During her 2010 Last Girl On Earth Tour, Rihanna wowed audiences not only with her setlist, but with her fiery red hairdo. It signaled a shift, both aesthetically and sonically, for the 22-year-old singer. After unburdening herself of emotional and physical trauma on Rated R, Rihanna was in full pop mode, cosplaying as Madonna for her performance at the MTV VMAs and embarking on a new era with her fifth studio album, Loud.
Eurodance never sounded this good
Two days before her stunning VMA moment, Rihanna dropped the first single for Loud, “Only Girl (In The World.”. Though her reputation as a force in dance-pop stood five years strong, the uptempo bass fueling “Only Girl” was an entirely new sound for the star. The pulsating beat of “Only Girl” illustrated EDM’s dominant grip on the pop landscape, but Eurodance never sounded this good.
While Loud features plenty of bangers, it also saw Rihanna continue to press the limits of R&B on the Drake-assisted single “What’s My Name.” The follow-up single was a call back to the dancehall sound Rihanna had perfected since her debut album, Music Of The Sun, it featured ad-libs over an electro-ska riddim. With both singles, Rihanna secured two more No.1 hits – but she was only just getting started.
Fifty shades of Rihanna
At the time of its November 12, 2010 release, Loud pushed everyone’s buttons. The Barbadian singer was never a wallflower, but her fifth studio album found a bolder, brasher, and more defiant Rihanna.
Album opener “S&M” caused a major stir as the chorus found Rihanna enticingly belting “Sticks and stones may break my bones/But chains and whips excite me!” over a hook from The Cure’s “Let’s Go To Bed.” While broadcasters around the world embraced the bubble gum energy of “Only Girl,’ many rejected – and even banned – the raunchiness of “S&M.” In the song’s video, Rihanna mocked the press that pounced on her every move during the Rated R era, even leaving celebrity gossiper Perez Hilton bound and gagged. She later linked up with another tabloid queen, Britney Spears, for a remix that catapulted “S&M” to the top of the Hot 100, making the song her tenth No.1 single.
Other deep cuts on Loud continued to flaunt Rihanna’s defiant attitude. “On Fading,” she flips a sample of Enya’s “One By One” into a kiss-off to mediocre relationships, backed by handclaps and 808s. “Raining Men” takes it a step further, rejecting catcallers and potential suitors with the assistance of the nursery-rhyme scheme, a Nicki Minaj verse, and a sample of The Weather Girls’ 1982 hit.
Though Loud is an album full of effervescent pop, Rihanna still manages to touch upon the downsides of relationships. On her country-pop tune “California King Bed,” she sings about sharing a bed with a partner, but feeling “10,000 miles apart”. “Man Down” provides a deeper commentary, with the video portraying a sexual assault at a night club. As a form of revenge, Rihanna’s traumatized character ends up killing her assailant at an open-air Caribbean version of Grand Central Station. The gun symbolism from the previous year’s Rated R continues, as she refers to her weapon as “a 22/I call her Peggy Sue” over a reggae beat – a kind of “I Shot The Sheriff” for the 2010s.
On “Complicated,” Rihanna makes good on the promise of Loud’s title, belting out her frustrations over a trance-inflected dance-pop number. Even with its pumping house beat, the track’s chaotic percussion and dark synths sound stranger than the typical club fare.
Meanwhile, album closer “Love The Way You Lie (Part II),” offers a sequel to the original summer smash that appeared on Eminem’s Recovery. This time Rhianna takes the lead with a powerful vocal performance, offering the feminine perspective to the story while Eminem spits vitriol on the verse.
Full court press
No Rihanna album is complete without foreshadowing her next era. On the sensual alt-R&B cut “Skin.” she doubles down on her seduction, swapping out slick beats for blaring guitar riffs that sounds straight out of Madonna’s Erotica era. The final single from Loud, “Cheers (Drink To That)” is a slice of anthemic rock that samples Avril Lavigne’s signature yodel from her 2002 single “I’m with You,” turning the earnest ballad into a tropical singalong.
Loud reached No.3 on the Billboard 200 and earned three Grammy nominations, including Album Of The Year. The album’s dance-centric sound also made it a commercial smash outside of the U.S., where it topped the charts in nearly every major territory. Marking Rihanna’s return to the pop fold, it proved she could hold her own among the EMD-laced pop that dominated the charts at the start of a new decade.