Unapologetic received generally mixed reviews from critics, with some reviewers describing its music as interesting, while others criticized its weak lyrical content and rushed nature. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2014 ceremony, while "Stay" was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 238,000 copies, becoming Rihanna's first number one album on the chart and best-selling debut week of her career. The album also became the singer's third, fourth, and fifth consecutive number one album in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Switzerland, respectively. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), it was the ninth global best-selling album of 2012 with sales of 2.3 million copies. As of December 2014, Unapologetic has sold over four million copies worldwide.
The album produced seven singles including the international hits "Diamonds" and "Stay". The former peaked at number one on both the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100 where it became Rihanna's twelfth number one song, tying her with Madonna and The Supremes for fourth most number one songs in the history of the chart. Prior to its release, Rihanna promoted the album with the 777 Tour which consisted of a seven-date promotional tour in which she performed seven concerts each in a different city in North America and Europe in seven days. To further promote the album, Rihanna embarked on her fourth worldwide concert tour, entitled the Diamonds World Tour.
In November 2011, Rihanna released her sixth studio album Talk That Talk. The album was rooted in pop, dance and R&B but also incorporated a variety of other musical genres such as hip hop, electro house, dancehall, and dubstep, a genre which was prominent on her fourth studio albumRated R (2009).Talk That Talk received generally positive reviews from contemporary music critics upon its release. It was a commercial success and reached the top ten in over twenty national charts, including number one on the UK Albums Chart and number three on the US Billboard 200. The album produced six singles including the worldwide hits "We Found Love" and "Where Have You Been". "We Found Love" topped the charts in over 25 countries and sold over 9 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. In March 2012, Rihanna revealed that although she had not yet begun recording, she started "working on the new sound" for her seventh studio album.
Recording and production
Sia(left) and The-Dream(right) both worked with Rihanna on Unapologetic.
On June 20, 2012, Rihanna began recording her seventh studio album, working with Nicky Romero and Burns. Rihanna and Burns booked three days in a studio in London while Rihanna was performing at Radio 1's Hackney Weekend. It was also confirmed that Rihanna worked with Eric Bellinger, Sean Garrett, and Swedish House Mafia for her seventh album. On July 6, 2012, Def Jam executive No I.D. revealed that he had begun working with Rihanna on the album saying "I'm going in next week for about a week". On July 10, 2012, British singer and producer Labrinth revealed to Capital FM that he had been working with Rihanna on the album.
On July 17, 2012, it was reported that Rihanna would be working with R&B singer Ne-Yo and N-Dubz member Fazer. In an interview with Capital FM Ne-Yo spoke on working with Rihanna on the album saying: "I just recently went in to do some stuff for Rihanna, you know. She's the hardest working woman in showbiz right now. She's in the process of putting together a new album as we speak, I got in with Stargate and David Guetta and a few other people for that project.
Sean Garrett confirmed in July 2012 that he had been in the studio with French DJ David Guetta working on Rihanna's album saying: "I was in the studio with David doing some stuff for Rihanna recently. He finds inspiration in the things I don't like, and I get excited by the things he doesn't like. He wants to be more urban and I want to be more international, so we push each other, I try to help Rihanna. She works hard and it's cool to write for someone who is so open-minded." On August 21, 2012, American songwriter Claude Kelly said that he had been writing songs for Rihanna while she was performing in London. Kelly spoke on the songs that he had written for Rihanna saying: "Rihanna's a worldwide superstar at this point and she's performing in stadiums and arenas now, so I wanted songs that reflected her audience, when I was in London she was performing at a festival in front of like 30,000 to 40,000 people. So I didn't want small songs that only worked on radio, so I tried to do anthemic big stadium-themed songs."
On August 16, 2012, BritishR&B singer-songwriter Angel stated that he had been writing for Rihanna's album. He said: "I love writing songs and it's good to pitch tracks to other artists. A couple of weeks ago I was doing some writing for Rihanna". In September 2012, Ne-Yo confirmed his involvement the album saying "I did go in the studio with her, I know I got one or two on the album that she's definitely keeping."
Music and lyrics
American rapper Eminem is featured on the track "Numb", marking the pair's third collaboration following the worldwide hit, "Love the Way You Lie" and its sequel (2010).
Rihanna explained her interest in developing new soundscapes, "I love experimenting and I love working with different sounds and putting them together so they're not one-dimensional." She also added "Right now we're working on collecting and creating the sound first before we even start working on the lyrical direction or melodies. I kind of have an idea though, and it's very rough right now. So I'm very eager to start that."Sean Garrett spoke on the album's sound saying it was "a great mish-mash of genres". Rihanna revealed during an interview with GQ's "Men of the Year" that she wanted her music to be uplifting saying "I want to make music that's hopeful, uplifting. Nothing corny or supersentimental. I just want it to have the feeling that brings you out of whatever you're going through. I want it to spark that fire. I want it to be real, authentic, and raw."
The album's first half is made up of EDM and "syrupy" Southern hip hop minimalism songs, which feature abrasive sound effects and eccentric beats. Like most of the album, they generally draw on dubstep, a bass-heavy subgenre typified by wobbly synthetic noises and blaring bass drops, as well as dance-pop and chopped and screwed sounds. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times characterizes the album's music as "brutish and bruised" with "tough and layered" production, citing David Guetta's "guttural" production on "Phresh Out the Runway" and "Right Now" as an example. Music journalist Jude Rogers characterized the album's music as voluminous "R&B-pop", while Time magazine's Melissa Locker said that it has an "urban R&B sound". According to Alexis Petridis, the different producers who worked on Unapologetic appeared to make an effort away from Rihanna's previous "pop-dance template ... or at least to rearrange voguish sounds into less familiar shapes".Unapologetics ballad-oriented second half incorporates disco, reggae, and rock styles. According to music critic Greg Kot, Unapologetic is "ostensibly" a pop album, while Vibe said that it is "on the surface" an assortment of genres such as R&B, dubstep and pop.
Up-tempo songs such as "Phresh Out the Runway", "Jump", and "Pour It Up" celebrate carpe diemichedonism. Much of the album's lyrics are presumably concerned with Rihanna's relationship with Chris Brown, with a second half of lighter songs that have references to a dysfunctional love life. The album's subject matter is reflected by an abundance of minor key sounds throughout its songs. James Reed of The Boston Globe called Unapologetic "a defiant middle finger to her critics, particularly the ones who don't approve of her relationship with Brown." Kot observed a "celebrity subtext" throughout the album and characterized the songs' narrators as "troubled, anxiety-ridden, lost ... the characters in these songs linger in a limbo of mixed emotions, emotionally attracted to a lover and yet uneasy about the next step."Spin magazine's Caryn Ganz wrote that "Rihanna sings about her unapologetic love of" money, love, and "living in the moment" on the songs "Pour It Up", "Loveeeeeee Song", and "Right Now", respectively.
Songs and lyrical content
The album's opening track, "Phresh Out the Runway", is a "gritty club banger" that features hip hop and EDM styles. The song is a "noisy, trap-tastic twerker" that is reminiscent of Rihanna's 2012 single "Birthday Cake", and contains "blazin' beats, brags aplenty" and an "unapologetic attitude". The song's lyrical content revolves around Rihanna explaining how if any of her crew does not respect her, then they should no longer remain with her.
"Diamonds" is a mid-tempo ballad which incorporates electronic and pop musical genres. It features heavy synthesizers, orchestral sounds and electronic rhythms. The song's lyrical content marks a departure from the recurring themes of unhealthy relationships on the album's other songs, and contains a prominent concept of love.
"Numb" is a "slow-grinding, Middle Eastern-flavored party track". Numb's instrumentation consists of an Egyptian flute riff and "a crashing bombastic beat". "Numb" contains a sample of Kanye West's song "Can't Tell Me Nothing", written by West and Aldrin Davis. The song's lyrical content is "controversial" as it is about feeling "numb after taking drugs" and a "homage to getting high". "Pour It Up" is a club song, with a minimal hip hop beat. Lyrically, it finds Rihanna turning a strip-club anthem into a declaration of independence, pulling out her dollar bills at the strip club, getting drunk, and bragging loudly.
"Loveeeeeee Song" is a duet with rapper and singer Future, with soft vocals by Rihanna and lyrics that posit love as an adversarial game. "Jump" is a dubstep-influenced dance song that samples Ginuwine's 1996 song "Pony". Lyrically, in "Jump" Rihanna preaches to her former partner that she won't be chasing him. "Right Now" is a "feel-good anthem for the clubs". The song contains electronic and dance music, with a duration of 3:01. and the song features a "churning bassline".
"What Now", produced by Parker Ighile, is a "vulnerable ballad" containing a "hard chorus". The song is a piano-led mid tempo pop ballad and "builds nicely from its calming verse to its electrified hook."
"Stay" is a ballad that has piano and guitar instrumentation. The lyrics revolve around "failing to resist true love", according to Dan Martin for NME
"Nobody's Business" mixes Chicago stepping and house styles, featuring strings, piano, and a four-on-the-floor kick drum. Rihanna said that the song's lyrics show "basically the way I look at everything regarding my personal life." Lyrically, the couple proclaims their eternal fealty, make out in a Lexus and acknowledge the world that the romantic relationship between them is only their business.
"Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary" represent two electronica and new wave integrated songs, which last for a duration of 6:58 with lyrics that are deeply personal, two-part song that opens with a somber mood and shifts to confessional subject matter and Rihanna's uplifting vocals.
"Get It Over With" is a down-tempo, "chilled-out" song. "No Love Allowed" is a reggae song with a "bubbly, dubbed-out groove". The final track "Lost in Paradise" is a "somber-but-hopeful" mid-tempo ballad with frequent tempo drops. Lyrically, it speaks about a love stronger than a gun shot,
"Half of Me" is a chamber pop song which lasts for a duration of three minutes and twelve seconds.
"Diamonds" premiered on September 26, 2012, and was released the following day as the lead single from Unapologetic. Critics were divided on the track; some complimented Rihanna's different musical direction, however, others criticized its production. The cover artwork for the song features Rihanna rolling diamonds on a piece of marijuana paper. The song's music video depicts Rihanna in four environments that represent the elements of earth, air, water and fire. "Diamonds" debuted at number 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, eventually reaching number one, giving Rihanna her twelfth number one in the country and tying her with Madonna and The Supremes as the artists with the fifth-most number ones in the chart's history. The song also topped the charts in eighteen other countries worldwide including Austria, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
"Stay", which features guest vocals by American recording artist Mikky Ekko was released as the second international single from the album on January 28, 2013. Dan Martin for NME thought that the lyrical content of "Stay" puts a "vulnerable spin" on her relationship with Chris Brown. The song's accompanying music video was released on February 11, 2013 via E! and then to Vevo the following day. The song reached the top five of twenty-four countries worldwide including number four in the UK and number three on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming Rihanna's twenty-fourth top ten on the latter chart, thus passing Whitney Houston's tally of 23 top ten songs. Furthermore, it reached number one in Canada, Czech Republic and Denmark, while also topping the US Pop Songs chart.
"Pour It Up" was solicited to urban radio as the album's third single in the United States on January 8, 2013. The song debuted on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number 90, eventually reaching a top twenty peak of number 19. "Pour It Up" additionally charted on multiple sub-charts in the country including number one and six on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts, and number 47 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart. It also made appearances in other countries such as Canada, France and the UK. A remix of "Pour It Up" was later distributed with rap verses from American rappers Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Juicy J, and T.I. On October 2, 2013, an accompanying music video was released to Rihanna's official Vevo account after several delays.
"What Now" was released as the sixth single from the album in selected countries; it has peaked at number 21 and 13 in Australia and New Zealand respectively. The single also appeared on the singles charts of France, United Kingdom and Belgium. On August 29, 2013, a promotional digital remixes EP of "What Now" was released exclusively to Beatport. "What Now" officially impacted US rhythmic radio on September 24, 2013 and later impacted on Top 40/Mainstream radio on October 1, 2013. The song's accompanying music video was released to Vevo on November 15, 2013.
"Jump" was issued to Australian radio on January 24, 2014 as the fifth single in Australia and seventh overall.
Release and promotion
On September 12, 2012, Def Jam France announced via Twitter that Rihanna would release a new single the upcoming week while her seventh studio album was scheduled to be released in November 2012. However, the tweet was shortly deleted and replaced with another clarifying that "more information will be made available tomorrow, Thursday, September 13". To further promote the announcement for her seventh upcoming studio album, Rihanna launched a promotional website rihanna7.com. Via her official Twitter account, Rihanna posted series of "teasing" tweets announcing her seventh studio album. On October 11, 2012, she revealed the cover art and title of her new album, Unapologetic.VH1 ranked the cover at number one on their list of The 30 Hottest Naked Album Covers Ever. Regarding the title of the album, Rihanna explained that she named it because she wanted to express how honest she is, "I named my album 'Unapologetic' because there is only one truth, and you can't apologise for that. It's honest. I'm always evolving of course, I think the only motto I have is to be true to myself."
Rihanna performing during her 777 Tour in Mexico.
In August 2012, it was revealed that Unapologetic would be released in late November 2012. In early October, it was reported that the album would be released on November 19, 2012. On November 2, 2012, Rihanna released a behind the scenes video of the journey to making Unapologetic. The first video included a behind-the-scenes view of Rihanna backstage at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, a shooting range, rehearsing for the iHeartRadio Music Festival and a photo shoot at a studio.
On November 14, Rihanna embarked on a seven-date promotional tour for Unapologetic titled the 777 Tour. She performed seven concerts in seven days, each in a different city in North America and Europe. Fans and members of the international press (150 journalists representing 82 countries) were invited aboard a chartered Boeing 777 twinjet to every venue. Beginning on November 14 in Mexico City, the tour visited Toronto (Canada), Stockholm (Sweden), Paris (France), Berlin (Germany), London (UK) and ended on November 20 in New York City (United States). On May 6, 2013, Fox aired a tour documentary, with a documentary DVD being released the following day.
Rihanna performed "Diamonds" and "Phresh Out the Runway" at the 2012 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 7, 2012, which aired on CBS on December 4, 2012. She performed "Diamonds" and a solo version of "Stay" on Saturday Night Live on November 10, 2012. On November 25, 2012, Rihanna performed "Diamonds" on The X Factor in the United Kingdom. On December 8, she performed the song on Wetten, dass..? in Germany. On December 9, 2012, Rihanna performed "Stay" in a medley with her 2011 single "We Found Love" on the final of series nine of British The X Factor. She also performed "Diamonds" on La Chanson de l'année ("The song of the Year") in France, on December 10, 2012, which was broadcast on December 29, 2012.
Unapologetic received mixed to positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album holds an average score of 61, which indicates "generally favorable reviews", based on 25 reviews. Alexis Petridis of The Guardian found it "far more interesting" sonically than Talk That Talk and stated, "there's stuff here that's worth hearing, if you could untangle the music from the artist's personal life."Fact magazine's Alex Macpherson felt that it has some of Rihanna's most compelling songs since Rated R (2009) and that, "even when Unapologetic fails, it often does so in interesting ways" musically.AllMusic's Andy Kellman opined that "the only way to enjoy a significant portion of it is by taking it as pure entertainment" and called it "another timely refresh of contemporary pop music".
Dan Martin of NME commented that, "at its best, Unapologetic trades in daring avant pop", and dubbed Rihanna the "most compelling of pop phenomena". Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone asserted that "Unapologetics stark, shadowy R&B is confrontationally honest and sung within an inch of its life". Jon Caramanica of The New York Times felt that it "makes the most of [Rihanna's] talent" and stated, "even on the most vulnerable songs, she maintains her cool, never once verging on the maudlin." Smokey Fontaine of The Huffington Post called it "kinetic and musically varied", and wrote that it "blasts the sounds of global, post-mod youth culture through every track".
In a mixed review, Genevieve Koski of The A.V. Club criticized Rihanna for "extend[ing] the album's defiant tone to her romantic life" and called it "a fiery pop album that's unfortunately coated in the icky residue of unearned defiance that has marked Brown's recent output." Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times felt that its commercial "lyrical turns poison" the album, "even while musically, Rihanna has evolved into one of the more forward-thinking pop divas."Simon Price of The Independent panned Rihanna's singing as "flatter than Norfolk" and its material "dull as dishwater", observing "the usual half-hearted, sexual single-entendres".
Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "in the context of an album dominated by ballads and at least superficially introspective lyrics", the dubstep songs "feel like respites".Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson commented that the album sounds "cobbled together" and quipped, "If only the music were compelling enough to back up the supreme bad faith" of the lyrics.Pitchfork's Jessica Hopper dismissed its music as "synth-pop slog" and said that the songs "make for dull labor, not worth our time and not befitting Rihanna's talent". In his consumer guide for MSN Music, Robert Christgau facetiously called her "so much more provocative as an android than as a human being". He cited "Phresh Out the Runway", "Diamonds", and "Numb" as highlights, and gave the album a three-star honorable mention, which indicates "an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure".
In the United States, Unapologetic debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 238,000 copies in its first week. It was Rihanna's first number-one album in the US and the best-selling debut week of her career. In the same week, the album's lead single "Diamonds" remained atop the Billboard Hot 100 for a second consecutive week. Consequently, Rihanna became the second artist of 2012 to top both the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 simultaneously. The following week, the album fell to number six and sold 72,000 copies. On the issue dated March 11, 2013 (its fourteenth week on the chart), the album re-entered the Billboard 200 top five at number five, selling 28,000 that week. On May 30, in its 27th consecutive week on the Billboard 200, Unapologetic passed the one million sales mark, selling at a faster rate than her previous album, Talk That Talk. With the feat, the album became her sixth album to sell at least one million copies. On July 3, 2013, Billboard mid-year sales reported that Unapologetic is the 16th best-selling album of 2013 thus far, selling 494,000 copies from January 1 to June 30, 2013. As of June 2015, Unapologetic has sold 1.2 million copies in the US. In February 2018 the album was certified 3x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), denoting shipments of over 3 million album-equivalent units in the US.
In the United Kingdom, the album debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, with sales of more than 99,000 copies in its first week. With the debut, it became Rihanna's fourth album to reach the top spot in the UK and also her third consecutive chart topper, tying Madonna, Eva Cassidy and Norah Jones for the female artists with most consecutive UK number one albums. By May 2013, the album had sold 635,000 copies in the UK. It also reached number one in Switzerland and Norway. In Denmark, the album was certified gold by the IFPI Denmark, denoting shipments of 10,000 copies. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the album had sold over 2.3 million copies worldwide by February 2013, making it the eight best selling album of 2012. In France, Unapologetic has sold 240,000 copies as of May 2013. As of March 2015, Unapologetic has sold over four million copies worldwide.
Unapologetic was ranked as the tenth most popular album of 2013 on the Billboard 200.
Credits adapted from Rihanna's official website.