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How Rihanna's "Work" Reinvigorated Dancehall
Released in 2016, "Work" was a triumphant return to the Caribbean sound Rihanna had stepped away from upon her mainstream arrival. For the GRAMMY-nominated hit, Rihanna embraced the use of Patois as well as a sexually defiant, empowered point-of-view.
Rihanna’s single "Work" announces itself the same way steam rises. It bubbles, gulps and bellows upward until it reaches the surface; we're already hot and sweaty by the time her voice arrives. The Barbados singer’s trance-like repetition of the word "work" grinds itself against the dancehall sound that first made her famous.
Released in 2016 as the first single from her eighth studio album, ANTI, "Work" was a return to roots. The track harkened back to the Caribbean musicality and pronunciation of her debut album, which had been slowly fazed out in favor of more pop-driven albums Good Girl Gone Bad and Rated R.
With "Work," Rihanna brought dancehall culture and pathos into the mainstream, continuing the work of fellow Caribbean singers like Carroll Thompson, Ginger Williams and Donna Rhoden. By boldly using a Caribbean and Jamaican-influenced song as the lead single on ANTI, Rihanna made a political statement as much as a musical one. "Work" can be read as rejection of the whitewashing of her work and of the Americanized image created for her by Def Jam.
Rihanna was at a career high when "Work" was released, and the return to her origins pushed her to new heights. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first dancehall track to top the chart since"Rude Boy" in 2010 — and later earned nominations for Record Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 59th Grammy Awards.
Written by Jamaican American artist, PartyNextDoor and produced by Kingston, born Boi-1da, "Work" takes production cues from mid-90s Dancehall hits, the Beenie Man and Mr. Vegas collaboration "Badman Nuh Flee" and Sean Paul’s "Fit and Legit." Boi-1da employs hand-claps, auto-tuned harmonizing, muffled piano and flute, as Rihanna shouts into the void. When added to samples of the late-90s hit "Sail Away (Riddim)," "Work's" chorus, verse and bridge bleed into a single, pulsating orgy of sound.
The single was initially met with suspicion by American audiences, some of whom were confused by the simplicity of the song's bare-bones composition and use of Patios, a West African-influenced creole language spoken in the Jamaican diaspora. This dialect can be heard in many modern rap songs, and Rihanna incorporated Patios in singles such "Rude Boy" and "Man Down."
Her use of Patios was a step away from the manufactured, white-washed image created by the major studio machine and a return to her roots — all while continuing to embrace her sexually defiant, female point-of-view. In "Work," Rihanna's voice is steely and unbothered, yet vulnerable and present. The chorus’ monotony borders on a parody of the rinse and repeat pop "Work" inspired and elevated.
Rihanna makes clear her Caribbean intonation, delivering the lyrics to "Work" in a leisurely, laissez-faire style. What many white critics confused for simplicity or obscurification, Rihanna is simply singing for her people in the Afro diaspora. As Rihanna told Vogue of the song, "I felt like if I enunciated the words too perfectly, it would just not be the same attitude or the same sass... This song is definitely a song that represents my culture, and so I had to put a little twist on my delivery."
"Work" can be loosely translated as a Jamaican patois for sex and this insider understanding drenches the song in a steamy subtext, making Rihanna’s repeated use of "work" a personal yearning for intimacy. The word "work" melds into itself, becoming a wordless amalgamation of sex and sweat, and the more Rihanna repeats herself, the more empowered the song becomes.
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Throughout Rihanna’s career, she has asserted herself within the praxis of power. Songs like "Bitch Better Have My Money," "S&M" and "Rude Boy" show the singer consistently in control, delivering lyrics as raunchy and robust as Jamaica's Ranking Slackness, who penned infamously double-entendre odes.
As Jamaican music scholar Frederick R. Dannaway wrote, "woman’s sexuality is a powerful force, and is slightly feared, from the days of Nanny Maroon who repelled bullets with her pum pum." Rihanna has known this since she released her first single, "Pon de Replay," a dancehall track with a title taken from Bajan Creole, the spoken language of Barbados.
In "Work," Rihanna connects to dancehall’s legacy of sexual innuendo and erotic lyricism. That PartyNextDoor claims to have written the single as a break-up song shows the level of ambiguity and complexity Rihanna brings to the vocals.
Rihanna begins the song by showing her discontent with her current lover, echoing PartyNextDoor’s break-up intentions, "Dry! Me a desert him / Nuh time to have you lurking." She feels used by her lover, who only sees her as a sexual conquest. But by the second verse, she expresses vulnerability, admitting her own mistakes in the seemingly toxic relationship, "Baby don't you leave" and "If I get another chance to / I will never, no, never neglect you / I mean who am I to hold your past against you."
Not everyone is up to the task of Rihanna’s table-setting skills. Drake fails to deliver as the song’s guest rapper, who tries to appear nonchalant with his slow, "rolled-out-of-bed" delivery. Rihanna could have easily made this a solo single, but her year's worth of Drake dalliances make the rapper the perfect foil for her lyrics' intended target. When his verse arrives, Rihanna has gone from disgruntled damsel to passion’s inevitability.
That "Work" is both infectious and unknowable, simple yet complex, is indicative of the identities attached to Millennials and continued by Gen Z. With "Work," Rihanna created her definitive masterpiece of a long and storied oeuvre. That her greatest hit is a Caribbean riddim, only adds to Rihanna’s rich legacy as her generation's ambassador and innovator in Caribbean music.
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8 Artists Who Were Inspired By Their Teachers: Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z & More
In honor of Music In Our Schools Month this March, take a look at how teachers made a heartwarming impact on superstars like Katy Perry and John Legend.
Before Rihanna, Billy Joel and Jay-Z became some of the biggest names in music, they were students just like the rest of us. Without some particularly special teachers, they might not be the superstars they are today, and they all remember who first encouraged them.
Within the past few years, Rihanna made a special trip to a cricket match in England to reunite with her old P.E. teacher from Barbados, who she calls her "MVP"; Joel traveled back to his New York hometown to honor the teacher who said he should be a professional musician; and Jay-Z told David Letterman that his sixth grade English teacher made him fall in love with words.
In honor of Music In Our Schools Month — which raises awareness for supporting and cultivating worthwhile music programs in K-12 — GRAMMY.com highlights eight artists who have praised their teachers for making a lifelong impact.
After watching Joel tackle Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, his high school music appreciation teacher Chuck Arnold suggested that he consider music as a career.
"He said to me, you should be a professional musician," Joel recalled of his Hicksville High School mentor during a 1996 event at C.W. Post College. "Now, for a teacher to say that, it's like condemning someone to a life of poverty, drug taking, alcoholism and failure.
"A teacher is telling me this," he added seriously. "It had a huge influence on me."
In 2022, Joel was on hand to congratulate Arnold during the dedication of the Charles "Chuck" Arnold Theatre at the school. "This is for the coolest teacher there ever was," he praised.
.@CBSSunday surprised Lizzo with her high school band director, who encouraged her to apply herself when she was learning to play the flute — and her reaction was priceless: “Wow, I did it, didn't I?” https://t.co/dwffNvYzpb pic.twitter.com/xp5kDK5pWB— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 6, 2019
In 2019, CBS Sunday arranged a surprise visit with the singer and Manny Gonzales, the former band director at her alma mater, Elsik High School in Houston. She told the network that Gonzales helped her get a scholarship to study classical flute at University of Houston.
"You told my ass!" Lizzo exclaimed as she squeezed him. "You were like, 'Get it together, girl, 'cause you are special. Apply yourself!' Those moments meant so much to me."
The Atlanta DJ/producer and king of crunk has done more than take parties to the next level — he has invested in the educational future of children in Africa by building two schools in Ghana with the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise. He credits a mentor at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta for sparking his brain when he was a teenager.
"It was my music teacher [who inspired me to dream bigger]," he said in a 2019 interview with Yahoo! "I wanted to play drums, and if I didn't play drums, I wouldn't make music, and drums are the foundation for what I do."
Roddy Estwick was Rihanna's P.E. teacher in Barbados and is now the assistant coach of the West Indies cricket team. The two had an emotional reunion at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England.
"He made a lasting impact on my life and he really offered great advice to me and many others when we were at school at Combermere," she told Barbados Today amid their reunion. "I just wanted to let everyone know what he meant to me in my development and what he did for us back at school in Barbados." Essence reported that Rihanna described him as, "My mentor, my champ, my MVP" on her Instagram stories.
The Ohio native credits his English teacher Mrs. Bodey at North High School in Springfield for setting him on the path that culminated in his music career.
"Until her class, I hadn't believed in my ability as a writer," Legend shared in a 2017 op-ed for Huffington Post. "She recognized my potential and showed me that I could write with creativity, with clarity, with passion."
He continued, "Mrs. Bodey, along with a few other teachers, helped me gain confidence in my skills and pushed me to challenge myself. They pushed me to graduate second in my class. They pushed me to deliver the speech at our graduation. They pushed me to earn a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, to hone my writing as an English Major and, ultimately, toward a successful career as a songwriter."
The singer was reunited with the most pivotal teacher in her life during her "An Audience with Adele" concert special in 2021. While the singer took questions from the crowd, actress Emma Thompson asked Adele if she had a supporter or protector in the past.
"I had a teacher at [south London high school] Chestnut Grove, who taught me English. That was Miss McDonald," Adele said. "She got me really into English literature. Like, I've always been obsessed with English and obviously now I write lyrics… She really made us care, and we knew that she cared about us."
Miss McDonald then surprised Adele on stage, and the singer was brought to tears — a touching highlight of the special. She even told her former teacher that she still has the books from her class!
While Perry has admitted that she wishes she had a better overall education, her former music school teacher gave her confidence to pursue singing seriously.
"I'm kind of bummed at this stage that I didn't have a great education because I could really use that these days," she said in a 2014 interview with Yahoo! "There was a teacher named Agatha Danoff who was my vocal teacher and music teacher at the Music Academy of the West. It was very fancy and I didn't come from any money… and she always used to give me a break on my lessons. I owe her a lot of credit and I appreciate that she looked out for me when I didn't have enough money to pay."
Picture a young Shawn Carter — now better known as Jay-Z — with his head stuck in a dictionary.
"I had a sixth grade teacher, her name was Ms. Lowden and I just loved the class so much," Jay-Z said during his appearance on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman in 2018.
He later realized how much Renee Rosenblum-Lowden, who taught him at Intermediate School 318 in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, had an influence on his passion for language. "Like, reading the dictionary and just my love of words," he explained. "I just connected with her."
"I knew he was extremely bright, but he was quiet," Rosenblum-Lowden told Brut in 2019, sharing that he scored at the 12th-grade level on a sixth-grade reading test.
"He's been very kind," she added. "Every famous person has a teacher who probably influenced them, and I wish they would all shout out the way Jay-Z did."
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Rihanna Offers Inspiring Performance Of 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Song "Lift Me Up" At 2023 Oscars
Following her Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, Rihanna continues her 2023 comeback with another televised performance — this time, of "Lift Me Up" from 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' at the 2023 Oscars.
Rihanna shone with soft glory at the 2023 Oscars tonight with her lustrous performance of "Lift Me Up," the Oscar-nominated song from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
"Lift Me Up" is Rihanna's first Oscar nomination, and other collaborators on the track include Tems, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Göransson. Göransson composed the original film's score alongside Kendrick Lamar.
Other nominees in the Best Original Song category are “Applause” from Tell It like a Woman (Diane Warren), “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick (Lady Gaga, BloodPop), “Naatu Naatu” from RRR (M.M. Keeravaani, Chandrabose), and “This Is A Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once (Ryan Lott, David Byrne, Mitski).
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also received nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Ruth E. Carter made history as the first Black woman to win two Oscars, winning for Best Costume Design this year and in 2019 (for the original Black Panther).
The performance comes after the nine-time GRAMMY winner's spectacular Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, which marked her first live performance in seven years (and made for one iconic baby bump reveal).
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Photos (L-R, clockwise): Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ACM, Terry Wyatt/Getty Images
Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
Who run the world? Harness positive energy during Women's History Month with this immersive playlist honoring Beyoncé, Rina Sawayama, Kim Petras, and more female musicians.
In the words of recent GRAMMY winner Lizzo, it's bad b— o'clock. To kick off Women's History Month, GRAMMY.com is celebrating with an extensive playlist spotlighting women's divine musical artistry. Perpetually shaping, reinvigorating, and expanding genres, women's creative passion drives the music industry forward.
This March, get ready to unlock self-love with Miley Cyrus' candid "Flowers," or hit the dancefloor with the rapturous Beyoncé's "I'm That Girl." Whether you're searching for the charisma of Doja Cat's "Woman" or confidence of Rihanna's "B— Better Have My Money," this playlist stuns with diverse songs honoring women's fearlessness and innovation.
Women dominate the music charts throughout the year, but this month, dive into their glorious energy by pressing play on our curated Women's History Month playlist, featuring everyone from Dua Lipa to Missy Elliott to Madonna to Kali Uchis.
Listen below on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
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Watch: 6 Thrilling Moments From Rihanna’s Triumphant Return With Performance At Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show
At the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, Rihanna ran through her catalog of hits and successfully reasserted her status as an inimitable R&B superstar.
After seven years, nine-time GRAMMY winner Rihanna made her triumphant return to the stage by taking over one of the biggest platforms in the world: the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show.
Over the course of 13 minutes, the Fenty Beauty mogul ran through her catalog of hits and successfully reasserted her status as an inimitable R&B superstar. At turns soaring and swaggering, Rihanna’s show was a display of unabashed confidence and a steadfast reminder that even after more than half a decade away, pop remains the province of Barbados’ first love.
Ahead of the show, the hitmaker-turned-billionaire opened up regarding her initial hesitation about hitting the stage — just a few months after having her first child with A$AP Rocky.
"When I first got the call to do it again this year, I was like, 'You sure?' I'm three months postpartum. Should I be making major decisions like this right now? I might regret this," she told Apple Music.
"But when you become a mom, there's something that just happens where you feel like you can take on the world," the singer continued. "The Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages in the world, so as scary as that was because I haven't been on stage in seven years, there's something exhilarating about the challenge of it all."
Below, GRAMMY.com rounded up the five biggest and most thrilling moments from RiRi's Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Ballin’ Bigger Than LeBron
Forgoing a grand entrance, Rihanna began her set suspended high above the field at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium. And in a bit of a surprise, she opened not with one of her 14 No. 1 hits, but with 2015’s "Bitch Better Have My Money."
"Ballin' bigger than LeBron/ B—, give me your money," she demanded at the top of the show, reminding the world of her innate greatness.
Only Girl In The World
While many a Super Bowl Halftime Show performer before her has trotted out a surprise guest or two — Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, anyone? — the superstar held the spotlight all by herself.
Even on typically star-studded singles like "Wild Thoughts" and "Run This Town," she opted to strut down the giant runway without any help from collaborators DJ Khaled, Bryson Tiller, Jay-Z, or Kanye West.
That’s How Rih Balls Out
Introduced with a snippet of Talk That Talk favorite "Birthday Cake," Rihanna segued seamlessly into the sexually charged Unapologetic strip-club banger "Pour It Up."
Just a few months postpartum, the Oscar nominee made it clear she’d never loosened her grasp on her sexuality, getting freaky as her army — or navy, rather — of white-clad backup dancers scissor-kicked, leaped and twerked along with her.
Highlight Of My Life, Just Like That Fenty Beauty Kick
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rihanna performance without a nod to her ultra-successful makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, would it?
The mogul certainly knew how to sneak her oh-so-subtle product placement into the show, touching up her makeup with a compact as her dancers rushed the field to what was certainly the biggest surprise of the setlist — Kanye’s 2010 smash "All Of the Lights."
Shine Bright Like A Diamond
Donning a floor-length Alaïa coat and gloves to match her sexy all-red ensemble, RiRi once again took to the sky for her grand finale.
Isolated on her own platform with just a mic stand, the nine-time GRAMMY winner launched into two of her biggest hits: 2007’s "Umbrella" followed by 2012’s "Diamonds."
The back-to-back songs were nothing short of chill-inducing. "Find light in the beautiful sea/ I choose to be happy," Rihanna declared against a backdrop of twinkling lights from the stands and a sky filled with fireworks.
That Legendary Baby Bump Reveal
Rihanna may have just given birth to her first child, a boy, last May, but fans started speculating online that the singer maybe, just maybe, might be with child again during her set. Only after she left the field did her representative confirm to The Hollywood Reporter that Rih is officially expecting her second child with A$AP Rocky. Which, yes, means she performed that entire, effortlessly iconic Super Bowl Halftime Show while pregnant.
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