As I type these words, the Rihanna plane has just careened to a sudden landing, and her hostages have disembarked.
It's a fascinating and difficult moment to think through Rihanna and her celebrity. Unapologetic marks a significant shift in the crafting of her persona, finding her in full-fledged defiance mode after the last few tentative years since The Incident. While 2011's Talk That Talk had a title track featuring guest-MC and protective big-brother-figure Jay-Z, Unapologetic boasts a song called "Nobody's Business" featuring ex-boyfriend/ex-batterer Chris Brown—and in case you were wondering, the song is truly and spectacularly awful. Rihanna's not going to be our 21st-century Tina Turner, storming out on Ike and thus cementing her place in the pantheon of feminist pop goddesses.
Unapologetic might work better as a manifesto if it featured Rihanna at the height of her powers. It makes perfect sense that she would want to send the message that she won't and shouldn't have to justify her personal choices, but her defensiveness has dulled her hooks rather than sharpened them. If anything, Unapologetic could stand to be more of a "fuck you" (like, maybe if the song featuring Brown had been amazing rather than embarrassing).
Lead single "Diamonds" is a fine but tepid midtempo song with lackluster musical ideas that are bolstered mostly by the rhythm of Sia Furler's lyrical contributions.
Rihanna can execute a pop song, but can she immortalize one anymore? Unapologetic unapologetically suggests the answer is no.