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” about the hottest topics.
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 in a very candid way.
Today’s roundtable topic asks…
Rihanna’s 8th Album Campaign – Calculated or Catastrophe?
In a way, I’m both shocked and not by the messiness of Rihanna’s current era.
On the one hand, after exhausting all the wigs in her dresser and riding every popular genre wave, something about her felt artistically “maxed out” by the end of her last album cycle. Add to this the success of rivals such as Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce during her downtime and it became clear the pressure to deliver would be a tall order for Team Fenty.
Yet, given that this is a collective who’ve transformed a marginally talented model into a major music name, I was anticipating more water-into-wine style miracles. Indeed, even after ‘FourFiveSeconds’ disappointed, I was convinced it was a minor misstep ahead of an inevitable bounce back. Two singles later, and how wrong could I be.
With deflating interest from both fans and casual listeners, ‘R-Late’ is shaping up to be Rih’s ‘ARTPOP.’ Not so much from a material standpoint (as that project boasts solid singles and great supporting songs). But primarily in that the climate surrounding its release make sailing to major success near-impossible.
Like, at this point, I’m not convinced there is anything that could drastically redeem the campaign. For, even if a hit singles arrives, it’ll likely remain just that – a hit “single.” The whole point of preceding an LP with singles is to provide a vehicle to sell its parent album. Given that so few have bought into what she’s selling this go round (at a price point of $1.29), what are the chances of them buying into the body of work it’s attached to at full price?
Still, stranger things have happened. So, I’m not writing off Rih just yet. What’s more, even if she doesn’t “win” with this project, dips are almost guaranteed in long, seasoned careers. I just hope by the time the next album rolls around, she will have decided whether she wants to be Tracy Chapman or an ATL Trap Queen.
Every artist faces a career hiccup or two during their run, and Rihanna is no different.
Unfortunately, with a new batch of younger and arguably more talented female artists making a move into her lane, Rihanna’s recent career missteps have seen talk of her decline arise far earlier than even her critics might have expected.
It seems that after enjoying the success of the Adult-Contemporary easing songs ‘Diamonds‘ and ‘Stay’ the star’s camp appear to have set out to force a ‘Ray of Light’-inspired reinvention on her. However, for one reason or another, they seem to be struggling to find a balance between what Rih is and what they’d like for her to be.
The dying buzz around doesn’t mean all is lost, but does mean her camp will have to work fast to complete the “timeless” album they’ve been working on.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.
For, most timeless albums are released by acts who are deemed to be credible creatives who seek to send a clear message through a cohesive body of work.
Therefore, her method of collecting songs from writers and producers who don’t know each other is unlikely to work this time, especially if she’s still depending on Kanye West to piece them together for her.
Will Rihanna get it right? Of course she will, she’s Rihanna.
However, it may be a while before her fans receive the “timeless” music they’d been promised.
Madonna’s ‘Bedtime Stories’ style album tracks with ‘Clean Bandit’ sounding singles and packaging.
As our beloved Lady Gaga can tell you, being a hit-making factory is a double edged sword. For, every new single is a new opportunity to “flop” (a word used entirely too loosely) and, in turn, a new opportunity for the masses to call for your decline. It amazes me how a person can amass an untouchable body of hits, release two fairly well-performing singles (in the absence of full on promotion), and be considered a flop.
Such is the case with Rihanna.
While I feel the era may not have kicked off to the standards of her previous, there’s much to consider about how much of an anomaly ‘R8’ is.
#1 – It’s the longest time of her career she’s gone between albums.
#2 – The songs are the riskiest of her career. ‘FourFiveSeconds’ and ‘BBHMM’ are both polarizers and stray far left from the Urban pop-skewed numbers that line her #1s list.
#3 – They have not enjoyed the promotion of her previous efforts. Two performances hardly count as promotion, nor does a stripped down music video.
#4 – Like Gaga, Ri’s fanbase – though loyal – do not seem to be (as a whole) interested in deviation from the diva they’ve grown to love. Gaga confused ’em with ‘Born This Way’ and Rihanna had many scratching their heads with ‘FourFiveSeconds.’ Unlike Gaga, before Ri gets too deep into this era, there is still time to save it while straddling the line of “safety” and “risk.”
I’m sure that once she cranks out another safe number with a fashion forward music video to accompany it, all will be well with the world. Sam will seethe, #TheNavy will sigh a breath of relief, and everyone will get that reminder that ‘FFS’ and ‘BBHMM’ was truly just the calm before the storm. R8 is coming.
Rihanna’s predicament is very intriguing to me because I feel like it says a whole lot about the beauty’s status in this industry 10 years after her debut.
A decade removed from ‘Pon De Replay’, Rih-Rih is still scoring Top 20’s left and right – with her latest singles hitting #19 and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. All with very little promotion. With said singles being her least radio-friendly to date, we can agree that a bigger-than-usual portion of the tracks’ success comes from the name attached to them.
Now while it’s great seeing that brand “Rihanna” carries as much clout, Team Rih shouldn’t believe the hype. At least not completely.
While ‘FourFiveSeconds’ had a respectable chart run – which I feel was fuelled by the “comeback” factor as well as the presence of its collaborators – second single ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ came and went (despite still gracing the top of the iTunes chart on its way) and latest release ‘American Oxygen’ is struggling to keep up on the digital tally.
A solution to all of that would be to revert back to the old tried and tested formula of releasing edgy radio-ready music, shooting glossy music videos and giving good-enough live performances. I get that the new goal is to position the star as a “credible artist” but they shouldn’t play with what made her a household name today, and that’s her Billboard Hot 100 credentials. Get it together, people!
With all of that being said, it’s funny that some would be quick to call Rihanna a “flop” because she’s reached another that isn’t “#1” on the Top 20. It goes to show just how far she’s come.
Do you agree with our points? Who was spot on? Let us know your thoughts on the latest TGJ Roundtable and Rihanna’s 8th album campaign.