June 14, 2016 by NowhereButPop
“Our bar for this album is Michael Jackson’s Thriller” claimed Def Jam’s VP when describing the effort that was put into Rihanna’s 2010 opus, Loud. Despite the lofty ambition, Loud falls short of the iconic status of Thriller, yet still manages to soar to incredible heights; it’s everything that Teenage Dreams wished it was, as Loud is rife with radio-friendly, yet assertive songs that can still exist within the confines of a full length album.
Rihanna sets the tone on Loud from the very beginning, as on the opening track “S&M”, an instance where she could have very easily been overly sexual and repellently aggressive, she instead comes off as being playfully assertive and harmlessly capricious. For an album that kicks off with a song about sadomasochism, Loud is an album that’s very easy to be comfortable around. The chorus serves more as a mission statement for Loud as Rihanna exclaims “I might be bad/But I’m perfectly good at it/Sex in the air/I don’t care I love the thrill of it”. In other words, she’s telling her listeners “This is what works for me; it might not work for you too, but that’s just as cool”. This is Rihanna doing Rihanna without trying to impede on anyone else.
It’s in this regard that Loud somehow cultivates an aura of inclusiveness, which despite all her social crusading, would make even Lady Gaga jealous. No other song on the album is as emblematic of this theme as “Cheers (Drink to That)”, a laid back but infectious party tune about sitting back, sipping on drinks and enjoying life. The track, which samples Avril Lavigne’s most depressing hit and somehow turns it into the backbone of an anthem, is capricious yet never foolhardy as Rihanna sings “I’ll be mad in the morning/But you know we going hard tonight”. Even the backing vocals sounds more like a group of tipsy fans singing along to their favorite song than a choreographed studio cut, which only serves to ingratiate itself on anyone looking for a fun pop tune.
If “Cheers” is the sound of a pre-game, then “Only Girl (In the World)” is the song you’ll hear once you get to the party. It instantly becomes a club favorite with its fist-pumping beats and seductive lyrics, which makes it the perfect song to bump and grind too. More than most other female artists, Rihanna has always been comfortable and confidence with sex and is never one to shy away from sexuality; in fact she usually charges head first into the realm of carnality with assertiveness and sleekness. When she shouts “I want you to make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world”, she makes it sound as sensitive as a plea, yet as powerful as a demand. This, making the abrasive amicable and the aggressive assertive, is the true secret behind Rihanna’s success; the most sterling example of this charisma is found in “Only Girl”.
For the most part, all the songs on Loud are fun pop songs, meant to serve a breath of fresh year, a moment of levity for Rihanna in the face of tabloid exploitation. Loud and all the songs on the album have a reason for being fun and loose, and that’s what makes the songs coalesce into one coherent musical work. This lightheartedness is on full display on “What’s My Name”, the best track on not only the album, but a top-5 song in Rihanna’s entire catalogue. “What’s My Name” is everything anyone could ever want in a pop song as it’s got sexy lyrics, a catchy hook, danceable tribal beats, and a vocal swag that only Rihanna can provide. When people look back at the music of the 10s, they’d be completely remiss to ignore “What’s My Name” as one of the greatest pop songs the decade had to offer.
Rounding out the rest of Loud are complimentary tracks such as “Complicated” and “Fading”, sister tracks that deal with a failing relationship and a dying relationship respectively. “Fading” is the catchier tune, but “Complicated” is better crafted. “Skin”, another deep cut, and the most overtly sexual song on the album, probably leant itself to Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” more than the Diva would like to admit. “California King Bed” is the standard power ballad that Rihanna puts on all of her albums, and like most of her ballads, this one is neither believable nor particularly evocative, as it fails to mesh with the rest of the album and falters somewhere between being negligible and insincere. But, two or three mediocre tracks is not enough to derail the pop train that is Loud, as it offers more than enough classics to continue chugging along.
Rihanna is really good at making pop songs, and on Loud, she became really good at making a concise, digestible, and connected pop album. On the album, Rihanna throws her hands up, not in defeat, but in celebration for the life that she has. She’s an assertive and confident woman who is not afraid to express herself, she has the support of her fans and friends, and she’s capable of saying goodbye to unhealthy relationships. What Loud proves is that not only is Rihanna capable of being the Rihanna her fans want her to be, she’s also able to be the Rihanna that she wants to be. It’s serendipitous that both she and her fans want the same Rihanna.