Few artists have pursued pop-music domination with the single-minded determination Rihanna has mustered. Exhibit A: Talk That Talk marks her sixth album in just seven years, a furious flurry of productivity that’s rarely seen in the music world these days. And it’s a strategy that’s propelled the singer into the ranks of music’s elite in, well … record time.
When the album’s first single, ” We Found Love,” cracked the Top 10 recently, it marked Rihanna’s 20th hit to reach that milestone. And she accomplished that feat faster than any other solo artist in history. Shortly thereafter, the song reached No. 1, becoming the Barbados-born charmer’s 11th chart-topper. The only artists with more? Madonna (12) and Mariah Carey (18).
But the upward trajectory of Rihanna’s singing career has gone exactly in the opposite direction of her steady descent into ever more explicit lyrics. As Randall Roberts of the L.A. Times said of her latest release, “The 23-year-old star, who’s been gliding toward the edges of pop propriety since her first hit in 2005, has progressively pushed toward NC-17 territory.”
Several song titles feature the word love. Love, Rihanna tells us, is fun to fall into. On “You Da One,” she sings, “I won’t lie, I’m falling hard/Yep, I’m falling hard for ya/But there’s nothing wrong with that.” And when we fall, we want it to last. On “We All Want Love,” she says, “We all want someone there to hold/We all wanna be somebody’s one and only/We all wanna be warm when it’s cold/No one wants to be scared and lonely/ … We all want love.”
“Farewell” is written from the perspective of a woman who doesn’t want to stand in the way of her man’s dreams. “I know you’re going somewhere to make a better life/ … And even though it kills me that you have to go/I know it’ll be sadder if you never hit the road.”
“Drunk on Love” gets at the heady, euphoric rush that can accompany new romance. But it also puts love, lust and compulsive addiction all on the same level. “I’m so intoxicated/I love the way you taste on my lips/When we kiss, you got me so addicted/So much I can’t resist falling into your arms.”
From there, things get racier. Six songs unabashedly and unashamedly sing the praises of sex. “Where Have You Been” teases, “[I’m] looking for someone who can please me/Love me all night long.” Likewise, “Talk That Talk” repeatedly tells a lover, “Give it to me, baby/I want it all night.” Guest contributor Jay-Z brags on that track, “I be tryin’ to chill, b‑‑ches wanna f‑‑‑ me.”
On “Watch n’ Learn,” Rihanna tells a partner all the places she wants to get tangled up (including the bed, the floor and the couch). References to oral sex too explicit to repeat here show up on that song, as well as on “Roc Me Out,” “Birthday Cake” and the suggestively titled “Cockiness (Love It).” On the former, Rihanna pouts, “I’ve been a bad girl, daddy/Won’t you come get me?” On the latter, she suggests, “I can be your dominatrix/Just submit to my every order.”
Several songs on Talk That Talk voice what seems like Rihanna’s genuine longing for love. In fact, she even gives a shout out to God’s love in the album’s liner notes, saying, “Lord, you have always been so good to me! Thank You for your LOVE, guidance, protection, the blessings that You continue to bestow upon me, and the people around me! I will always keep my eyes on You Lord.”
Unfortunately, like so many other voices in our culture, Rihanna often seems incapable of separating love from sex, much less divine love from human affections. And to get love, she’s more than willing to give sex—so much so that at times one wonders if she’s ever using the right word for how she feels and for what she wants. The racy liner note photos raise even more questions.
It’s impossible to reconcile, then, how Rihanna’s stated faith relates to her NC-17 appetites. She says she wants to keep her eyes on God. Her album will take her fans’ eyes off Him.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.