Looking at the various headlines and PR for Rihanna’s new album, Unapologetic, I see several facts many writers can’t help but throw around when talking about the record. The most commonly cited facts include that Unapologetic is Rihanna’s seventh album in seven years, that it features her ex-boyfriend and ex-abuser Chris Brown alongside her—and that, naturally, every song on the album must therefore be “about him”. Add this to her decision to promote the album with a seven-day-long tour around the world—a tour for which she dragged along every journalist, fan, and companion she could onto a jumbo jet to experience jet lag, insomnia, and the hell of flying seven times in a row—and you get a talking point almost as big as RiRi’s new hieroglyphic chest tattoo. Behind all that, the music seems like a minor detail. For Rihanna, that might be just the point. With the lead single, “Diamonds”—a glittering anthem that has the ability to empower or irritate depending on who you’re talking to—Rihanna shows growth from her last album. She reaches out to a demographic that not only bought Adele’s 21, but also forwarded their friends her “Someone Like You” performance from the 2011 Brit Awards with the subject line “If this doesn’t make you cry…” For most of the record, this direction is effective; the best songs have the icy Rihanna doing her best wounded puppy. The track “Loveeeeeee Song” feels like it moves in slow motion, its featured artist Future setting the right mood for radio-ready heartbreak. “No Love Allowed”, featuring the Island, showcases Rihanna’s Caribbean roots and gets its audience grooving—but not without the intention of having a few tears fall on the dance floor. Michael Jackson is sampled in “Nobody’s Business”, the album’s standout, in which Chris Brown and Rihanna sing over a production that sounds like it came from an ’80s runway show. But with Brown on the track, the production will be the last thing people talk about. In between these songs, Rihanna manages to fit in a few dubstep-tinged David Guetta tracks that sound like they got the Skrillex stamp of approval before being shipped to record stores across the country. It’s all very relevant, current, and new—so new that you’re not going to realize the trend until the dubstep beats and AutoTuned ballads start infiltrating the radio early next year, many probably coming from Rihanna herself. With Rihanna releasing an album every year—especially as the singles from the last album are still getting repeated play on top 40 radio—one can’t help but feel that being the topic of conversation in every medium is exactly the intention of the Bajan queen. Unapologetic will continue to let her do just that. All hail Rihanna—the new Britney, Queen RiRi, the Illuminati Princess, whatever you want to call her—as long as you keep the conversation going. MMM½

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