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There is nothing conventional about Robyn Rihanna Fenty. It only takes a few notes on her newest album Anti for that reminder to set in. “I got to do things my own way,” Rihanna warns in the opening song “Consideration.” This has always been her legacy. More than anything else, Rihanna has consistently come across as real. On Instagram, she positioned herself as a self-governing force with an affinity for blunts and middle fingers. This is the version of Rihanna we came to know — the one who played by her own rules and did so with endless bravado and confidence.
At the same time, she became a hit-making algorithm pumping out songs for neon lights and sweaty last calls. And we danced to it, because it was good. We spent our Friday and Saturday nights with Rihanna bumping to one of her 13 number-one singles. She became the pop star we wanted her to be because she did it brilliantly.
But until now it just didn’t completely feel like the Rihanna we had been shown. Anti, Rihanna’s eighth studio album, feels more like the artist behind the hitmaker, the authentic Rihanna.
It’s not what we expected. If her last seven albums were flashing lights and booze-soaked adventures, Anti is a solo Friday at home with a bottle of wine. It works, because it’s good. With the possible exception of “Work” featuring Drake, this album is devoid of any club bangers. Those songs were for us. Anti is for Rihanna.
Floating between soul, rock, r&b, and pop, Anti never fully commits to one genre. The grainy, blues adjacent “Higher” sounds like a drunken plea from a scrubbed Rihanna. Each note of “Desperado” drips with the fuck-you attitude she has worked to perfection. The likely hit of the album, “Kiss It Better,” shows introspection absent in past songs. But the most obvious example is Rihanna’s cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” Rihanna lends her voice to a genre not usually belonging to her, echoing instead of re-imagining the song completely.
With the exception of “Work” featuring Drake, this album is devoid of any club bangers. Those songs were for us. Anti is for Rihanna.
While always present on some level, this version of Rihanna hasn’t fully been exposed. There is a confidence in self, an underlying Bad Gal quality to the album that seems more like the yacht partying and blunts in bathrobes versions of her. These are the type of songs that couldn’t have been written for anyone else.
The Rihanna who tweeted “I’m crazy, and I don’t pretend to be anything else” seems very present singing “Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch / Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage / Fuck your white horse and a carriage,” on “Needed Me.”
This album feels like a glimpse at the inner workings of Rihanna’s brain. The off-camera version. From front to back, Anti tells the story of self-exploration, growing up, and coming full circle. With the album already platinum, the understated Anti is Rihanna’s biggest statement yet.