Rihanna’s new single, “Work” featuring Drake, is receiving mixed reviews today, and that’s understandable. After months of painstaking buildup—which didn’t just include a couple teases, but a full-fledged Samsung campaign that had a Fuse staffer sprinting through Manhattan with an ANTIdiaRy key on a December night—there was simply no way that “Work” was going to work for everyone. Sometimes a feverishly anticipated single or album lives up to the mountain of hype (hello, Adele), but more often than not, they fall short of the sky-high expectations, simply because they hover without soaring.
It will be interesting to see how the critics shrugging at “Work” today will view the song, say, six months from now, removed from its baggage as the first official single from the endlessly delayed ANTI. If you digested “Work” with the hope that it would be mind-blowing or revelatory… well, then you’re going to be bummed a little. If you went in to “Work” looking for a fun new Rihanna song, chances are that you’re still humming it a few hours later.
When paired with Drake, as she has been on songs like “What’s My Name?” and “Take Care,” Rih tends to let her vulnerability shine through—so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their latest collaboration veers away from the impenetrability of her “Bitch Better Have My Money” persona. Her vocal performance here is springy but also nuanced, as she winds around the repetitive chorus and gives herself space to emote. The highlight here is the second verse, in which Rihanna literally begs to be given the chance to work on a failing relationship: “I hope that you see this through, I hope that you see this true/What can I say? Please recognize I’m trying, babe!” she sings. If anything, the unspectacular Drake verse that follows is unnecessary after such a powerful exclamation.
I think what’s thrown people off about “Work,” and made some label the single minor Rihanna, is its production, which is sparse but impressively intricate. Boi-1da, Vinylz and SEVN Thomas have crafted a beat that’s subtle in all the right ways: it’s slow but hypnotic, busy but not too cluttered, restrained but with a slick beat on the chorus. No, it’s not as flashy as “Diamonds,” or as explosive as “We Found Love.” Remove the “first single” air from it, though, and you’ll find “Work” rather entrancing.
More than anything, “Work” is exactly what it needs to be: a new Rihanna song. Did you know that “American Oxygen” came out nine months ago? That’s a long gap in new music for an album that’s perpetually been imminent. Whether or not ANTI will be released this week, as is the rumor, or is released 80 years from now, when only our children will be able to unlock ANTIdiaRy, we at least have a brand-new Rihanna banger that really does bang, if you approach it the right way. Breathe out. Breathe in. New Rihanna music is here. Enjoy it.