming to an end, but also that I had started to outgrow the experience.  Half of my cadre had graduated, most of my friends had gone their disparate ways, and I started to feel as though college had nothing left to offer me.  “Princess of China” was somehow both upsetting and uplifting at the same time, exactly how I felt during the spring of 2012.  In particular, the song reminds me of one week in early March that was unseasonably warm.  It was like an oasis in the midst of this oppressive cold wave, but one that departed as quickly as it came, exactly like the best times of college.



This is where I lost Rihanna and college.  “Diamonds” was released as a single during my last semester of college, when I didn’t want to be there anymore.  That last semester felt like an epilogue instead of another chapter, it was a formality, the post script to my college experience.  There was no reason for me to go back and nothing waiting for me there.  With “Diamonds”, I thought Rihanna lost it completely and that she’d never be able to capture the magic of her earlier hits.  My thinking regarding both college and Rihanna was the same—The present would never be as good as the past, and as a result I would be left behind.  It was true.  Most of my friends had graduated or left Syracuse, I wasn’t interested in going out to parties, and I felt like an old man with no purpose surrounded by youngins who I couldn’t relate to.  I felt like a relic to some bygone era that passed me by at the speed of light.  I looked at the present and found it wanting; all I had then, was the past to keep me company.  This became a destructive paradox that led me down the spiraling path of anxiety for almost an entire year.  I listen “Diamonds” and what I really hear is someone who has no place doing what they’re doing or singing what they’re singing.  It’s a disingenuous sound that could have been handled better…for Rihanna and myself.


Bitch Better Have My Money

Hearing Rihanna threaten someone by demanding “Bitch better have my money” is probably the most comical sounding threat coming from the least threatening person.  Its aggression sounds forced, it’s absurdly over the top and impossible to take seriously.  But, that’s absolutely fine.  Even after the days of college, there’ll still be fun days in the future, as it’ll be rife with crazy adventures and good times.  While Rihanna’s new sound deviates from her original style, it can still be entertaining in a ludicrous way; just like the real world is a sharp cry away from college, yet still amusing in its own mundane way.  Life goes, the party stops at some point, but that doesn’t mean the good times have to end.  “Bitch Better Have My Money” is a song for kids in college now; since I’ve past that point, there’s a disconnect from the song; but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it for what it is.  It’s the sound of the next crop of kids going through something I’ve already completed.  This is me looking on in from the outside wondering if somewhere out there there’s some nameless, faceless 19-year-old looking to make the most of their college experience.



I doubt that songs like “What’s My Name” and “Only Girl in the World” are still played at college house parties.  The kids these days are probably dancing and hooking up to “Bitch Better Have My Money” or “Work”.  This is there time, and Rihanna is still making music for the next wave of kids looking to have a good time.  She makes the best music to go out to, and somehow she made the soundtrack of the zenith to my social life.  I don’t go out nearly as much as I used to and where I once went out 2-3 times a week, if I go out twice a month that’s a lot.  My days of partying extensively are probably over, it’s just apart of growing up; as a result, Rihanna’s new music doesn’t do it for me anymore because I have nothing new to correlate those songs to.  All they provide for me are recollections of previous good times.  I don’t mind though since the point of pop music is to make you feel good.  If an artist can make you feel good, then they’ve done their job.  It’s just that Rihanna has somehow come to encapsulate an entire era of my life.  The aforementioned songs have come to capture my social life from ages 15-21 and most of those memories that are linked to these songs are of great times.  Job well done Rihanna.

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