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SINGLE REVIEW: “Diamonds” by Rihanna

Rihanna as a popstar has always been hard for me to pinpoint. On one hand, she represents the last of the manufactured popstar, supported by writing camps, big-name producers, and ridiculous promo. She oftens comes off as a try-hard, sputtering off tired hashtags like her life depended on it and flaunting her supposed #THUGLYFE as a new mantra. Yet, her music’s never been lacking. She’s effortlessly cool in a way no other popstar today is, and her voice is unique without hitting the point of annoyance. In fact, it’s one of the best voices in modern pop today, moreso for the tone, the tics, and the affliction than for technical ability. Thus, I found myself eagerly anticipating “Diamonds” to see how this would represent Rihanna’s evolution, or lack thereof, as a popstar.

Good news is that “Diamonds” feels like a Rihanna song without completely regressing into her standard lead single territory. Sure, the clubfloor-filler duo of “Only Girl” and “We Found Love” were much more instant singles, and with Stargate in the producer’s seat, it seemed as if “Diamonds” would be just as big of a stomper. Add to that Sia’s increasing involvement in the insipid affairs of dance music (Guetta and Flo Rida, really?), it seemed as if we’d get Stargate’s take on “Titanium.” Luckily for us, “Diamonds” takes the “Russian Roulette” route when it comes to Rih’s lead singles. It courses on at a steady pace without hitting the same frantic energy of her past two lead singles, and while it may not explode until the end, it’s understated verses only add to the beauty. Even the vocals, which see Rihanna filtered through Sia’s vocal tics, only add to the feel of the song, as Rih floats between throatier lows, lilting highs, and a snappy hook that lends from the “You da One” school of catchy annoyance. The production is much more understated than anticipated, something unexpected of Stargate. In fact, it’s almost as if Rihanna released a The XX-less version of “Drunk on Love,” focusing more on the emotion and vocals of the song than if it’ll inspire ass-shaking. It’s Rihanna at her most mature since Rated R, and hopefully that ends up indicative of the upcoming album; Rihanna clearly has the artistic capability to pull off mature pop (or at least the reputation to pull in the best songwriters for that), so it’s great to see her departing from the pattern developed from the success of LOUD

Let the new era begin.

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