meta-scriptHow Rihanna's "Work" Reinvigorated Dancehall | GRAMMY.com
How Rihanna's "Work" Reinvigorated Dancehall
Rihanna performs in Italy during her Anti World Tour in 2016

Photo: Marco Piraccini\Archivio Marco Piraccini\Mondadori via Getty Images

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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.

GRAMMYs/Sep 26, 2022 - 05:19 pm

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. 

Read More: The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall

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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Songbook: The Ultimate Guide To Rihanna's Reign, From Her Record-Breaking Hits To Unforgettable Collabs
(L-R) Rihanna in 2023, 2006 and 2010.

Photos: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Greetsia Tent/WireImage, Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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Songbook: The Ultimate Guide To Rihanna's Reign, From Her Record-Breaking Hits To Unforgettable Collabs

As the world eagerly awaits Rihanna's musical comeback, GRAMMY.com takes a deep dive into the superstar's catalog and celebrates her evolution from teen idol to beloved icon.

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 06:37 pm

A chance meeting changed Rihanna's life.

The singer was just 15 years old when she met producer Evan Rogers, who was vacationing with his wife in Barbados. Rogers recognized Rihanna's potential, and invited her to an audition in his hotel suite. 

Shortly after her 16th birthday, Rihanna left her home country for the U.S. to record a demo, which included her breakthrough hit "Pon de Replay." The demo found its way into Jay-Z's hands, and Hov signed the teen artist to Def Jam and the label expedited her 2005 debut album, aptly titled Music of the Sun.

"When I left Barbados, I didn't look back," Rihanna told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. "I wanted to do what I had to do [to succeed], even if it meant moving to America." 

Twenty years later, Rihanna is a renowned entertainer-turned-mogul. She has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, garnered over 12 billion Spotify streams, achieved 14 Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers, and won nine GRAMMY Awards. Even her business ventures have been a massive success, as her Fenty Beauty brand is worth $2.8 billion.

Though it's been close to a decade since Rihanna's last studio album, 2016's ANTI, she reminded the world of her reign with her 2023 Super Bowl halftime show — which also marked her first time taking the stage in five years. Performing hit after hit while unveiling a baby bump, her 13-minute set became one of the most-watched halftime shows of all time with over 121 million viewers. 

In honor of Rihanna's 36th birthday on Feb. 20, GRAMMY.com is revisiting the monstrous hits, ambitious projects, brow-raising visuals, and iconic collabs that propelled her to international stardom — and why it's all put her in a league of her own.

A New Island Girl In Town

True to her Carribean heritage, Rihanna's dancehall-inspired debut single "Pon de Replay" earned the then 17-year-old Barbados native her first entry on the Hot 100 at an impressive No. 2. Her official introduction to the world also hit No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart; she boasts 33 on the tally, second behind only the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna.

Follow-up single "If It's Lovin' That You Want" stalled at No. 36 on the Hot 100, but still whetted fans' appetite — as did her debut album, Music of the Sun, which is mostly comprised of dance-pop and dancehall tracks with hints of R&B (like "Willing to Wait"). Plus, her reimagining of Dawn Penn's 1994 reggae classic "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" is still so fun to listen to after all these years.

A mere eight months later, Rihanna's sophomore effort, 2006's A Girl Like Me, arrived to an eager audience. Defying the sophomore slump, she celebrated her first No. 1 with the ubiquitous lead single "SOS," which famously samples Soft Cell's 1981 hit, "Tainted Love." While A Girl Like Me is filled with high-energy, danceable tracks (including the nostalgic "Break It Off" with Sean Paul), Rihanna's second single was the melodramatic ballad "Unfaithful." 

Penned by then-labelmate Ne-Yo, "Unfaithful" peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100. More importantly, it showed a different side to Rihanna, proving that she could channel deep emotion when the performance calls for it. It also marked Rihanna's first time veering away from her "girl next door" image, as the song's subject matter deals with infidelity.

A Girl Like Me contains many fan favorites, from the laid-back "We Ride" to standouts "Dem Haters" and "Kisses Don't Lie." The latter is a reggae-rock hybrid that sounds like a catalyst for some of Rihanna's edgier tunes like "Breakin' Dishes" from 2007's Good Girl Gone Bad era. Touching ballads"Final Goodbye" and "A Million Miles Away" showcase her voice beautifully, foreshadowing later big-vocal numbers like "Love on the Brain."

An Icon In The Making

Rihanna was a familiar face by 2007, but with the arrival of her third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad, she graduated from cookie-cutter pop star to bonafide icon.

Produced by Tricky Stewart, the LP's juggernaut lead single "Umbrella" featuring Jay-Z skyrocketed to No. 1 in 17 countries. Between striking images of Rihanna's silver-painted silhouette in the accompanying video and the now-iconic "ella-ella, eh, eh, eh" hook, "Umbrella" thrust the then 19-year-old into another stratosphere. Her confident delivery also commanded attention in a way fans and critics hadn't heard before.

The transformative era also birthed the gritty "Shut Up and Drive," on which Rihanna channels her inner rock star. The next two singles cracked the top 10: an affectionate duet with Ne-Yo,  "Hate That I Love You," which showed off Rihanna's softer side, and the party-starting, Michael Jackson-sampling "Don't Stop the Music," which cemented her place in the digital era. 

The melancholy "Rehab" is a clever metaphor for lost love, co-written by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. Despite being Good Girl Gone Bad's lowest-charting single, Timberlake heralded the song as "the bridge for her to be accepted as an adult in the music industry."

Good Girl Gone Bad remains Rihanna's best-selling album and marks her greatest reinvention as she adopted a more rebellious sound. She also won her first GRAMMY in 2008 (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Umbrella") and scored four other nominations, including Record Of The Year. The album's reissue spawned two more No. 1s: "Take a Bow" and "Disturbia," the latter of which acts like a prelude to Rated R, which saw Rihanna exploring darker themes.

Nine months before the release of 2009's Rated R, Rihanna was assaulted by then-boyfriend Chris Brown. On the deeply personal album, she translated her pain into art. Through lead single "Russian Roulette" and bitingly catchy anthems "Stupid in Love," "Fire Bomb," "Photographs," "Cold Case Love," and "The Last Song," Rihanna explored her angst and confusion.

But to focus solely on the domestic violence incident undermines Rihanna's artistic vision. 

Following three multi-platinum albums in a three-year span, Rihanna's rebranding as a rebel at heart reached its apex. The singer had grown in leaps and bounds while taking musical risks, even penning nine of Rated R's 13 tracks (she had no writing credits on Good Girl Gone Bad).

The road to Rihanna's most badass anthems — including "Bitch Better Have My Money" — can be traced back to Rated R. Case in point: Her bravado is loud and clear on "Hard," "Wait Your Turn," and "G4L." On "Rockstar 101," which features legendary rocker Slash, Rihanna declares her power: "Six inch walker/ Big sh— talker/ I never play the victim/ I'd rather be a stalker."

Badgal RiRi returned to her dancehall roots on her fifth No. 1 "Rude Boy," which offsets the album's harrowing motif. Final single "Te Amo" didn't chart, but garnered a great deal of attention as the Latin-infused Stargate production depicts Rihanna being enticed by a female love interest. 

Rated R showcased Rihanna's undeniable star power, and allowed her to shed her good-girl image once and for all.

A Partygoer's Dream

Following the career-pivoting Rated R, 2010's Loud offered a welcome return to the West Indian artist's earlier sound. The album feels like one big celebration of life, as evidenced by Rihanna's fire-engine red hair and No. 1 singles "Only Girl (In the World)" and "What's My Name?" (the latter of which was Rih's first collaboration with Drake).

Best described as "Don't Stop the Music" 2.0, the effervescent "Only Girl" marked her eminent return to the dance floor and took home a GRAMMY for Best Dance Recording in 2011. While "What's My Name?" may not outshine Rih and Drizzy's other collabs — including 2011's "Take Care" or 2016's "Work" — the second she sings, "Hey, boy, I really wanna see if you can go downtown with a girl like me," it's impossible not to whine your waist to the riddim.

Easily one of Rihanna's most overlooked hits, "Cheers (Drink to That)" is built around an unexpected sample of Avril Lavigne's 2002 hit "I'm With You," but it works surprisingly well as a party anthem. That same carefree spirit can be heard in the feminist track "Raining Men," which features Nicki Minaj — their first of two collabs, as they joined forces again for "Fly," the final single off the rapper's iconic Pink Friday album. 

A playful ode to sadomasochism and bondage, "S&M" contains some of Rihanna's most provocative lyrics: "Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But chains and whips excite me," she declares on the chorus. 

Banned in 11 countries upon its release, the accompanying video features Rihanna tied up in pink rope, dancing with a blowup doll, and donning a Playboy bunny-esque costume as damning newsreels about herself flash across the screen. But Rihanna's love of kink made her an even bigger star: "S&M" produced a remix with Britney Spears and earned Rihanna her 10th No. 1 single. With this feat, she became the youngest artist to attain the most chart-toppers in a five-year span.

On "Man Down," Rihanna's patois is in full effect as she takes listeners through a gripping tale about murdering her abuser. "What started out as a simple altercation/ Turned into a real sticky situation," she laments in the opening verse, amplified by siren noises in the background. There's something so satisfying about Rihanna's Bajan accent as she unfurls "Rum-pum-pum-pum" repeatedly over an intensifying reggae beat that would make Sister Nancy and Bob Marley proud.

Nominated for Album Of The Year at the 2021 GRAMMYs, Loud is Rihanna's second most commercially successful LP — and for good reason. It was especially refreshing to see Rihanna emerge from one of the darkest periods of her life as exuberant as ever.

An Unapologetic Queen

Sonically and thematically, Talk That Talk doesn't break new ground, but Rih's DGAF attitude is front and center with plenty of sexual innuendos: Songs like "S&M" and "Rude Boy" seem pretty tame next to "Cockiness (Love It)," which features longtime friend-turned-boyfriend A$AP Rocky on its remix. "Suck my cockiness/ Lick my persuasion/ Eat my poison/ And swallow your pride down, down," she commands in the tantalizing chorus.

At just over a minute long, "Birthday Cake" leaves nothing to the imagination ("It's not even my birthday, but he wanna lick the icing off"). Rihanna controversially released a full-length version in the form of a remix with Chris Brown.

On an album that mostly sees Rihanna singing about her sexual fantasies, "We All Want Love" pulls back the curtain as it reveals her desire for true love: "And some say love ain't worth the buck/ But I'll give my last dime/ To have what I've only been dreaming about." 

Her longing continues in "Where Have You Been," which flaunts Rihanna's versatility, flipping Geoff Mack's 1959 country song "I've Been Everywhere" into an infectious EDM banger. Lead single "We Found Love" is undeniably the biggest hit to stem from the Talk That Talk era, spending 10 consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100. 

Boosting Calvin Harris' career, "We Found Love" presents one juxtaposition after the other: dark yet gleaming, euphoric yet sobering, fraught yet hopeful. Rihanna relies on more than just evocative lyrics to tell her story; accompanying synthesizers and alarm bells help to paint a picture as well. Met with controversy, its intense visuals portraying a drug-fueled, toxic relationship — and featuringwhat many speculated was a Chris Brown look-alike — earned RiRi a GRAMMY for Best Long Form Music Video in 2013.

Seven years into an already extraordinary career, 2012's Unapologetic became Rihanna's first album to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. Its lead single "Diamonds" resonated in an equally major way, giving Rih her 12th No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Written by Sia, the power ballad kicked off another exciting era for the Barbadian singer, who unleashes an impassioned vocal performance. One of Rihanna's most precious offerings to date, "Diamonds" emerged as a self-love mantra due to its uplifting "Shine bright like a diamond" chant.

Vocally, Rihanna's strength lies in her ability to evoke raw emotion à la "Stay." Featuring Mikky Ekko, the stripped-down, slow-burning piano ballad narrowly missed the top spot on the Hot 100 but gave Rihanna her 24th top 10 hit, surpassing Whitney Houston's record of 23 in 2013.

Her swagger is boisterous in "Phresh Out the Runway," "Jump," and strip club anthem "Pour It Up," but "Nobody's Business" really drives home the album's theme of being unbothered. Her decision to join forces with Chris Brown yet again perplexed fans and critics alike, though the track itself is an irresistible production that features a genius interpolation of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Further down the track list, "Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary" is as autobiographical as it gets, and further taps into Rihanna's emotionally vulnerable side. "Mr. Jesus, I'd love to be a queen/ But I'm from the left side of an island/ Never thought this many people would even know my name," she pleads in the seven-minute two-parter.

Unapologetic spawned fewer hit singles compared to Rihanna's previous efforts. Its win for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2014 GRAMMYs, however, proved that Rihanna's reign wasn't letting up anytime soon.

While recording her then-forthcoming album, ANTI, Rihanna delivered what is arguably the single most unapologetic moment of her career: "Bitch Better Have My Money." The backstory is almost inconceivable given Rihanna's awe-inspiring billionaire status, but in 2009, Rihanna faced bankruptcy due to her accountants mishandling her funds — and thus "Bitch" was born six years later in 2015.

With lyrics like "Your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car" over a cryptic-sounding trap beat and an accompanying video depicting kidnapping and torturing her debtors, "Bitch" is not for the faint-hearted. The one-off single is so quintessentially Rihanna that it notably kicked off her Super Bowl halftime show.

An In-Demand Collaborator

While bestowing hit after hit on her own, Rihanna generously lent her distinct voice to some of her biggest peers. 2008 marks one of the earliest instances of her Midas touch: She flirts with funk in Maroon 5's underappreciated "If I Never See Your Face Again" before hopping on T.I.'s "Live Your Life," which shot straight to No. 1 on the Hot 100.

In 2009, Rihanna joined Jay-Z and Kanye West for the militant "Run This Town," sounding defiant as ever in the intro. She was called upon again for West's horn-laden "All of the Lights," flying solo on the hook followed by a star-studded choir that included Alicia Keys, John Legend, Fergie, and Elton John. Both larger-than-life productions won GRAMMYs for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

In between joining forces with Hov and Ye, Rihanna assisted Eminem in "Love the Way You Lie," which struck a nerve with many for its gut-wrenching lyrics shedding a light on abusive relationships. (Rih recorded an equally moving sequel for her Loud album.) Three years later, the two confronted their inner demons in "The Monster," and their musical chemistry scored a GRAMMY in 2015 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Amid smash collabs, Rihanna and Coldplay's intricate "Princess of China" number gets lost in the shuffle, but it speaks to her charm as it's the band's first album (2011's Mylo Xyloto) to feature another artist. Another overlooked jam, her sultry "Can't Remember to Forget You" duet with Shakira sees both stars trade lines about struggling to let go of an undeserving lover.

On paper, a collaboration between Rihanna, Kanye West, and Sir Paul McCartney may seem strange, but the unlikely trio is further proof that opposites attract. Their "FourFiveSeconds" is a pop-folk hybrid with a universal message about carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It's yet another example of Rihanna's willingness to push past her comfort zone to create something unique.

A year later, Rihanna got listeners on their feet by way of the Taylor Swift-penned "This Is What You Came For" with Calvin Harris. Understated compared to the duo's previous megahits ("We Found Love" and "Where Have You Been"), Harris' signature DJing style and Rih's ethereal vocals are a perfect match.

In 2017, Rih, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller dropped the song of the summer with "Wild Thoughts," which heavily borrows from Carlos Santana's 1999 GRAMMY-winning "Maria Maria." It may be DJ Khaled's song, but RiRi owns it from the very moment she utters, "I don't know if you could take it/ Know you wanna see me nakey, nakey, naked." The bop reached No. 2 on the Hot 100.

She spits bars in Kendrick Lamar's "Loyalty" and "Lemon" with N.E.R.D., the latter of which comes close to rivaling your favorite rappers' verses: "You can catch me, Rih, in the new La Ferrar'/ And the truck behind me got arms/ Yeah, longer than LeBron/ Just waitin' for my thumb like The Fonz."

No matter what genre Rihanna touches or what artist she links up with, she brings her full self to each session whilst completely immersing herself into the music — taking on different personas to make the collab well worth it.

An Artist Fully Realized

With 13 No. 1s and twice as many top 10 hits under her belt, Rihanna set out to create timeless music instead of chasing a radio-friendly formula with her 2016 magnum opus, ANTI.

But that shift began with 2015's criminally underrated "American Oxygen." Her most political statement at the time, the goosebump-inducing lyrics detail Rihanna's journey as an immigrant, foreshadowing her then soon-to-be massive Fenty Beauty success. "We sweat for a nickel and a dime/ Turn it into an empire," she sings in the chorus.

Released four years after Unapologetic — her longest gap between albums at the time — ANTI illustrated Rihanna's greater desire for quality over quantity. "I needed the music to match my growth," she told Vogue in 2016 about the making of ANTI. "I didn't want to get caught up with anything the world liked, anything the radio liked, anything that I liked, that I've already heard. I just wanted it to be me."

The black-and-white, red paint-splattered album cover signals a rebirth, featuring a real-life image of Rihanna as a child. ANTI lives up to its name in its first 40 seconds, via opening track "Consideration." The minute she declares, "I got to do things my own way, darling," it's apparent that ANTI is not your average Rihanna album.

Lead single "Work" is the closest to pre-ANTI Rihanna on an album that defies expectations. But the dancehall masterpiece is one of a kind for Rih's refusal to water down the Jamaican patois (different from her native language of Bajan Creole) — proving that she is fully aware of her impact as one of the biggest Caribbean-born artists to make it in the U.S.

Many non-understanding listeners described it as "gibberish" at the time. Yet, the general public didn't seem to mind: About a month after its release, "Work" became Rihanna's 14th and longest-running chart-topper on the Hot 100. Weeks later, ANTI became her second LP to top the Billboard 200 chart. Subsequently, Rihanna held the No. 1 spots on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 simultaneously, her second time achieving such an impressive feat.

Read More: How Rihanna's "Work" Reinvigorated Dancehall

ANTI is full of pleasant surprises that show off her artistry. Rihanna comes out of left field with the Prince-inspired "Kiss It Better," the album's second single, which sees the superstar falling back on addictive sex that "feels like crack" to justify a destructive relationship. "Same Ol' Mistakes" is a cover of psychedelic rock band Tame Impala's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" — her first time remaking another artist's song for her own album since "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" on Music of the Sun. The Western-themed "Desperado" lends itself particularly well to covers by country artists, while the Dido-sampling "Never Ending" conveys the uncertainty she feels about entering a new relationship.

Elsewhere on ANTI, Rihanna drunk dials an ex ("Higher"), compares smoking weed to her lover ("James Joint"), and chastises a guy for getting emotionally attached after their fling ("Needed Me"). The latter song contains one of Rihanna's most empowering lyrics: "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage?/ F— ya white horse and ya carriage," she asserts in the pre-chorus.

Her voice sounds stronger than ever on "Love on the Brain," a doo-wop ballad resembling Etta James. But Rihanna makes it her own thanks to the bluntness of lines like "It beats me black and blue but it f— me so good."

The deep cuts on ANTI aren't merely fillers, and even rival some of the album's biggest hits. For instance, "Sex with Me" is featured on the deluxe edition as a bonus track, but managed to crack the Hot 100 at No. 83 and reach No. 8 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Furthermore, the deluxe edition consists of 16 tracks, half of which topped the Dance Club Songs chart — smashing the record (previously held by Katy Perry's Teenage Dream) for the most No. 1s from a single album.

Accolades aside, ANTI is proof that magic happens when an artist of Rihanna's caliber follows their own instincts in pursuit of creating a body of work — one that can outlast them and continue to inspire generations to come.

Ever since ANTI, Rihanna's devoted fanbase has been begging for a new album, with Rih playfully trolling them with responses like "I lost it" and Instagram captions that read, "Me listening to R9 by myself and refusing to release it."

Her much-awaited return to music came at the tail end of 2022. The hitmaker twice contributed to the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack: "Born Again" and "Lift Me Up," the latter of which helped Rihanna score her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in 2022 and 2023, respectively. With the glorious "Lift Me Up," she found herself in the top 10 for the first time since 2017's "Wild Thoughts."

While the world is still anticipating her ninth studio album, Rihanna — now a mom of two boys — continues to make her own rules and move at her own pace. But as she's proven time and time again, it's always worth the wait.

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Rihanna attends Marvel Studios' "Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever" Premiere on October 26, 2022 in Hollywood, California.

Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic / Getty Images

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10 Love Songs That Have Nothing to Do With Love: From "Every Breath You Take" To "Baby It's Cold Outside"

Don't let the song titles fool you. From misogynist attitudes to tales of coercion and even a secret pregnancy, many popular love songs aren't about love at all.

GRAMMYs/Feb 14, 2024 - 03:46 pm

Many studies on love have proven that it seems to be a trait present throughout species. Although it's undeniable that the capacity for love is universal, evidence suggests love manifests differently across individuals. That is why, for many people, love is undefinable, with the word meaning something for one and something else for another. 

This point has never been proven more true than in love songs. Numerous musicians and bands have sung about love, but their definition or meaning of the word and yours might be wholly different. You would be surprised to learn how many love songs have absolutely nothing to do with emotional or physical love.

When you delve beneath the surface, "love" songs are sometimes twisted, uncomfortable, sadistic, and unsavory. So, let's look at 10 love songs with nothing to do with love and everything to do with what they shouldn’t. 

"Every Breath You Take" - the Police 

When the Police released "Every Breath You Take" in 1983, it immediately became a huge hit, reaching No.1 on U.S., UK, Canadian, Irish, and South African charts. On the surface, this song seems romantic, which is why it made its way into numerous movie scenes and weddings, but the lyrics are uncomfortable and prove the song is not actually about love. 

Frontman Sting sings, "I'll be watching you," and, "Oh, can't you see, you belong to me?" about the song's object of affection. Rather than lyrics about a lover, it's believed that the song is about a stalker. At the time Sting was suffering a mental breakdown, making the verses infinitely more evil.

In fact, Sting himself said: "I think it's a nasty little song, really rather evil. It's about jealousy and surveillance and ownership."

"Rollercoaster of Love" - Ohio Players 

On the surface, the lyrics "It's a rollercoaster ride/we're on top for the moment/ and then we'll take that dive" seem to describe a relationship's exhilarating ups and downs. However, there has been much debate over the years about the true meaning behind the Ohio Players' staple. 

The most popular theory is that the song is about life's ups and downs, not love, but we'll never know. According to late frontman Leroy Bronner who wrote the tune, "To this day, I don't know what I wrote." He continued, "The words didn't make sense to me. But it was a hit."

The song also has a much darker recording humor, which further alienates it from the genre of love songs. According to the rumor to which the band responded "No comment," the scream on the track was the sound of a woman being murdered in the recording studio. 

The woman's death is an urban legend, but the band decided to leave it in as a joke and as a way to create buzz for the song, with the actual scream belonging to keyboard player Billy Beck. 

"Can't Feel My Face" - the Weeknd  

The Weeknd is well known for penning lyrics that have multiple meanings, so it's not surprising that his hit track "Can't Feel My Face" isn't really about love. 

With the lyrics: "I can't feel my face when I'm with you/But I love it" and "And I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb/And she'll always get the best of me; the worst is yet to come." It sounds like a dark love song about a man who is so in love that he loses all control, which is plausible, but it's more likely the song is about cocaine. 

According to Billboard, the song is about drug dependency, and the Weeknd is crooning about cocaine and likening it to a bad relationship. The Weeknd had hinted at the song being about drugs when he commented: "I just won a new award for a kids' show, Talking 'bout a face numbing off a bag of blow." Unfortunately, it's not very romantic. 

"Umbrella" - Rihanna

Most believe that one of Rihanna's most famous songs is about a woman comforting her partner and explaining that she will be there for him through the good and bad times. "Baby 'cause in the dark you can't see shiny cars/And that's when you need me there. With you, I'll always share," she sings.

However, a few people believe "Umbrella" is about the corruption of a person's soul – Rhianna's in this case. Some believe that the 2007 hit is about Rhianna welcoming the devil into her heart, body, and soul. While this is more of a conspiracy theory than anything else,  a pastor recently posted on TikTok that he came back from hell, and "Umbrella" was one of the songs being used to torture individuals. 

"All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You" -  Heart

If you listen carefully to the lyrics in "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You," it's clear that the 1990 song actually about deceit. 

Nancy and Ann Wilson are singing about being in love with another man who cannot provide her with children because he is impotent — so she finds a willing one-night stand. She sings, "I didn't ask him his name, this lonely boy in the rain." When morning comes, the protagonist says "All I left him was a note/ I told him I am the flower; you are the seed. We walked in the garden; we planted a tree."

After some time has passed, she's unnerved to come across his path, presumably pregnant: "You can imagine his surprise when he saw his own eyes/I said please, please understand/I'm in love with another man/And what he couldn't give me was the one little thing that you can."

"Bad Romance" - Lady Gaga

"Bad Romance" was developed as an experimental pop record featuring elements of German techno and house. With more than 184 million YouTube streams, the 2008 track quickly became one of Lady Gaga's best songs. 

On the surface, "Bad Romance" centers on the pull of a love that's bad for you: "I want your ugly, I want your disease/I want your everything as long as it's free/I want your love." However, it's not so straightforward. 

Gaga said she drew inspiration from the paranoia she experienced while on tour. She also stated the song is about her attraction to unhealthy romantic romances that are not always about love. 

"Young Girl" - Gary Puckett and the Union Gap

Not all love is appropriate, as the song "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap proves. This 1968 single is wholly inappropriate and creepy (and illegal), but it still managed to become one of the band's best-known songs. In fact, despite the lyrics being more about unsavory infatuation than love, it still reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (just behind "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"). 

Initially, this song doesn't appear inappropriate with lyrics  "Young girl, get out of my mind" possibly referencing the romance of a slight age gap. But the group doubles down: "My love for you is way out of line/ Better run, girl/You're much too young, girl."

If these words aren't enough to prove the song is about being infatuated with an underage girl, you might be convinced by lead singer Gary Puckett singing, "Beneath your perfume and make-up you're just a baby in disguise" and "Get out of here before I have the time to change my mind." 

"Under My Thumb" - by the Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones have had their share of controversy over the years, and it's not hard to see why when you consider the meaning behind many of their big hits. "Under My Thumb" might have been marketed as a love song, but it's about a relationship rooted in hate and control. 

With lyrics such as "Under my thumb/It's a squirmin' dog who's just had her day/Under my thumb/

A girl who has just changed her ways," it's apparent that Mick Jagger is singing less about heartbreak and more about power. The misogyny is so clear in this song that it made it into the book Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women That Love Them.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" - Dean Martin 

One of the most popular holiday season love songs, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written by Frank Loessser and performed by Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald. It's difficult to say if these musicians knew the song's sinister and controversial underbelly. 

"Baby It's Cold Outside" is about a man who pressures a woman to stay at his home by any means necessary. The woman in the song tries to give reasons why she cannot stay with lyrics like "My mother will start to worry" and "My father will be pacing the floor." Yet, her concerns are shot down at every turn, with the man using the bad weather outside to keep her captive. Fortunately, the song has been remade with consensual lyrics, thanks to Kelly Clarkson and John Legend

"You're Gorgeous" - Babybird

This song may have a happy rhythm, but if you pay attention to the lyrics, there is much more to this song than meets the eye. Although the song appears to be about a man who would do anything for his lady love, it is about exploitation. 

This song — the British group's biggest hit, from 1996 — is about a sleazy photographer who takes advantage of a young and naive model and photographs her for men's magazines. The lyrics "You got me to hitch my knees up/And pulled my legs apart" details the true nature of this song.

"People should never be told how to interpret a song," Babybird told the blog Essentially Pop. "So, if they thought it was romantic, then fine." He continued, "Sadly, very few people got the true meaning, which is about male predatory behavior, but in popular music, most critics are a little blind to correct interpretation."

Lovesick Or Sick Of Love: Listen To GRAMMY.com’s Valentine’s Day Playlist Featuring Taylor Swift, Doja Cat, Playboi Carti, Olivia Rodrigo, FKA Twigs & More

Usher's Biggest Hits, From Baby-Making Slow Jams To Dance Floor Classics
Usher performs in Boulogne-Billancourt, France in September 2023.

Photo: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

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Usher's Biggest Hits, From Baby-Making Slow Jams To Dance Floor Classics

As Usher preps for the Super Bowl halftime show and his first album in nearly a decade, revisit the entertainer's biggest hits and underrated gems that made him the King of R&B.

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2024 - 05:52 pm

With eight GRAMMYs, over 65 million albums sold, and nine Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, Usher is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of his generation. And 20 years after his diamond-certified magnum opus, 2004's Confessions, the 45-year-old triple threat is reminding fans and critics alike that he's still got it.

In the midst of his highly successful (and twice-extended) Las Vegas residency, Usher was announced as the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show headliner, coinciding with the Feb. 9 release of Coming Home — his first solo studio album in eight years. On paper, Usher is the perfect halftime performer that checks all the boxes: the voice, the choreography, the stamina, the hits, the charm. If his electrifying appearance alongside the Black Eyed Peas' 2011 performance is any indication of how Feb. 11 will go, it's bound to be one for the books. 

Super Bowl halftime shows usually last around 13 minutes, but for an artist of Usher's caliber, the high-stakes performance is over 30 years in the making. In 1991, a 13-year-old Usher appeared on Star Search, which led to an audition with LaFace Records. While singing Boyz II Men's "End of the Road," he displayed his knack for captivating an audience even way back then, before appearing on the soundtrack for the 1993 film Poetic Justice starring Janet Jackson and Tupac

His debut single, "Call Me a Mack," mostly flew under the radar at the time, though his star power gleamed in the accompanying video. In the decades since, Usher's eight albums and 16 No. 1 hits on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart have helped him earn the unofficial title of "The King of R&B," paving the way for other household names like Chris Brown, Trey Songz, Ne-Yo, and protégé Justin Bieber.

Though the aptly titled Coming Home marks his first solo album since 2016's Hard II Love, he's continued to whet fans' appetite with several one-off singles, including "Bad Habits" and "Glu." For the lead single from Coming Home, "Good Good," he recruited Summer Walker and 21 Savage, signaling a new chapter for the music veteran. Following his announcement, Usher described the forthcoming LP as a body of work that not only honors his legacy, but tells "a story that is open to interpretation and that will connect with people in different ways."

As the world awaits Usher's Super Bowl halftime show and new music, GRAMMY.com is revisiting 15 songs that made him a force to be reckoned with in entertainment.

"You Make Me Wanna," My Way (1997)

Three years after his 1994 self-titled debut album failed to garner much attention, Usher crashed the second half of the decade with his breakout hit "You Make Me Wanna." Inspired by the then 19-year-old's real-life experiences of juggling multiple women, he sings frankly about being stuck in a love triangle: "You make me wanna leave the one I'm with/ Start a new relationship wit' you."

Peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100, "You Make Me Wanna" set Usher's career ablaze as the lead single off 1997's seven-time-platinum My Way album — helping him stand out among a sea of fellow R&B newcomers, including Joe and Ginuwine.

In 1998, the success of "You Make Me Wanna" also earned Usher his first-ever GRAMMY nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. That same year, he was chosen as Janet Jackson's opening act for the U.S. leg of her Velvet Rope Tour, setting a precedent for the show-stopping performances he's since become known for.

"Nice & Slow," My Way (1997)

So many of Usher's best songs focus on the art of lovemaking, but "Nice & Slow" is notable as his first No. 1 on the Hot 100 — and for cementing his sex symbol status.

Only 20 years young at the time, Usher delivers suggestive lyrics (e.g., "I got plans to put my hands in places/ I never seen, girl you know what I mean") with such bravado that it's easy to mistake the then-budding entertainer for someone twice his age.

Moments before laying down the sensual track, producer Jermaine Dupri set out to create a "ballad that's gonna knock out the world," he said in 2003's The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Over 25 years later, "Nice & Slow" is still quintessential Usher, as it gave way to a long string of slow jams like "Do It To Me" and "Climax" that make the ladies swoon.

"Bedtime," My Way (1997)

Around the release of Confessions, Usher declared himself a "sexaholic" (which he later refuted). But the hearthrob's sexual appetite first appeared on his album My Way, as evidenced by one of the LP's closing tracks, "Bedtime." In the opening line, he sings, "Craving your body all through the night/ Feels like I'm going through withdrawals."

Penned by R&B mastermind Babyface, the number is structured a little bit like a lullaby but isn't as captivating as "Nice & Slow." Still, it earns a spot on this list for being one of the very first in his catalog to ooze grown and sexy vibes.

"U Remind Me," 8701 (2001)

Kicking off his now-iconic 8701 era, "U Remind Me" follows Usher as he falls for a girl who resembles his ex, but ultimately decides against dating her for that very reason.

Produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, "U Remind Me" shares similarities to "You Make Me Wanna" as both songs center around inner conflict, but the most noticeable difference is the vocal delivery. His runs and ad-libs carry more weight in "U Remind Me," which also charted higher internationally. According to what Jimmy Jam told MTV at the time, the goal was for "people to hear Usher sing and go, 'This boy can sing. He's a singer.'" 

Becoming his second No. 1, "U Remind Me" paid off critically for him as well, earning the child prodigy his first GRAMMY for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2002.

"U Got It Bad," 8701 (2001)

After "U Remind Me," Usher slowed things down with his third chart-topper, "U Got It Bad," which is believed to be about then-girlfriend, Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas of best-selling female group TLC, who also stars in the accompanying video.

Interpolating Prince's "Adore" and Maxwell's "Fortunate" from 1987 and 1999, respectively, "U Got It Bad" finds Usher struggling to accept that he's fallen deep for someone, a slow-burning feeling intensified by a guitar solo that soars midway through. The smoldering track showcased that he was a fully developed star capable of conveying emotion in addition to crafting tunes that fill the dance floor.

"Yeah!" feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris, Confessions (2004)

Usher was at his commercial peak when he tried his hand at crunk music à la "Yeah!" with Lil Jon at the helm. Somewhat of a catalyst for his foray into EDM (more on that later), "Yeah!" marked the first of four consecutive No. 1s off Confessions and Usher's longest-running chart-topper at 12 weeks. Naturally, it was crowned the most-played song of 2004 despite the label's hesitation to release it as a lead single.

Of all of Usher's party anthems, "Yeah!" wins for holding its relevance 20 years later; to this day, it remains a staple at wedding receptions, sporting events, and countless other celebrations. Plus, Ludacris' scene-stealing guest verse, where he rhymes "ridiculous" and "conspicuous," is forever etched in our memory.

In 2005, Usher added to his GRAMMY collection after "Yeah!" took home Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. It was such a smash that "Ursher, Jon and Luda had to do it again" in 2004's "Lovers and Friends," which narrowly missed the No. 1 spot, and then again with "SexBeat" in 2020.

"Burn," Confessions (2004)

True to the diaristic nature of Confessions, "Burn" sees Usher grappling with the aftermath of a failed relationship. "Sendin' pages I ain't supposed to/ Got somebody here, but I want you/ 'Cause the feelin' ain't the same/ Find myself callin' her your name," he laments in the second verse.

"Yeah!" took Usher's stardom to the next level, but "Burn" gave fans a deeper glimpse into his personal life. By then, his two-year relationship with TLC's Chilli had run its course. As Usher noted himself to MTV News, "It's unfortunate when you have to let a situation go because it's not working. Although you may want to stay, you've got to let it burn."

That level of vulnerability resonated with broken hearts everywhere; "Burn" dethroned "Yeah!" when it skyrocketed to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100. Subsequently, Usher held the No. 1 and 2 spots on the chart, becoming the first artist to achieve such a major feat since the Beatles 40 years earlier. 

"Confessions Part II," Confessions (2004)

While "Burn" saw Usher pulling back the curtain, he left it all on the table in one of the most talked about songs of his three-decade career: "Confessions Part II."

In "Part I," he sings about having a "chick on the side," but "Part II" marks the point of no return as he confesses to impregnating his mistress. As expected, "Confessions" sparked rumors that Usher got another woman pregnant while dating Chilli. In reality, it was recorded before their breakup and based on Jermaine Dupri's situation. Still, Usher delivers the story as if it was his own.

Even though "Confessions Part II" revolves around infidelity, it's difficult to not feel sympathetic toward him as the track winds down: "This by far is the hardest thing I think I've ever had to do/ To tell you, the woman I love/ That I'm havin' a baby by a woman that I barely even know/ I hope you can accept the fact that I'm man enough to tell you this," he says in the spoken interlude.

"My Boo" feat. Alicia Keys, Confessions (2004)

Usher and Alicia Keys were both at the top of their game when they joined forces for "My Boo," an ode to young love that's guaranteed to make you cry nostalgic tears of joy. Even the most cynical hearts can't resist singing along: "I don't know about y'all, but I know about us and, uh/ It's the only way we know how to rock," a twenty-something Usher croons in the outro.

The romantic duet is even sweeter when you realize that Usher and Keys have known each other since they were teenagers. Their undeniable musical chemistry won a GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals.

At the time of its release, "My Boo" went straight to No. 1, which means he spent an astonishing 28 weeks atop the Hot 100 in 2004, proving that the year unequivocally belonged to none other than Usher.

"Bad Girl," Confessions (2004)

"Caught Up" was the final single off of Confessions, but Usher's reign could have carried well into 2005 and possibly even '06 if deep cuts like "Throwback," "Superstar," "Can U Handle It?" and "Bad Girl" were released as singles. The latter appears as a snippet in the beginning of the music video for "My Boo," leaving you wanting more.

In "Bad Girl," Usher prefers women who look "fresh out of Elle magazine" and can buy their "own bottles." Fueled by hypnotic electric guitar riffs, "Bad Girl" exemplifies his fondness for a late-night rendezvous: "Look at them bad girls moving it/ Making faces while they doing it/ Ah, I want to take one to the restroom/ So close, I'm smelling like your perfume," he sings in the second verse.

The song also took on a life of its own when Usher performed it at a 2005 concert special with Beyoncé, who steals the show without ever touching the mic.

"Best Thing" feat. Jay-Z, Here I Stand (2008)

When "Best Thing" arrived, Usher and Jay-Z were both newlyweds. So, of course, Usher was feeling particularly inspired by then-wife Tameka Foster.

Recorded during Hov's Heart of the City Tour, "Best Thing" celebrates commitment over "trickin' and kissin' miscellaneous chicks." Of the song's background, Usher reportedly said, "If you are a playa, you're a playa. If you're a real man, you're a real man, but you know you got to — in some point in life — you've got to grow up. Grow away from certain immaturities."

He and Foster divorced the next year, but "Best Thing" speaks to something bigger: the beginning of his transition into manhood.

"OMG" feat. will.i.am, Raymond v. Raymond (2010)

With easygoing lyrics like "I fell in love with shawty when I seen her on the dance floor/ She was dancing sexy, pop-pop-popping, dropping, dropping low," "OMG" sounds like a continuation of "Yeah!" but with hints of Eurodance.

Written and produced by Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am, "OMG" gave Usher's post-Confessions career a much-needed boost. Despite spawning the No. 1 single "Love in This Club," his previous studio effort, 2008's Here I Stand, was deemed a commercial disappointment. 

Although "OMG" was criticized for Usher's use of auto-tune, the party classic thrusted him back to the top. What's more, he displayed a willingness to reinvent himself at a time when EDM started to infiltrate the charts. It not only became Usher's ninth No. 1 hit, but it produced his first of four entries on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, while paving the way for his other dance-pop hits like Pitbull-featuring "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" and "Without You" with David Guetta.

"Numb," Looking 4 Myself (2012)

At first listen, "Numb" may sound like just another synth-heavy banger about leaving your troubles on the dance floor, but the song is actually a well-crafted culmination of what was going on behind the scenes for the R&B superstar.

In the years leading up to his seventh album, Looking 4 Myself, Usher experienced some turbulent times. Months before their divorce, Tameka Foster went into cardiac arrest prior to undergoing cosmetic surgery (depicted by scenes of Usher comforting a woman in the hospital in the accompanying video for "Numb"). A couple years later, fans booed him after he walked off stage mid-show in Berlin. Then, in the midst of a highly publicized custody battle with Foster, his 11-year-old stepson died after a tragic jet ski accident.

In true Usher fashion, he sang and danced through the pain: "Keep on doing the same old thing/ And you expecting change/ Well, is that really insanity/ Or just a losers' game?" he ponders in the second verse.

Stalling at No. 69 on the Hot 100, "Numb" is one of Usher's lowest-charting songs — but along with "Sins of My Father," which deals with breaking generational curses, it spotlights his depth as an artist.

"Tell Me," Hard II Love (2016)

Usher set out to make music he wanted to with 2016's Hard II Love. Though it marked his first album to miss the top spot in eight years, the 15-track LP is a welcome return to his R&B roots. He does just that in "Tell Me," a nearly nine-minute carnal extravaganza that acts as the album's centerpiece and encompasses the physical, emotional, and spiritual connection between two lovers.

At face value, "Tell Me" boasts Usher's endurance in the bedroom, but on a deeper level, it's about intimacy — an element missing from a great deal of today's R&B, especially from the male perspective. His golden falsetto shines through, making eight and a half minutes sound like the sweetest serenade.

"Boyfriend" (2023)

Last summer, things got interesting when Keke Palmer stopped by Usher's acclaimed Vegas residency, where she was serenaded by the "There's Goes My Baby" singer. Seen by millions, the lighthearted moment turned negative when Darius Jackson, the father of Palmer's child, publicly shamed her for the sheer outfit she wore to the show.

But in the name of entertainment, Usher seized the moment, flipping the controversy into a new earworm. Adding fuel to the fire, Palmer stars in the video, which appears to be filmed in Vegas. And the lyrics are as cheeky as they come: "Somebody said that your boyfriend's lookin' for me/ Oh, that's cool, that's cool/ Well, he should know I'm pretty easy to find/ Just look for me wherever he sees you."

The stunt jokingly earned Usher the nickname "Domestic Terrorist," but more importantly, it illustrated his power to still generate buzz as a well-established artist amid the rise of R&B's new class comprising younger male singers like Steve Lacy, Jvck James, Brent Faiyaz, and Lucky Daye.

Thirty years after his debut, Usher proves he's the last of his kind with the voice, sales, and stage presence to back it up. In a recent interview with Vogue, he described his highly anticipated Super Bowl performance as a "celebration for everybody, for all of us, from the beginning up until this point." 

It'll be the single biggest showcase of his career, but judging by his showmanship, he'll meet the moment while reminding the world of his greatness as a new, exciting era begins — one that demonstrates he's still at the top of his game.

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A Timeline Of Drake's GRAMMY Moments, From His First Win To Performances & Beefs
Drake in 2011, 2009, 2019, 2010 and 2011

Photos: Kevin Mazur/Wire; Steve Granitz/WireImage; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; Larry Busacca/Getty Images For The Recording Academy

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A Timeline Of Drake's GRAMMY Moments, From His First Win To Performances & Beefs

Drake's relationship with the GRAMMYs has been all over the map. The five-time GRAMMY winner's comments about the Awards have sparked debate, as has his relationship to submitting his work for consideration.

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2024 - 03:02 pm

When Drake attended his first GRAMMY Awards in 2010, he was 23 and hadn’t yet released a debut album. By the time he received his nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs — Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance and Best Melodic Rap Performance for his collaborations with 21 Savage —  he was Spotify’s most-streamed artist of all time, and the holder of more Billboard chart records than we can possibly list in this intro. 

In between, his relationship with the Academy’s yearly showcase has been all over the map. He’s lost (mostly), won (five times), and performed alongside some of pop culture’s biggest names. But more to the point, starting in 2017 his public comments about — and during — the GRAMMYs have sparked debate. He’s gone back and forth about submitting his music for consideration, and even went as far as to demand that nominations be retracted (more on that later).

Drake is nominated for Best Rap Album among other awards at the 2024 GRAMMYs. Here is a year-by-year account of the relationship between one of music’s biggest stars and Music’s Biggest Night. 

2010 — 52nd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Song ("Best I Ever Had"), Best Rap Solo Performance ("Best I Ever Had")

Performances: "Drop the World"/"Forever" with Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Travis Barker

This was Drizzy’s first GRAMMYs, and he was still green enough that he got "reassurance" from Eminem in advance of their performance. 

"He was like, 'Man, anytime you need to look over at me, don't get nervous. Just look over at me, man, and I'll give it back to you. Everything will be all right. Don't be nervous.' For him to say that to me — I feel like that was an important moment," Drake told MTV News at the time.

His first two nominations, both for "Best I Ever Had," came before he had even put out his debut album. And as you can see in an interview at the event, the awards circuit was new enough that his mother’s reaction to finding out that Drake was nominated was to text him a bunch of swear words. 

"I think she was excited," the rapper joked to a CNN reporter.

2011 — 53rd GRAMMY Awards

Drake performs with Rihanna

Nominations: Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (Thank Me Later), Best Rap Solo Performance ("Over"), Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group ("Fancy" with Swizz Beatz and T.I.)

Performances: "What’s My Name" (with Rihanna)

This is the year that seems to sting Drake the most. Best New Artist was a tough battle, with Drizzy, Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + the Machine in the mix. All of them lost to Esperanza Spalding, in a major upset

Drake’s bitterness about the moment lingers to this day. On his most recent album For All the Dogs, he has a surprisingly angry lyric about it: "Four GRAMMYs to my name, a hundred nominations/ Esperanza Spalding was gettin' all the praises/ I'm tryna keep it humble, I'm tryna keep it gracious/ Who give a f— Michelle Obama put you on her playlist?/ Then we never hear from you again like you was taken."

2012 — 54th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Rihanna’s Loud, as featured artist), Best Rap Performance ("Moment 4 Life" with Nicki Minaj), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("I’m On One" with DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne; "What’s My Name" with Rihanna)

This was Drake’s first year as a presenter, so he appears to be moving up in the award show hierarchy. But that doesn’t help him with hardware — he still goes home empty-handed. 

This is also the time that he has multiple nominations in the same category (in this case, two in Best Rap/Sung Collaboration), which is also a trend that would repeat throughout the years. 

2013 — 55th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Rap Album (Take Care)

Nominations: Best Rap Performance ("HYFR [Hell Ya F—king Right]" with Lil Wayne), Best Rap Song ("The Motto" with Lil Wayne)

He finally wins! Drake gets his first victory (for Best Rap Album). Also, he is the only Canadian to win that year (sorry, Loreena McKennitt!) However, the big moment wasn't telecast and Drizzy hadn’t yet arrived at the ceremony. In a charming interview from later in the night, Drake recalled jumping out of his car in the middle of traffic to celebrate. There’s also a video of him receiving his GRAMMY in the mail after the fact, which is notable for him immediately taking a celebratory drink from the trophy.

2014 — 56th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, as featured artist), Best Rap Album (Nothing Was the Same), Best Rap Performance ("Started From the Bottom"), Best Rap Song ("Started From the Bottom"; "F—in’ Problems" with ASAP Rocky, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar)

Drake gets five nominations — and again two in one category — with no wins. It’s hard to pinpoint where the tide might have turned regarding the rapper’s feelings about the institution, but this ceremony may well have been it. 

2015 — 57th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Beyoncé's Beyoncé, as featured artist), Best Rap Performance ("0 to 100 / The Catch Up"), Best Rap Song ("0 to 100 / The Catch Up"), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Tuesday" with ILoveMakonnen)

Once again Drake gets an Album Of The Year nomination…for someone else’s album. It’s now the third time this has happened, following Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar. Still, four nominations during a year with no new album is impressive, and shows just how much of a fixture The Boy has become in the pop firmament at this point. 

2016 — 58th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Album (If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Only" with Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown), Best Rap Performance ("Back to Back"; "Truffle Butter" with Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne), Best Rap Song ("Energy")

From four nominations in 2015 to five this year, tying his personal best from 2014. They are all for rap-related awards, perhaps because Drake didn’t release a "proper" album that might have ended up in one of the big categories — If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late had a convoluted rollout. 

2017 — 59th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Rap/Sung Performance ("Hotline Bling"), Best Rap Song ("Hotline Bling")

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Views), Best Rap Album (Views), Record Of The Year ("Work" with Rihanna), Best Pop Duo/Group Performance ("Work" with Rihanna), Best R&B Song ("Come and See Me" with PartyNextDoor), Best Rap Performance ("Pop Style" with The Throne)

The results of this year marked the beginning of Drake’s public issues with the GRAMMYs. Drake didn't attend the ceremony and, in an interview just after the ceremony, he pushed back against his own victory, upset that "Hotline Bling," a song with no rapping, won two rap awards.

"Last night at that awards show, I’m a Black artist," he said. "I’m apparently a rapper, even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song. The only category that they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category, maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m Black." 

He was also upset that his hit "One Dance" wasn’t nominated in any general categories. 

"There’s pop obligations that [the Recording Academy] have," he said. "And I fluked out and got one of the biggest songs of the year, that is a pop song, and I’m proud of that. I love the rap world and I love the rap community, but I write pop songs for a reason. I want to be like Michael Jackson.

"I won two awards last night, but I don’t even want them for some reason," he continued. "It just feels weird. It feels like you’re purposely trying to alienate me or pacify me by handing me something, putting me in that [rap] category because it’s the only place you can figure out where to put me." 

Perhaps because of these issues — it was never confirmed — he never submitted his 2018 project More Life for GRAMMY consideration. Regardless, he ended up with no nominations the following year.

2019 — 61st GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Rap Song ("God’s Plan")

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Scorpion), Best Rap Performance ("Nice for What"; "Sicko Mode" with Travis Scott, Swae Lee, and Big Hawk), Best Rap Song ("Sicko Mode" with Travis Scott, Swae Lee, and Big Hawk), Record Of The Year ("God’s Plan"), Song Of The Year ("God’s Plan")

This was a year that heightened the Drake/Recording Academy tension even further. First, he turned down a chance to perform during the ceremony. And then, during his acceptance speech for Best Rap Song, Drizzy let awards shows have it. 

"We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport," he began. "Look, the point is, you already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. You’re already winning, you don’t need this right here."

The broadcast went to commercial while he was still talking, something that fans thought was an intentional slight. The Academy said otherwise.

"During Drake’s speech there was a natural pause during his speech and at that moment the producers did assume that he was done and then cut to commercial," the Academy said in an official statement. "However the producers did speak with Drake following his speech and did offer him to come back on stage to finish whatever his thoughts were, but Drake said he was happy with what he said and didn’t have anything to add to it."

2020 — 62nd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best R&B Song ("No Guidance" with Chris Brown), Best Rap Song ("Gold Roses" with Rick Ross)

Drake didn’t publicly react to his two losses this year, but he did speak out on a friend’s behalf. The superstar was upset that The Weeknd didn’t receive any nominations, and said so in an Instagram story. He went far enough as to say that awards shows like the GRAMMYs "may no longer matter" to up-and-coming artists.

"I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones that come after," Drake wrote. "It’s like a relative you keep expecting to fix up but they just can’t change their ways.

"The other day I said @theweeknd was a lock for either album or song of the year along with countless other reasonable assumptions and it just never goes that way," he continued. "This is a great time for somebody to start something new that we can build up over time and pass on to the generations to come."

He went on to list artists he believed should be been nominated: Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, Party Next Door, Popcaan, and "too many missing names to even name." 

2021 — 63rd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Song ("Laugh Now Cry Later" with Lil Durk), Best Melodic Rap Performance ("Laugh Now Cry Later" with Lil Durk), Best Music Video ("Life Is Good" with Future)

Drake again misses out on everything he’s nominated for, which might have something to do with what happened the following year.

2022 — 64th GRAMMY Awards  

Nominations: Best Rap Album (Certified Lover Boy), Best Rap Performance ("Way 2 Sexy" with Future and Young Thug) - Both withdrawn

Things came to a boiling point in 2022. Drake was nominated for two awards, but his management asked the Academy to remove the nominations, which they did. 

2023 — 65th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Melodic Rap Performance ("Wait For U" with Future and Tems)

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Beyoncé’s Renaissance, as songwriter), Best Rap Song ("Wait For U" with Future and Tems, "Churchill Downs" with Jack Harlow)

Drake didn’t submit any material for GRAMMY consideration this time around, but it didn’t stop him from receiving four nominations, and winning once. 

There was one other unexpected Drake-related Grammy moment this year as well. Several days before the ceremony, he made a speech at the Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors event praising one of the evening’s honorees, Lil Wayne. Even when paying tribute to his mentor, Drake seemed to be referencing his ongoing issues with the Academy. His knowing winks to the camera whenever he said the phrase “Black Music Collective” appeared to be a nod to his ongoing complaints that contemporary Black artists were being ignored by the Grammys.  

2024 — 66th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Album (Her Loss with 21 Savage), Best Rap Song ("Rich Flex" with 21 Savage"), Best Rap Performance ("Rich Flex" with 21 Savage), Best Melodic Rap Performance ("Spin Bout U" with 21 Savage)

In a sign that a change might be underway in the often-stormy relationship between Drake and the GRAMMYs, the rapper actually submitted material for nomination for the 2024 GRAMMYs. His collaboration with 21 Savage, Her Loss, was put up for Album of the Year (which it didn’t get a nom for) and Best Rap Album (which it did). The songs "Rich Flex" and "Spin Bout U" were also offered up in multiple categories, and each ended up with nominations. 

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