meta-scriptRihanna, Meek Mill, Billie Eilish, Migos & More Call For Police Reform In New York Now | GRAMMY.com

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Rihanna, Meek Mill, Billie Eilish, Migos & More Call For Police Reform In New York Now

Megan Thee Stallion, ASAP Ferg, Billie Joe Armstrong, and The Aces were among other artists seeking to repeal a law they said does not keep officers accountable

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2020 - 01:51 am

Rihanna, Meek Mill, Billie Eilish, Migos, Ariana Grande, Post Malone, along with many other artists and music industry professionals have signed an open letter asking the state of New York State to repeal a statute that keeps police records "confidential and not subject to inspection."

The June 8 letter addressed to Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie said the law keeps from holding officers accountable. 

"We mourn the killing of George Floyd and the unnecessary loss of so many black lives before his. We must hold accountable those who violate the oath to protect and serve, and find justice for those who are victim to their violence. An indispensable step is having access to disciplinary records of law enforcement officers," the letter said. "New York statute 50-A blocks that full transparency, shielding a history of police misconduct from public scrutiny, making it harder to seek justice and bring about reform. It must be repealed immediately. It is not enough to chip away at 50-A; this boulder in the path of justice has stood in the way for far too long and must be crushed entirely. It is not just a misreading of the statute; it is not just an inappropriate broadening of its scope. It is the statute itself, serving to block relevant crucial information in the search for accountability."

There is a petition, which supporters can send to their legislative officials via Twitter and share on Facebook, tied to the letter. Megan Thee Stallion, ASAP Ferg, Billie Joe Armstrong, The Aces, Aluna from AlunaGeorge, Anitta, 6lack, Justin Bieber, Kelly Rowland, Miguel, and Andra Day were among others who signed the letter. 

New York state law 50-A, which also applies to firefighters and correction officers, was created in the '70s "to prevent 'harassment' by defense attorneys who sought to impeach officers with 'unsubstantiated' prior bad acts," as explained by The Nation. The law keeps personnel records "confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent" of officers except "as may be mandated by lawful court order." 

The death of George Floyd has sparked a greater conversation, including among music artists and professionals, calling for police reform and seeking justice for all the unarmed Black lives lost at the hands of police.  

NBC New York reported on Monday, June 9, that Democrats planned to pass a repeal of the statue and that Gov. Cuomo intends to sign it.

Run The Jewels Are Ready To Pierce Your Heart Again

Lil Wayne performing at Roots Picnic 2024
Lil Wayne performs at Roots Picnic 2024.

Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

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9 Lively Sets From The 2024 Roots Picnic: Jill Scott, Lil Wayne, Nas, Sexyy Red, & More

From hit-filled sets by The-Dream and Babyface to a star-studded tribute to New Orleans, the 2024 iteration of the Roots Picnic was action-packed. Check out a round-up of some of the most exciting sets here.

GRAMMYs/Jun 3, 2024 - 09:02 pm

As June kicked off over the weekend, The Roots notched another glorious celebration at West Philadelphia's Fairmount Park with the 16th annual Roots Picnic. This year's festival featured even more activations, food vendors, attendees, and lively performances.

On Saturday, June 1, the action was established from the onset. October London and Marsha Ambrosius enlivened the soul of R&B lovers, while Method Man and Redman brought out surprise guests like Chi-town spitter Common and A$AP Ferg for a showstopping outing. 

Elsewhere, rappers Smino and Sexyy Red flashed their St. Louis roots and incited fans to twerk through the aisles of the TD Pavilion. And Philly-born Jill Scott's sultry vocals made for a memorable homecoming performance during her headlining set. 

The momentum carried over to day two on Sunday, June 2, with rising stars like Shaboozey and N3WYRKLA showing the Roots Picnic crowd why their names have garnered buzz. Later in the day, rapper Wale brought his signature D.C. swag to the Presser Stage. And while Gunna's performance was shorter than planned, it still lit the fire of younger festgoers. 

Closing out the weekend was a savory tribute to New Orleans courtesy of The Roots themselves, which also starred Lil Wayne, acclaimed R&B vocalists, an illustrious jazz band, and some beloved NoLa natives. 

Read on for some of the most captivating moments and exciting sets from the 2024 Roots Picnic. 

The-Dream Serenaded On The Main Stage

The-Dream performing at Roots Picnic 2024

The-Dream | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

After years away from the bright lights of solo stardom, The-Dream made a triumphant return to the festival stage on Saturday. The GRAMMY-winning songwriter and producer played his timeless R&B hits like "Falsetto" and "Shawty Is Da S––," reminding fans of his mesmerizing voice and renowned penmanship.

His vocals melted into the sunset overlooking Fairmount Park Saturday evening. And even in moments of audio malfunctions, he was able to conjure the greatness he's displayed as a solo act. Although, it may have looked easier than it was for the Atlanta-born musician: "Oh, y'all testing me," he said jokingly. 

The-Dream slowed it down with the moodier Love vs. Money album cut "Fancy," then dug into the pop-funk jam "Fast Car" and the bouncy "Walkin' On The Moon." He takes fans on a ride through his past sexual exploits on the classic "I Luv Your Girl," and closes on a fiery note with the "Rockin' That S—." While even he acknowledged that his set wasn't perfect, it left fans hoping to see more from the artist soon. 

Smino Rocked Out With His Philly "Kousins"

Smino performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Smino | Shaun Llewellyn

Despite somewhat of a "niche" or cult-like following, Smino galvanized music lovers from all corners to the Presser Stage. The St. Louis-bred neo-soul rapper played silky jams like "No L's" and "Pro Freak" from 2022's Luv 4 Rent, then dove into the sultry records from his earlier projects.

"Klink" set the tone for the amplified showcase, with fans dancing in their seats and through the aisles. His day-one fans — or "kousins," as he lovingly refers to them — joined him on songs like the head-bopping "Z4L," and crooned across the amphitheater on the impassioned "I Deserve." 

Under Smino's musical guidance, the crowd followed without a hitch anywhere in the performance. It further proved how magnetic the "Netflix & Dusse" artist is live, and how extensive his reach has become since his 2017 debut, blkswn.

Nas Took Fans Down Memory Lane

Nas performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Nas | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

The New York and Philadelphia connection was undeniable Saturday, as legendary Queensbridge MC Nas forged the two distinctive cities for a performance that harnessed an "Illadelph State of Mind."

The "I Gave You Power" rapper played his first show in Philadelphia as a teenager, when he only had one verse under his belt: Main Source's 1991 song "Live at the BBQ." Back then, Nas admitted to underplaying the city's influence, but he knew then what he knows now — "I had to step my s— up." And he did.

The rapper played iconic songs like "Life's a B–" and "Represent" from his landmark debut Illmatic, which celebrated 30 years back in April. He even brought out Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah to add to the lyrical onslaught, and played records like "Oochie Wally" and "You Owe Me" to enliven his female fans.

Sexyy Red Incited A Twerk Fest

Sexyy Red performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Sexyy Red | Frankie Vergara

Hot-ticket rapper Sexyy Red arrived on the Presser Stage with a message: "Make America Sexyy Again." And as soon as Madam Sexyy arrived, she ignited a riot throughout the TD Pavilion aisles. Twerkers clung onto friends and grasped nearby railings to dance to strip club joints like "Bow Bow Bow (F My Baby Dad)" and "Hood Rats."

Red matched the energy and BPM-attuned twerks from her fans, which only intensified as her lyrics grew more explicit. Sexyy encouraged all of the antics with a middle finger to the sky, her tongue out, and her daring lyrics filling the air. Songs like "SkeeYee" and "Pound Town" added to the nonstop action, leaving fans in a hot sweat — and with their inner sexyy fully unlocked.

Jill Scott Delivered Some Homegrown Magic

Jill Scott performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Jill Scott (left) and Tierra Whack | Marcus McDonald

To close out night one, the Roots Picnic crowd congregated at the Park Stage for a glimpse of Philadelphia's native child, Jill Scott. The famed soulstress swooned with her fiery voice and neo-soul classics like "A Long Walk" and "The Way." Fans swayed their hips and sang to the night sky as Scott sprinkled her musical magic.

Scott, wrapped up in warm, sapphire-toned garments, was welcomed to the stage by Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle L. Parker. The newly elected official rallied the audience for a "Philly nostalgic" evening, and the GRAMMY-winning icon delivered a soaring performance that mirrored her vocal hero, Kathleen Battle. "Philadelphia, you have all of my love," Scott gushed. "I'm meant to be here tonight at this Roots Picnic."

"Jilly from Philly" invited some of the city's finest MCs to the stage for the jam session. Black Thought rapped along her side for The Roots' "You Got Me," and Tierra Whack stepped in for the premiere of her and Scott's unreleased rap song, a booming ode to North Philly. 

Fantasia & Tasha Cobbs Leonard Brought Electrifying Energy

Fantasia performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Fantasia | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

Led by the musical maestro Adam Blackstone, singers Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Fantasia set the warmness of Sunday service and their Southern flare with a "Legacy Experience." And as the title of the performance suggests, their fiery passion was a thread of musical mastery.

As fans danced across the lawn, it was just as much a moment of worship as it was a soulful jam — and only the dynamic voices of the two Southern acts could do the job. "Aren't y'all glad I took y'all there this Sunday," Blackstone said.

The sanctity of Tasha Cobbs Leonard's vocals was most potent on "Put A Praise On It," and Fantasia's power brought the house down even further with classics like "Free Yourself" and "When I See U."

"I wasn't supposed to come up here and cut. I'm trying to be cute," Fantasia joked after removing her shoes on stage. The North Carolina native's lips quivered and her hands shook in excitement, as she continued to uplift the audience — fittingly closing with a roaring rendition of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary."

Babyface Reminded Of His Icon Status

Babyface performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Babyface | Marcus McDonald

There are few artists who could dedicate a full set to their own records, or the hits they've penned for other musicians. And if you don't know how special that is, Babyface won't hesitate to remind you. "I wrote this back in 1987," he said before singing the Whispers' "Rock Steady."

Throughout the legendary R&B singer's 45-minute set, he switched between his timeless records like "Every Time I Close My Eyes" and "Keeps on Fallin'," and those shared by the very artists he's inspired — among them, Bobby Brown's "Don't Be Cruel" and "Every Little Step," 

Fans across several generations gathered to enjoy the classic jams. There was a look of awe in their eyes, as they marveled at the work and memories Babyface has created over more than four decades. 

André 3000 Offered Layers Of Creativity

Andre 3000 performing at Roots Picnic 2024

André 3000 | Marcus McDonald

Speculation over what André 3000 would bring to his Sunday night set was the buzz all weekend. Fans weren't sure if they were going to hear the "old André," or the one blowing grandiose tones from a flute on his solo debut, 2023's New Blue Sun.

The former Outkast musician went for the latter, and while some fans were dismayed by the lack of bars, hundreds stayed for the highly rhythmic set. "Welcome to New Blue Sun live," André said. The majestic chimes and flowy notes of his performance reflect a new creative outlook, and as the performance went on, there was a cloud of coolness that loomed over the amphitheater.

His artistic approach is new to many fans, but he never stopped showcasing the personality they have grown to love. After delivering a message in an indistinguishable language, he panned to the crowd with a look of deep thought and said, "I just want y'all to know, I made all that s— up." It's the kind of humor fans have admired from him for decades, and moments like those are one of many reasons they stayed to watch the nuances of the MC's set.

Lil Wayne & The Roots Gave New Orleans Its Magnolias

Trombone Shorty and Black Thought at Roots Picnic 2024

Trombone Shorty (left) and Black Thought | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

The sound of jazz trombones and the gleam of Mardi Gras colors transported West Philly to the bustling streets of New Orleans for the closing set of Roots Picnic 2024. The ode to the Big Easy featured natives like Lloyd, PJ Morton and the marvelous Trombone Shorty, all of whom helped deliver a celebratory tribute that matched the city's vibrance.

Lloyd floated to the stage singing The Roots' "Break You Off," and delved into his own catalog with "Get It Shawty" and "You." Morton soon followed with a soulful run of his R&B records, including "The Sweetest Thing" and "Please Be Good."

With anticipation on full tilt, Black Thought welcomed the festival closer to the stage with a message: "It's only right if Philly pays homage to New Orleans that we bring out Lil Wayne." And right on cue, Wayne drew a wave of cheers as he began "Mr. Carter."

Wayne strung together his biggest Billboard-charting and street hits, including "Uproar," "Hustler's Muzik" and "Fireman." The performance was a rousing cap-off to the weekend — and it clearly meant a lot to the rapper to rep his city in such grand fashion.

"This is a dream come true," Wayne said. "It's a motherf–ing honor."

11 New Music Festivals To Attend In 2024: No Values, We Belong Here & More

nas performs at documentary screeening in 2014
Nas performs at a screening of his documentary 'Nas: Time is ILLMatic' in 2014

Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy

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How 'Illmatic' Defined East Coast Rap: Nas’ Landmark Debut Turns 30

Three decades after Nas released his debut album, 'Illmatic' remains the holy grail of East Coast rap. From poetic, pulled-from-life lyrics to its all-star cast of producers, learn how 'Illmatic' reignited New York’s rap supremacy in the mid-1990s.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 01:59 pm

After shaking up the rap game with a breakout verse on the Main Source’s "Live at the Barbeque," a 17-year-old, chip-toothed MC named Nasir "Nas" Jones was crowned a prophet. His silk-smooth delivery and poetic rhymes on the 1991 jam were reminiscent of hip-hop greats like Kool G Rap and Rakim.  

The verse — which included the line "Verbal assassin, my architect pleases. When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus" — bestowed heavy expectations on the Queens native. While Nas was discovered by Main Source’s Large Professor, the young MC was soon drawing the attention of music label heads who wanted to ink a deal with the emerging artist. 

"I must have rewinded that [verse] like a hundred times," former 3rd Bass rhymer MC Search said in the 2014 documentary Nas: Time Is Illmatic. "This Main Source album is brilliant, but who’s that kid? It almost felt like within a week, everybody wanted to know who that guy was." 

Through Nas’ connection with Search, he found a home at Sony Music’s Columbia, and notched another memorable verse on 1992’s "Back To The Grill." But on April 19, 1994, Nas delivered the greatest debut in rap history: Illmatic

Thirty years later,. Nas’ masterful stroke of poeticism and the gritty boom-bap loops on songs "It Ain’t Hard to Tell," "The World Is Yours," and "N.Y. State of Mind" still resonate. The album also revived the fleeting dominance of NY rap, and unexpectedly inspired other rappers to release albums with their baby pictures on the cover. Its influential power, and the amalgam of musical forces that threaded the album together, made Illmatic one of the definitive East Coast rap albums of the golden age. Few hip-hop albums have been as widely heralded for as long as Illmatic.

The landmark project chronicled Nas’ life growing up in the Queensbridge housing projects while helping restore the influence of East Coast rap on a now bicoastal scene. By '94, the West coast was taking the reins for the first time in the genre’s history. In Southern California, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle popularized G-funk, which soon permeated the airwaves and topped the Billboard charts. Alternative West Coast acts like Oakland's Souls of Mischief and South Central's the Pharcyde were also establishing firm ground.

The mecca of hip-hop was no longer atop the leaderboard, but with his first full-length release, Nas was inspired to reclaim New York’s dominance and rekindle Queenbridge’s spark from the late 1980s. "I had to represent," Nas said in a 2019 interview with Drink Champs. "The pressure was on the borough and my project. And just getting into the game, you had to have something to say, so I definitely had to push the pen hard because, if not, it would’ve never [flown]."

Queensbrige is home to the largest housing project in the U.S., and birthed pioneers like MC Shan, Marley Marl, and the fearsome Juice Crew. They fell to South Bronx’s KRS-One and the Boogie Down Productions collective in the infamous "Bridge Wars," which left the Long Island City section seeking a new heir. And Nas, inspired by the lyrical warfare, took up the mantle. 

Nas and Large Professor hired legendary producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S, and others to work on Illmatic. They set the sonic lines, and Nas filled the gaps in spoken word form. 

Read more: A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island

From their first studio session together, Q-Tip knew Nas’ skills were unlike any other he’d seen before. "You automatically knew," the A Tribe Called Quest legend (and fellow son of Queens) said in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy. "When Large Professor first played him for me, I heard him on the Live at the Barbeque,’ but then Large [Professor] played me his s— and I was like, ‘This dude is crazy, you know what I’m saying?’ I knew it was going to be the impact it was."

The project was a storybook of lived experiences, even down to the iconic album cover. Nas peeled back the layers of street violence, mass incarceration, and generations of disenfranchisement throughout the 10-track LP. "Memory Lane (Sitin’ in da Park)" and "One Time 4 Your Mind" transported listeners to the hardened corners of Queens, where the air was filled with marijuana smoke and the distant whispers from street hustlers. 

On the Tri-State anthem "N.Y. State of Mind," Nas’ creative equilibrium was at full balance. In Time Is Illmatic, Nas said the song’s early placement on the LP was intentional. He knew it would "bring [listeners] to hell and back." 

"One Love" captured the pain of incarceration, with Nas’ descriptive story of distrust and heartbreak overlaying a chillingly euphoric beat. The AZ-assisted "Life’s a Bitch" is a celebratory toast to survival, and "It Ain’t Hard to Tell" is a masterful showcase of braggadocious rap. 

The topics that I talk about were topics that were around before ‘Illmatic’; streets, social economic status, people’s struggles," Nas told Clash magazine. "I just told it crazy real, and it just talks about how to live in the circumstances and goes beyond, dreaming at the same time. Never just stay in the situation that you’re in."

The album was showered with praise upon release, with the Source blessing the album with a highly-coveted five-mic review. The rare score was administered by  former Hot 97 radio personality and then-Source intern Minya Oh, who declared it one of the best albums she had ever heard. "Lyrically, the whole s— is on point. No cliched metaphors, no gimmicks. Never too abstract, never superficial."

The rave responses didn’t initially translate to album sales. Ilmatic debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200, only selling around 60,000 copies in its first week. The low sales were attributed to pre-Internet leaks, with renderings of Illmatic in circulation up to a year before its official release date, according to Clash. The standout singles also failed to scratch the charts. 

Illmatic eventually sold more than two million copies, but the underwhelming start surprised DJ Premier. "We knew it was going to be that big of a deal, that’s why I never understood why it didn’t go like super platinum quick," Premier said to Mass Appeal. "I thought it was going to be super fast and it didn’t. I thought this one was going to be a big platinum album."

But three decades after its release, Illmatic influenced several generations of rap stars and retained its status as one of the best albums in rap history. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked the album no. 44 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Large Professor, who continued to work with Nas on later albums, said Illmatic is a pillar of hip-hop history. "It’s one of the roots of the tree of hip-hop because a lot of styles came from that. A lot of rhyme styles. He got people thinking outside of the norm," the producer said to HipHopDX in 2014. The stuff that he was rhyming was just crazy, man. But, it’s definitely one of the roots that hold the tree of hip-hop up strong." 

Nas’ contributions has placed him among the best MCs of all time, and justifiably so. He’s continued to deliver No. 1 albums and hit singles throughout the decades, and scored his first GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Album in 2021 after more than a dozen nominations. 

While Nas no longer listens to Illmatic and avoids celebrating the project, telling Haute Living that it’s "corny" to continue championing one album when he’s done so many others. But fans’ continued admiration for the album proves that his early goals were met. The reputation of East Coast rap and Queensbridge was restored, and Nas’ legacy will forever be immortalized. Mission accomplished, Esco. 

'Run-DMC' At 40: The Debut Album That Paved The Way For Hip-Hop's Future

Rihanna Songbook Hero
(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.

The Rihanna Essentials: 15 Singles To Celebrate The Singer's Endless Pop Reign

Rihanna
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."

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