Poetic Music: Rihanna’s Anti

Long before stories were recorded down as written word, people would tell tales to each other incorporating the medium of music. Songs incorporated both words and melody, which I think made it easier for people to remember them.

Today, we often don’t consider popular music as venerated literature because it is so accessible and ubiquitous. However, when we take a deeper look into song lyrics, we can find a depth and meaning to the words.

For this week, I want to suggest Rihanna’s eighth studio album, Anti. A testament to how good this work was, Rihanna’s eighth album was nominated for eight Grammy Awards. Unfortunately, the album ended up winning none of them.

One of the reasons I love Anti so much is that it strays from the electronic and pop style of Rihanna’s previous albums and delivers a more stripped-down, bare experience. After nearly two years of recording, the album doesn’t disappoint.

One of the most linguistically interesting songs on the album is “Work.” Straight away, the first thing you’ll notice is the unconventional language used in the song. Rihanna tells us that, “Meh nuh cyar if him / hurt” (I don’t care if he’s hurt) in her native Bajan patois, a spoken creole combining English and Gullah. In using an unfamiliar language in her song, Rihanna shows how she isn’t afraid to be different and that others shouldn’t be ashamed of their own idiosyncrasies. Just because English dominates the world, that doesn’t mean it’s superior to any other language.

“Work” also employs an extensive use of repetition. The very first line of the song exclaims, “Work, work, work, work, work, work.” At some point, the word itself no longer retains any meaning and just sounds pleasant to the ear. Here, Rihanna experiments with separating words from their meanings, perhaps reminding us that language is only a means of conveying feelings, thoughts, ideas.

On a textual level, Rihanna’s lyrics are deeply relatable and this is one of the main reasons Anti was able to become certified double platinum and take its title as the third most streamed album of 2016. In “Needed Me,” Rihanna sings “Didn’t they tell you I was a savage / F*ck your white horse and a carriage,” to express her freedom and individuality. As savagery is seen as the antithesis of civilization, Rihanna’s embracing of savagery promotes deviation from social norms, saying that it is okay to be different. Even though the idea of a “white horse and a carriage” is typically what most people desire, “Needed Me” condemns it through one of the most flavorful expletives in the English language.

Overall, Anti’s individual songs culminate to create a compelling and relatable album that is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, the songs in this album showcase the beauty of and experiment with the English language to tackle relatable topics, such as identity and individuality and love and heartbreak. If you needed something to listen to, Rihanna’s Anti is it – just take care to look into the lyrics.

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