An Open Letter to Rihanna: Please Use More Words

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Christopher Polk / Getty Images for Clear Channel

Rihanna performs onstage during the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Sept. 21, 2012.

Dear Rihanna,

We’re worried about you. Not because of your tumultuous romantic life, and not because the makeup artist for your latest Vogue cover shoot appears to have had a vendetta against you. No, our concerns are purely musical in nature.

You see, your songs have always relied on a certain amount of repetition, and those bouncy verse-chorus reps have served you well ever since “Pon de Replay” and “S.O.S.” established you back in 2005 and 2006. But the limitations of verse-chorus cycles are becoming apparent on your recent records, giving them a vaguely joyless sheen, and we fear it may be a case of good girl gone fembot.

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According to a songwriting blogger named Graham English, a typical pop song has anywhere from 100 to 300 words, with the Beatles at the low end of that scale and the verbose Bruce Springsteen at the high end. (Don McLean’s epic “American Pie,” for those who wonder, clocks in at 324 words.) RiRi, your oeuvre is shedding words rapidly, and this is not a good thing. It seems that the more you dominate the pop landscape, the less you have to say.

Let’s start with your new smash, “Diamonds.” We took the liberty of tallying the distinct words in its lyrics:

Shine bright like a diamond/ Shine bright like a diamond
Find light in the beautiful sea/ I choose to be happy
You and I, you and I/ We’re like diamonds in the sky
You’re a shooting star I see/ A vision of ecstasy
When you hold me, I’m alive/ We’re like diamonds in the sky
I knew that we’d become one right away/ Oh, right away
At first sight I felt the energy of sun rays/ I saw the life inside your eyes
So shine bright, tonight you and I/ We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Eye to eye, so alive/ We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Shine bright like a diamond/ Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond/ We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Shine bright like a diamond/ Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond/ We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Palms rise to the universe/ As we moonshine and molly
Feel the warmth, we’ll never die/ We’re like diamonds in the sky
You’re a shooting star I see/ A vision of ecstasy
When you hold me, I’m alive/ We’re like diamonds in the sky
At first sight I felt the energy of sun rays/ I saw the life inside your eyes
So shine bright, tonight you and I/ We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Eye to eye, so alive/ We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky

Hmm, 67 words. Underwhelming. But at least it’s more complex than “Where Have You Been,” your hit from this summer: by the same methodology, that one tops out at 40 distinct words. Forty. World-champion texter Austin Wierschke could send his grandma the entirety of your song in 45 seconds! Fiona Apple exceeded your word count in her album title!

For comparison, let’s look the number of distinct words in:

See that? Ke$ha is more verbose than you. It’s time for you and your songwriting collaborators to turn your beat around, Rihanna. Put down the moonshine and molly, and pick up a pen and paper.

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To be fair, lyrical minimalism has its place: Bill Conti needed only 14 words to make the Rocky theme (“Gonna Fly Now”) a No. 1 hit, and few Beatles fans would begrudge their lyrical economy on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” And we’re not asking for the next “American Pie” — one thing we’ve learned from Of Montreal and the acts on the Fueled by Ramen label is that maximum verbosity does not necessarily equal maximum payoff. Just give us a hint of lyrical ambition, some of that whimsy we heard on your earlier singles, like “Don’t Stop the Music” (108 words). If Beyoncé can pepper her rinse-and-repeats with nods to Dereon jeans and “infinity and beyond,” you can push yourself toward a more personal expressiveness too. Just as Jason Segal had to confront his man-or-Muppethood, it’s time for you to ask yourself: Am I a Rihanna or a retread?

2 comments
ZionLionMarley
ZionLionMarley

purpose of pop music is to be played at dance clubs, rythm is more important than a story. that said the video usually tries to tell a story, for example, one might take the shine like a diamond to be about her love for  Chris Brown, and doing moonshine and molly, as an explanation on what happend when they got into it. If you want lots of words listen to gospel nysuc abd amy grant.

fmaxwell
fmaxwell

Let's face it, in addition to being trashy (recent Rihanna tweet: "Where the {deleted} is my lighter? I'm tired..."), Rihanna is just not very intelligent.  Expecting her to pen lyrics with more complexity and depth is like expecting Snooki to write a really good novel.