The Rebellion of Anti A Year Later
‘I got to do things my own way darling,’ she sings on the album’s opener “Consideration”, signalling her departure (fearlessly stressed through her exodus from Def Jam and the introduction of her own label Westbury Road) from a career that in retrospect feels almost superficial, but her declarations of independence and creative freedom throughout Anti indicate emancipation from an array of factors: constraints of jilted lovers, artistic disillusionment, devotee expectations, corporate restrictions, and commercial anticipation.
With Anti in development for two years – the longest gap in Rihanna’s career, having released an album almost annually from 2005 to 2012 – the tone varies almost from song to song, reflecting both an artistic turmoil and the artist’s charge at experimentation. ‘I’d rather be smoking weed whenever we breathe,’ she deadpans unapologetically on “James Joint”, a mood she maintains throughout the album. Though at times Anti can feel a little too free-form in its musical direction, the authorial intent is explicit: ‘Didn’t they tell you I was a savage?’ she asks on “Needed Me”, having more clearly established her sentiment on “Consideration (‘Why you will never let me grow?’).
Anti acts as a catalyst in her creative progression and as an act of rebellion in reclaiming herself and her artistic integrity through a not-so-peaceful resistance (‘Can we burn something babe?’ she pleads, perhaps as a reference to previous recordings) against both corporations and audiences alike. In fact, at times it is difficult to distinguish as to whom is being addressed.
In her siren-like voice she sings of sex, of drugs, and also love, but the result is one of frustration; from “Work” to “Desperado” and culminating with “Love on the Brain” and “Never Ending”, she encapsulates loves burned out (loves that burned her?), but is it love for another or love for herself she’s determined to recapture? ‘I knew your face once but now it’s unclear,’ she sings, but to whom? Are these songs a statement of her sexual agency or an attack against those who kept her bound to a career she seems to have now dismissed? #ANTIdiary can feel like a dramatic performance, far too short or condensed to decipher the subtext, but ultimately it is a love letter to her own growth as an artist, an introspective evaluation of her eleven year trajectory in entertainment.
Introspection underpins the overall lyrical production of Anti (including the disorienting “If They Let Us” artwork poem), so much that it is hard to know if this is the first time she is being sincere – a common byproduct of a pop artist releasing their record of reinvention – but an involuntary unfiltering of herself permeates the record. Her openness and vulnerability reach new heights in her eleven year career, but she never descends into self-pity or even sentimental confessions (except perhaps for the anticlimactic “Close to You”). In Anti, she removed the covers (she) once imposed on her(self), taking greater flexibility at the interconnectedness of the songs to make the final cut. It would be worth to one day access the unreleased songs of this recording, if only to fill in the highs and lows of her process.
‘I know I can be more creative,’ she promises on the penultimate “Higher”, but keeps the end open to interpretation – a deliberate choice to lead us straight through to #ANTIdiaryVolII or whatever musical chapter comes next. That Anti didn’t receive an Album of the Year nomination at the Grammys is a win rather than a loss. It is this industry she seems resolute to break away from with this record. ‘I come fluttering in from Neverland, time could never stop me, no, no, no, no.’
A year (and a month) on, it is still difficult to point to a defining highlight. The album’s strength lies on its power to erase the distinction between experimentation and cohesion, reaching its innate crescendo with Tame Impala’s “Same Ol’ Mistakes” and its spell casting ‘Feel like a brand new person.’
Rihanna’s all grown up, but her magnum opus is yet to be written. Anti was a breakthrough – for Rihanna, for women, for music. ‘I’ve been waiting up all night,’ “Kiss it Better” reverberates, an echo of us all awaiting her next effort.