A new Rihanna album used to be an annual November event, like Thanksgiving fights with your racist family members. From 2005 to 2012, the Barbadian beauty pumped out seven studio albums, a neck-breaking pace for a pop star. After a long hiatus, her comeback album, “Anti,” has had one of the most frustrating and messy campaigns in recent pop history. It doesn’t even have a release date yet.
After “Unapologetic” and its subsequent 2013 world tour, Rihanna has taken an unusually long break. She was featured on the number-one hit “Monster” with Eminem, but aside from that she was silent, occasionally seen smoking a blunt on some exotic island.
The break was well-deserved. Rihanna was one of the busiest pop stars from 2005 to 2013. Within that time, she put out some pretty solid albums — “Good Girl Gone Bad” and “Loud” especially — and scored 13 number-one hits. From “SOS” to “Disturbia” to “Diamonds,” Rihanna had been one of the most consistent hit-makers of her generation.
Whispers of Rihanna’s eighth studio album started way back in early 2014. MTV, assuming a 2014 release date, announced the album as one of the “most-anticipated” of the year. In the summer of 2014, Rihanna left Def Jam Records and signed with Jay Z’s record label, Roc Nation. Sia, Grimes, Big Sean, Kiesza, DJ Mustard and Calvin Harris all talked about working on the new Rihanna record. Their songs are no longer rumored to be on the album.
After numerous false starts, the campaign for “Anti” finally started in January with the release of “FourFiveSeconds,” a single featuring Paul McCartney and Kanye West. I don’t care what the critics say. The song was, and remains, awful. It’s a strange mix of pop, country and soul with Rihanna’s vocals at their most goat-like yet. She went from producing the best pop songs in the world — “Umbrella,” “Only Girl (In the World),” “We Found Love” — to making the musical equivalent of an M. Night Shyamalan film. Pop audiences felt the same way, as “FourFiveSeconds” was a relative commercial disappointment, peaking at number four on the “Billboard” Hot 100. The lead songs from her previous three albums, to compare, had all been massive hits.
“FourFiveSeconds” was followed by two more singles, “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “American Oxygen.” Neither made any significant impact on the charts, with their faux-controversy and obvious artistic pretension.
And while Rihanna was serving an increasingly irritated public subpar songs, she did not say a single word about the new album or a release date. The Rihanna who just put out fun dance bops was long gone, replaced by some Kanye West clone desperate for acceptance from the high arts.
Around the time her songs were flopping and everything in Camp Rihanna seemed to be heading for meltdown, reports in the media surfaced that she had scrapped the entire album. She wanted a completely new sound, the reports said. At this point, the album seemed like a mythical illusion that would never arrive.
It’s not like Rihanna hasn’t been doing anything in 2015. She’s been doing literally everything but put out an album. She now has her own sock line (Rob Kardashian’s impact). She did vocal work on animated film “Home.” She partnered with Puma. She was a mentor on “The Voice,” teaching the contestants how to bleat their hearts out. She’s covered multiple magazines this year. All great promo for an album that still does not exist.
After more months of silence, Rihanna finally seemed to be getting her act together by early October. She held a private viewing for fans of the album’s title (“Anti”) and cover, which is horrendous by the way. She was booked to perform at Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. While a release date was not determined, industry publications all-but-confirmed a November 2015 release.
Then Adele came back and put a stop to those plans. Given Adele’s unprecedented success, Rihanna was reportedly terrified of facing against her on the charts. She once again delayed “Anti,” further eroding public interest in the project. Then she cancelled her high-profile gig at Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to makes even more changes to the ever-elusive album. Then came a statement from her own father — she still doesn’t like “Anti.”
To salvage the album, Rihanna secured a last-minute promo deal with Samsung for $25 million. She launched a mysterious website, ANTIdiaRy, on the mobile company’s site to promote “Anti.” While the general public may have lost interest, fans were still foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the album. This website, which reeks of Lady Gaga’s desperate “ARTPOP” promo from 2013, only angered them. It is confusing and gives no actual information on the album. Countdowns on the site came and went with no news. Rooms that had to be “unlocked” remained firmly shut.
Credible sources and hints on the website offered a glimmer of hope — a set release date for “Anti.” The rumored roll-out was that “Anti” would be offered as a Tidal-exclusive for one week starting Nov. 27 then put out to all retailers the following week, Dec. 4. The association with the flop music service Tidal was laughable, but at least there seemed to be a concrete plan.
Nov. 27 came and went and there was no album. “Anti” is still nowhere to be found. At this point, the album is a mythical being, like a unicorn or a heterosexual Lady Gaga fan. While Rihanna can’t be bothered to put out an actual album, she did have time to put together a world tour for 2016, which she announced Nov. 23. Promo, singles and a tour all for an album that still doesn’t have a release date. Incredible.
With Adele smashing the charts, who knows know how long Rihanna will wait to put out “Anti.” Fans are tired, the media are tired. Desperate promo campaigns will not work; ANTIdiaRy has only alienated even more people. The only thing Rihanna can do at this point to salvage the era is actually release the album, which we all know she won’t do. Will “Anti” ever see the light of day? Will Rihanna ever put out another good song? Does even she know what’s going on? It all remains to be seen.