Nearly every time I write about Rihanna, I feel compelled to include the following tidbit: From 2005 through 2012, Rihanna released a new album every year. (She did not, technically, release a new album in 2008, but she did put out a re-release of 2007’s Good Girl Gone Bad, which included several new songs, two of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. So, you know, it hardly counts as a year off.) After 2012’s Unapologetic, though, the singer took a break from releasing music and instead focused on building her brand. Funnily enough, not releasing an album for three years didn’t slow Rihanna down; she became an even bigger name than she was before owing to her status as a fashion icon, her social media presence, her many tabloid exploits, and her partnerships. Still, predictably, fans and critics eventually began wondering when we’d hear new music from the woman with 13 No. 1 hits to her name. It certainly seemed that we’d finally, finally have a new album in 2015, but the year came and went with nothing more than three underwhelming singles. (In her announcement this morning, Rihanna called “Work” her first single from ANTI, and therefore, despite “FourFiveSeconds,” “Bitch Better Have My Money,” and “American Oxygen,” none of which are guaranteed to be included on ANTI, I am forced to acknowledge “Work” as the album’s official lead single.)
When you train your fans to expect new music every year for seven years straight, and then you ask them to wait more than three times that amount, the expectation will inevitably be that the new music, which presumably took longer than normal to make, is going to be especially good. Rihanna played into this game of anticipation: last year, while promoting “FourFiveSeconds,” Rihanna gave a Kanye West / Lady Gaga-esque quote about making “timeless” music, leading fans to believe that she was in the process of concocting something really special. Shortly thereafter, she dropped “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a juxtaposition which speaks for itself.
Maybe you feel that the story of how ANTI came to be (and when it eventually sees release, though word is that it will be out this very week) shouldn’t matter so long as the music’s good. I both agree and disagree. Ultimately, the music is what matters. The problem now is that we are finally hearing the music, allowing it to speak for itself, and one is left wrestling with the following question: did this really take three years (and eight writers!!!) to arrive at this? Had we waited the traditional year for this single, it would have been much easier to swallow. Instead, after years of waiting and false starts and frustration, the less-than-exciting “Work,” which features Rihanna’s friend, the Meme King Drake, feels like an especially big let down. Whether it blows up and becomes yet another smash remains to be seen, but taken as it is, a song separate from its potential chart position, it is no “Umbrella,” it is no “We Found Love,” it is no “Diamonds.”
Wondering if I was alone in feeling this way, I asked my colleagues to share their thoughts on ANTI’s lead single. Here’s what we think.
Matt Russoniello (Social Media Manager, Writer of Articles When He Feels Like It)
Rihanna Fan Status: I’ve been a fan, though not necessarily an “everything Rihanna does is the best yaaass queen slay ur favs could never” way, since “Pon De Replay.”
Describe “Work” In Your Own Words: The unholy, speech impediment-troubled lovechild of Iggy Azalea’s “Work” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.”
Final Thoughts: After more than a year of aborted single launches and teases that led nowhere, I was expecting much, much more from the the official ANTI lead. Rihanna’s first singles are (usually) iconic, and “Work” does not earn its place among them.
Michael Prieve (Editor-in-Chief)
Rihanna Fan Status: I’ve never bought a Rihanna album, but I have purchased many of her past singles.
Describe “Work” In Your Own Words: A mumbled mess with a tired and overused beat.
Final Thoughts: I did not wait three years to hear Rihanna’s impression of a drunk Ariana Grande, paired with a snippet of “Hotline Bling.”
Jelani Addams Rosa (Editor)
Rihanna Fan Status: I’ve never bought a Rihanna album (although to be fair, I’ve only ever bought Beyonce albums), but I keep more than a few RihRih songs in rotation on Spotify.
Describe “Work” In Your Own Words: Honestly I can’t even tell you, I have no idea what she’s saying.
Final Thoughts: I appreciate the attempt to return to her island roots, but it’s such a weak first single. It wasn’t worth the wait, and I have little interest in hearing the whole album. I’ll stick to solely purchasing Queen Bey.
Kaitlyn Laurie (Editor)
Rihanna Fan Status: I think I’m one of those people who love Rihanna more than her music. I don’t love her for her music, I mean. I’m a fan because she’s flawless, her fashion is on point and she’s so rich that it’s exciting.
Describe “Work” In Your Own Words: It’s just a mess. It’s not unlistenable, but it’s not a banger that I enjoy listening to either.
Final Thoughts: I can foresee a really great remix being made for “Work,” one that’s better than the song itself. Not that that would be hard.
Grade: C+. Drake’s involvement gives it a bump up.
Mia Lardiere (Editor)
Rihanna Fan Status: If Rihanna were a religion, I would be an “observer” akin to the girls who studied Kabbalah for the ‘trendy’ red bracelets.
Describe “Work” In Your Own Words: Rihanna’s tropical freestyle using one page of a rhyming dictionary as a cheat sheet, featuring token Canadian Drake for the sake of diversity.
Final Thoughts: I’m sure that Pentatonix will have fun with it!
Scott Baumgartner (Editor)
Rihanna Fan Status: She lost me around the time she was finding love in a hopeless place.
Describe “Work” In Your Own Word: It’s not totally forgettable.
Final Thoughts: Perhaps she needs to put in some overtime.
Gabi Chung (Editor)
Rihanna Fan Status: “We Found Love” is still my jam and I will blast “Cheers (Drink to That)” every Friday afternoon. So I guess you could say I’m suck in that Loud/Talk That Talk era.
Describe “Work” In Your Own Words: Next.
Final Thoughts: It’s ironic that Rihanna sounds like she put zero work into a song called literally called “Work”.
Grade: D (For Drake)