Rihanna’s ‘Anti’: A Pleasure Activist’s Review/Love Note

I got on the plane today and somehow didn’t have access to Formation. I flailed around a bit, and then remembered that I downloaded Anti last week and hadn’t gotten listening time yet. And I just wanted to let y’all know I listened to Rihanna’s latest offering for the last few hours, and I really like it! And the more I listen to it, the more I like it. It has its own mood, it feels good.

(Actually, before I really begin…if you are newer to this blog, hi, I’m adrienne. I look at the world through eyes that seek to love it and be awed. I focus on pleasure, experiential learning, emergence, feelings, solutions, transformation and evolution.

I am a sci fi and visionary fiction and memoir/blog writer/facilitator/healer/doula/pleasure activist. Virgo with Scorpio moon and Aries rising.

I generally write about something when I like it and want to revel in that, or want to understand why I’m drawn in. I rarely give my attention to things I don’t like, unless I can see a way my attention will change those things, because I believe that what we pay attention to grows and I want to grow the good.

I pour most of my political critique into my political work as a social justice facilitator, emergent strategist and sci fi writer.

If you want really nuanced and thorough political analyses of pop culture, there are professional cultural critics out there! My role is more in the range of radical unicorn diva doula, loving my way free. I especially love supporting and consuming the art of black women, with compassion for the many things we have to burst through, navigate, learn, unpack, compromise, develop, resource and/or conquer to create.

Some of my favorite artists aren’t very famous or wealthy. Some are. Some are really woke, others are awakening, and some are still drowsy. I started my political work in the realm of harm reduction and I deeply believe in meeting people where they are at and taking the next steps together towards more power and pleasure. Poor people, rich people, whoever. Want to get free? Cool. Since we not there yet, we can learn together.

To that end, I prioritize my work and attention to projects that serve black people and people who have intersecting experiences of oppression, and who are interested in getting free.

I believe we get free together, that every exchange has the potential to transform us, and that no one is disposable.

I just wanted to say these things because the internet can be a really big, confusing place to come across something new, and over the last few days a lot of new eyes been around here.

You are super welcome here, with all your divergent opinions and struggles and uncut joy and learning together feels, as long as your root motivating energy is that of love and your tone is respectful).

Now onto my review:

I kind of love this album y’all! I want to put it on for a sexy grown folks party with the lights low and some casual grinding and/or laughter going on in the corner.

Rihanna’s voice is unique, lived in, complex and mature, while still playful. It’s got a personality I want to go kick it with.

She does some really lovely things with it on this album: quirky on Consideration, full bodied on Higher and Love on the Brain, sexy on Yeah I Said It and Sex with Me, mysterious in a Banks way on Needed Me, experimental on Woo and Goodnight Gotham. She revisits the Stay energy with Close To You. I like the Willow-esque abstractions of Same Ol’ Mistakes. There are a few places, like Work (which I’m adding to my get hype facilitation playlist! Featuring my favorite yoga vocalist Drake), and Desperado, where she does that D’Angelo slide – which I like a lot when used appropriately – the one where she’s expressing the feeling directly, letting words, which can be a mode of emotional translation, slide together and then away.

The sounds woven through the music are intriguing to me – Prince guitars, what sounds like a Florence and the Machine sample or maybe remixed cover, with songs that veer between Genesis soft rock ballad, gangster Western, space echoes, all conduiting up through her Caribbean roots.

I am listening on repeat as I write, and the album as a whole continues growing on me. In large part this is because I like the pleasure in Rihanna’s presented life, and in her lyrics. Several times she describes what love, sex, or just general time with her consists of: smoking a j and having an amazing time.

My favorite song on the album is called Sex With Me: “sex with me is so amazing…always wet never need lip gloss on it…even when I’m alone”.

Beautifully done.

And as weed slowly legalizes across the US, it’s encouraging to have artists/humans who are destigmatizing it’s use besides Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Miley Cyrus.

This is one of the ways culture shifts. Through art that reflects the times.

This particular culture shift around the most gifted weed continues to be necessary so that all these people growing up and old in prisons for weed possession/use can get free. The second song of the album, James Joint, starts out with her gentle voice singing “I’d rather be smoking weed”. I can see the bumper sticker now.

When I hear Rihanna’s music, there’s a level of my listening that is tuned in for lyrical signs of abusive intimate dynamics. Just how it is. I listen for what she’s learning and practicing around it, projecting protection and black love in her direction, listening the way I always want my loved ones to listen to me.

So there’s two songs that gave me pause around this – Kiss It Better, and Love On The Brain. Kiss It Better is all about make up sex after your partner does something wrong – “who cares when it feels like crack?”.

Who doesn’t make intimate mistakes every now and then? But that line in partnership with a line in Love On The Brain where she says love “beats me black and blue, but it fucks me so good and I can’t get enough” becomes worthy of attention.

I just want to make clear that I believe that on-crack feeling is not the love you run towards, and nothing that beats you black and blue is love.

Those lines feel different to me than the line “I want you to homicide it” on Yeah I Said It, though I’m still putting my finger on why. During the conference call I hosted for radical leaning humans to process the love and emotions around Beyonce’s 2014 self titled release, we talked about the way Jay Z spoke of beating the pussy up, referencing the violence of Mike Tyson and Ike Turner. While most folks couldn’t see it for his verse, there were a few women on the call who spoke up about really enjoying ‘rough’ sex and ‘shocking’ sexual language (using ‘ ‘ because everything here is relative), even/especially as survivors.

What we do in the pursuit/realm of pleasure can be fantastical and dangerous, and the power of exploring those edges in honest communication with others can be healing. It feels like Rihanna is exploring an edge with us on this album.

She serves some skillful shade In this text too, I’ll leave that for y’all to discover. It’s delightful and subtle.

Finally, I love this line from Same Ol’ Mistakes, it might be my favorite – “I feel like a brand new person, so how do I know if it’s right?”

True. Always.