Welcome to the latest TGJ Roundtable!
Over the years, That Grape Juice has established a distinguished voice that – whether loved or loathed – sparks discussion, debate, and on occasion drama!
Though comprised of seasoned writers who share a similar outlook on Urban Pop culture, the idiosyncrasies of the TGJ team members often lend for quite heated debates “behind the scenes.”
Now, we give you a front row seat to the show. In a format similar to ‘The View’ or ‘The Real’, TGJ editors – Sam, David, Rashad, and Joe – get real about the hottest topics in a very candid way.
Today’s roundtable topic asks each anchor about…
Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’ Album
It’s imperative to first point out that Rihanna is a great Pop star. She’s stunning, compelling, and boasts a hit catalogue that keeps her competitors awake at night.
Rihanna, however, is not an artist. At least not the type she’s been moonlighting as since this ‘ANTI’ mess began to play out. And sadly for her, on this occasion no amount of smoke and mirrors will be able to wholly distract from that. Critics have been lashing the release since its staccato roll-out and the feedback from those beyond her fanbase has been lukewarm at best.
There are entirely too many missteps to recount, but the most glaring is the reality that Rih and her team lost sight of what makes her “work.”
We’ve ragged about her McMusic and messy antics, but in hindsight it worked…for her. Indeed, as momentary as many of her smashes have been, she’s managed to enjoy a decade and some change in the spotlight – with 13 #1’s to her name. Even though I was rarely roused, clearly something was right.
As such, I knew there was trouble ahead the moment she declared she was deviating from her formula and aiming to make a “timeless” album (a statement that is problematic in itself). Dropping ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ immediately after essentially rendered ‘ANTI’ lifeless on arrival.
The umbrella issue here is that Rihanna is reaching for a narrative that just is not hers. She isn’t a Beyonce or Adele, two of her contemporaries who are clearly taking a more classic approach to stardom. No. For me, she’s a post-modern Madonna. An enduring name, yet one that has sustained for so long by shamelessly and successfully riding trends, shocking the masses, and evolving along the way.
It’s crucial to highlight here that when Madge made “statement” records ala ‘Erotica,”Bedtime Stories,’ and ‘Ray of Light,’ she committed to the cause – visually and sonically – and didn’t precede their releases with promises. She just delivered. ‘ANTI,’ on the other hand, feels made up along the way and doesn’t appear to have ever had a clear concept. Hence the end result sounds like confused contrived clutter.
I fully expect her team to work overtime to “Olivia Pope” the situation. Eloquent press releases touting questionable successes, purchased Platinum plaques, supercharged single roll-outs (‘Kiss It Better’ please) and a whole lot more. Sadly though, for many this has already joined the likes of ‘Glitter’ and ‘Born This Way’ on the 00s list of Pop tragedies. Where exactly it places on said tally hinges on how good a job Pope & Associates do of cleaning things up.
On the upside, the best thing about ‘R8’ is that it means we’re one step closer to ‘R9.’
This is a difficult one.
On one hand I’m incredibly impressed by the risks Rihanna has taken with this project and commend her for taking as much time as she needed to complete it.
Yet on the other, I’m concerned that her decision to partner with Samsung to -dare I say- cheat her way to Platinum is going to cost her…dearly.
For, the fact remains that one million people did not purchase the album within the first 24 hours of its release and this- if Lady Gaga‘s ‘Born This Way‘ fiasco is anything to go by- only makes the gifted entertainer appear desperate and sales-thirsty when placed next to artists who move major numbers sans trickery.
I hope the album does eventually go on to sell 1 million “real” units because a great deal of effort has gone into completing it.
However, I’d be lying if I said I was disappointed that Rihanna didn’t believe in her own music enough to allow it do the selling for her.
It seems clear to me that there is a “something” (a person, a team, a component) that is missing from this campaign, as Rihanna’s career post-‘Music of the Sun’ has seemingly been completely devoid of misstep. So, to have such a messy “start, stop, start, stop” situation with ‘ANTI’ speaks to a piece of her “tried and true” formula being tampered with.
Be that as it may, while I won’t ignore the glaring pitfalls of the campaign, I’m still here for ‘ANTI.’ While on the front-end the steps taken (i.e. making the album available for free, choosing ‘Work’ as the first single) seem random, to me they simply fit the overall theme of being… ‘ANTI.’ The whole point of the era is to go against the grain of what’s expected from her artistically and commercially. If, in fact, the album does not perform as well as she’d hoped, I’m sure everyone involved in the campaign knows a) Rihanna has never been an album seller, b) after 10 years in the game it’s ok to have a flop, and c) her relevance has not diminished. As such, it won’t be hard to bounce back.
That’s the thing about risks – sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t (see: Madonna’s ‘Erotica,’ Beyonce’s ‘4,’ Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP,’ Xtina’s ‘Back to Basics,’ and the like. It’s ok to take risks and step away from what people know and/or expect. But, regardless of how the album performs commercially, I think Rih should be proud of the body of work she’s put forth. It’s definitely a grower, but it’s also mature, timely, and proof that she’s far from a microwave artist.
Navy rejoice! Your commander has finally released ‘ANTI’. Finally.
It’s been a long time coming – a really long time – but 12 months after launching its official first single, the LP marched its way digital world this week, as did its new-first single, ‘Work.’
Though said single is already flying up the charts the globe over, something doesn’t feel right about the whole campaign. And hasn’t for some time.
To start, it’s hard to digest why the track wasn’t accompanied by a video. Indeed with VEVO being so influential these days in terms of chart rankings as well as music videos being one of the biggest tools in her arsenal, it’s difficult to decipher why an Island-spiced visual has yet to be serviced.
More broadly, the only way the “ANTI” title seems to make any sense is that it’s “ANTI-Rihanna.” Rih’s power ultimately lies in her ability is to churn out hit-sounding/made-for-radio singles and well it doesn’t seem to be the case at all with this record. Though songs such as ‘Kiss It Better’ and ‘Close To You’ could make great singles, the LP isn’t as exciting nor enticing as previous releases. What’s more, the material doesn’t even feel edgy, left field or even experimental, just bare and uninspired for the most part.
Having said that, we are still talking about the Hot 100 Queen so it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of the jams from the album caught on with radio and iTunes in a near future. ‘Kiss’ makes a great candidate – especially if re-packaged as a duet with The Weeknd (which would be genius given the tour tie-in).
Roll on #R9.
Do you agree with our points? Who was spot on? Let us know your thoughts on the latest TGJ Roundtable and Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’!