Friday, February 5th, 2010

Rihanna ft. Young Jeezy – Hard



Hillary Brown: For all the interest Rihanna as a person and a persona has provoked over the past couple of years, it would be nice to see her making the same kind of adventurous choices with her music as with her hair or accessories.

Alfred Soto: It isn’t hard at all to repeat your favorite tics. Singles released subsequent to “Umbrella,” “Livin’ a Lie,” and “Don’t Stop the Music” have shown her essential boringness. Even with Jeezy’s encouragement, her bravado doesn’t convince.

Kat Stevens: There’s hardly anything that stands out here except RiRi’s snarl and the plinky piano, but they twist around each other and create a compelling atmosphere: any remaining image of Rihanna as the cute young lovebird offering up her parasol is long gone; all that’s left is a steely Terminatrix striding through the rain. With a sword where her left arm should be.

Martin Kavka: One of the most important things that I learned from Tremble Clef during its run was that the repetition of a phrase in a pop song is best understood as a symptom of a narrator’s trying and failing to bring about a certain state of affairs. In this case, by the twentieth time Rihanna declares her hardness, I’ve completely ceased to believe her. Her claim, like her need for “the money the fame the cars the clothes,” is just covering for her inability to get past whatever pain it is that hasn’t yet receded. Usually, this kind of reading would bring out the complexity in a pop song. However, Rihanna is so over the top in her insistence that I’m sadly unable to see her as anything other than That Girl Who Just Needs To STFU Already.

Martin Skidmore: She does indeed sound arrogant and uncaring, and this makes it admirable rather than likeable, meaning it needs a pretty irresistible hook or something like that to make you fall for it. It comes pretty close, and I really like the staccato piano and the background yelling. Young Jeezy provides a hoarse, muscular guest verse, which does no harm either.

John Seroff: It’s great to finally hear a new, quality Rihanna single; after the hyperdramatic nihilism of “Russian Roulette”, the dreck that was “Run This Town” and her well-meaning but bumbling cover of “Redemption Song”, I was starting to wonder what was left in the tank. “Hard” is classic Terius and Tricky: inventive, repetitive, catchy and doggedly melodic. Ri-Ri’s contribution is primarily inoffensive play-acting; the blend of snide, pride and bitters reads equally meta as the Jeremy Scott Mickey Mouse helmet and pink tank from the video. After a sad year of post-Brown ugliness, it’s nice to have our girl back in an inoffensive, unapologetic, less deadly-serious mode. Jeezy’s verse is moribund but brief and you’ve already gotten everything the song has to offer by the time he shows up, so you can hit rewind with impunity.

Al Shipley: Instead of going for another pop megahit, it sounds like Rihanna and the The-Dream team are auditioning to helm the next shrill, tunelessly triumphant DJ Khaled single — all this needs is a Rick Ross verse and a few “we the best” ad libs. I get kind of angry when I think about how maybe the highest paid lyricist in pop music right now routinely writes couplets as bad as “never lyin’, truth tella/ that Rihanna reign just won’t let up.”

Pete Baran: There is an appealing looseness about “Hard”, but not enough to make it more than just three good notes covered with Rihanna posing.

David Moore: For all the thug posturing, I still hear the chorus as “ah, so hard” (as in “my life is”) and the song as covertly confessional (pain! Crying! Rain that won’t let up!). Young Jeezy does a standard recap of his origin story, which in this context brings it down to earth a bit — Jeezy’s up in his bedroom staring at those four walls again, hoping that tomorrow his life will be a little better. (There just happens to be a fuck-ton of coke in there.) Rihanna kind of wants to have it both ways here — it’s hard (so hard) to do “my life is a mess” and “I pulled through and look at me now” simultaneously, so the tone here is muddled. But I kind of like that the song is repressed, that she wants it so badly to sound like a boast but starts it as a diary entry: “No pain is forever — yup, you know this.” One day at a time.

Michaelangelo Matos: This was such a relief on its slog of an album that I figured it would be an easy 8 out of context, but how do you like that: on its own the music is pretty thin and one-note, and so is the concept that, wow, Rihanna really is a star and deserves whatever hauteur she has, however off-putting. Still like the piano and “Brilliant, resilient, fan mail from 27 million,” though.

30 Responses to “Rihanna ft. Young Jeezy – Hard”

  1. What?? Really thought this would score significantly higher. Where are the proponents of this song hiding?

    The most affecting part of this song is “I neeeed it all –
    The money, the fame, the cars, the clothes”. The appeal of the album, that she goes through phases from self hate to revenge fantasy to swaggering confidence, has been discussed. Here she touches on more than one phase in this song alone. She’s hard, but she NEEDS to be, needs those material goods, the fame, the clothes, to cope. When she says it like that it’s not a casual “I gots the money, I buy the goods”, it’s a necessary (if, in the end, unlikely to help) means of survival.

    There are plenty of other great things about this song, but like Russian Roulette it’s aggressively underrated here.

  2. I’d have given it at least a [9] – can’t argue with those 57 plays on since it emerged, nor with the number of times this soundtracked me striding through London rain at night – but I’ve pretty much said all I have to say on Rated R now. But Rihanna’s posing is great enough that she doesn’t need any more notes, and “that Rihanna rain just won’t let up” is an amazing lyric. As per my Fact review of the album:

    “That Rihanna rain just won’t let up,” declaims Rihanna in probably the finest of several triumphalist boasts on her fourth album. It works on several levels. There’s the sheer elemental power of it, Rihanna cast as nothing less than a force of nature. There’s the imperial homophone, Rihanna’s reign over pop reaffirmed and her domain marked out. And then there’s what that ceaseless rain represents: the very public storm that has been Rihanna’s life for the past ten months, since Chris Brown brutally beat her up on the eve of the Grammy Awards – but also her own regrowth, both personal and artistic. At heart, Rated R is about the reconstruction of Rihanna.

    I also love the way she snaps “no pain is forever – yup, you know this” – willing herself to closure – and the chanting “where dem girls talking trash” coda, which I always sing along to. (I know Al particularly hates that bit of the song.)

  3. I’d have rated it highly (like 7, I guess), except I couldn’t think of anything to say. It didn’t occur to me to compare Young Jeezy to Ashlee Simpson.

  4. “Brilliant, resilient, fan mail from 27 million” is the lyric of the year so far.

  5. She’s slowly reaching Alicia Keys levels of boring.

  6. The Ashlee quote was a bit of an in-joke obvs — but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there’s a strong confessional streak in Jeezy’s music generally. Here it’s more of a quick run-through. But I still see the guy hustling in his mom’s house, maybe in the same bedroom he slept in as a kid, looking back having already crossed the void to success.

  7. Ha, I thought the reign/rain bit was kind of clever. She had this other song called “Umbrella,” you see. Ahem.

  8. Mildly clever, but it sure as hell doesn’t scan well or sound good.

  9. Also c’mon Jeezy’s gotta be one of the least confessional rappers of all time, I’ve listened to every album and still know nothing about his life that can’t be said of any other ATL trap rapper.

  10. Not suggesting anything about personal details per se but putting the narrative — the basics of which Jeezy shares with a ton of other rappers and maybe isn’t different from (won’t claim to know much of it) — is as much about the pain as it is the triumph. I think that in this one Rihanna is taking on some bragadoccio/triumph but underlining the pain part, whether she intends to or not.

  11. Strike “putting” from that comment

  12. “Brilliant, resilient, fan mail from 27 million” is the lyric of the year so far.

    I seriously doubt the year’s been that bad, so far. (And why would I care about some star’s fan mail anyway? At least if she’s not going to read it to us, like Eminem.)

  13. Chuck what score would you’ve given it?

  14. I haven’t computed that. Something in the, uh….middle, probably. Most likely low-ish middle.

  15. (Handle roulette over now, incidentally.)

    Huh. I’m all about this song. Even if this is some kind of mantra exercise for Rihanna, there are plenty of worse ways she could go about it. Her part’s certainly better than Young Jeezy’s continued cockfight with Gucci Mane (worst part of the song, IMO.)

  16. wait seriously? this is one of the worst songs i’ve heard all year–and i was really gunning for rihanna, too. is this really a the-dream production? it’s awful, just awful across the board.

  17. Ha, I thought the reign/rain bit was kind of clever. She had this other song called “Umbrella,” you see. Ahem.

    Also, doesn’t rain = money (as in “making it rain”)? That’s the meaning that makes the most sense in the context of the song, to me: you can get on the Internet and take sides and talk all the trash you want, but no matter how hard you try to bring her down, Rihanna’s still a moneymaker with 27 million fans on her side. (Which is why you should give a shit about her fan mail, Chuck. Those letters are Rihanna’s army.)

  18. And why I still don’t give a shit (army or no) was best explained in my Jukebox review of her previous single:

  19. I didn’t even think of the “Umbrella” connection or the money interpretation when I wrote my review, duh. An even better line, then. And the army thing is something she returns to later and more explicitly in “G4L”, too.

    I give a shit because it’s a powerful articulation of a revenge fantasy and a psychologically true reaction to being done wrong that I think a large proportion of Rihanna’s audience, including myself, find resonant. “Fanmail from 27 million” can be interpreted as a boast – but to those listeners who recognise their emotions in what Rihanna is singing, it’s a more generous gesture – there’s a sense of inclusion, “we’re in this together”, and to extend the military analogy, a feeling that Rihanna is fighting on behalf of her fans as well as herself.

  20. And that’s a crap response on two counts, Chuck. First of all, it doesn’t apply here: You don’t have to keep up with Rihanna’s life to make sense of the song. The story’s right there in the lyrics — pain, people talking trash on the Internet, but she’s going to come out on top, brilliant, resilient, fanmail from 27 million — and if you can’t follow it, then that’s your failure, not the song’s. Second of all, it was a weak argument when you made it in November, and it hasn’t gotten any stronger since then: What you call “warping critical judgment” could just as easily be called “paying attention and using additional information to bring you to a better understanding of the song,” and you don’t do anything to convince me that your interpretation is the right one. (In fact, your statement that you’ve “long been opposed caring about celebrity personal lives on principle” does more to convince me that your interpretation is the wrong one — what you’re telling me is that instead of interacting with the stories surrounding music, instead of actually thinking about them and deciding whether they add anything to your experience, you thoughtlessly dismiss them based on some decision you made twenty years ago.)

    And what’s with pointing the finger at hip-hop? How is it any more responsible than, say, Fleetwood Mac and friends — or teenpop, in which obsessively following the details of your favorite stars’ lives is such an integral part of the fan experience that it spawned an entire genre of magazines dedicated to doing just that? (Tiger Beat: Letting you know what color your favorite singer’s toothbrush is since 1965.)

    Lex, I definitely see this as a companion to “G4L” — her loyal girl gang is part of the story contained in the “fanmail from 27 million” line.

  21. Well, the difference with Fleetwood Mac (circa 1976- 1977) is that, as far as I know, they weren’t singing about getting mail from 27 million; they were addressing relationship issues that one could identify with even if one knew nothing about F-Mac’s lives (which I didn’t, until years later. And I was hardly negligent in not researching those lives; I assume most of the millions who bought Rumours didn’t.) The same goes for most great marriage and breakup albums as far as I can tell, even if the artists were married and/or breaking up when they recorded them. Hell, the same goes for most Taylor Swift songs, though I’m sure many things in those did happen to her — more relevant, though, is her fans experiencing the things. Unless Rihanna’s fans also get huge piles of fanmail, I don’t see how that applies here.

    Also don’t remember Shaun Cassidy or Donny Osmond say, actually addressing their favorite toothbrush colors — or anything else ultra specific about their biographies — in their songs. At least in “That’s Rock’n’Roll” and “One Bad Apple” they sure didn’t. They tended to sing in the potential voice of one of their fans, many of whom undoubtedly read Tiger Beat but who certainly didn’t need to do so to relate to the words.

    I’m sure there were occasional exceptions, and I know Rihanna doesn’t always sing as a star, either.
    I’m sure she’s not the best person to single out for this, and I’m sure I’ve been generalizing like crazy overall. But I definitely get the idea the balance has shifted, for the worse, in the other direction. (And of course, while I’m typing this, I’m thinking of older exceptions as well. Mott The Hoople, one of my favorite ’70s bands, were always doing songs like “Saturday Gigs” and “Ballad Of Mott” and “Hymn For The Dudes” — though that one was more about their fans, I think — that addressed specifics about their career, so that’s a big one maybe, even if no inside knowledge beyond names of the guys in the band was really required for translation. Dr. Hook in “Cover Of Rolling Stone” and Joe Walsh in “Life’s Been Good” — “I’m making records, my fans they can’t wait/They write me letters, tell me I’m great” — wrote hilarious satires about the lives of generalized rock stars, though I never got the idea the stars in those songs were literally them. In 1984, after first getting published in the Village Voice, I’m pretty sure I opened my Pazz & Jop ballot with a line about “getting cards and letters from people I don’t even know,” from Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” because I did actually relate to that line, in my own personal life, since I was, for the first time, actually getting postcards from strangers who’d read my writing. Just not 27 million of them, which again, strikes me as just an vacant boast. Though sure, maybe it strikes her fans differently, if they’re proud of being just one of those 27 million. I’m not one of her fans, usually, so I wouldn’t know.)

    Anyway, mainly, I’m just saying the game has changed some, and I apologize if I seemed dogmatic about it. I’m sure I love some songs that do what I’m railing against — including recent ones. (I mentioned Eminem above, for instance, though the fan letter in “Stan” does manage to personalize a fan’s life.) But sorry, I still don’t equate “a better understanding of the artist’s intentions” with “a better understanding of the song.” And sure, sometimes reading biographies or interviews (I’ve done a few of those myself — even talked to Eminem’s grandmother a few years ago!) is enlightening; I’m not denying that. I just disagree that it should be a requirement, and I disagree with recent songwriting trends that seem bent on making it a requirement. They make me want to know less about artists’ lives, not more. And if their music isn’t enough to carry itself without that knowledge, sorry, but I’d say their music is lacking.

  22. Country outlaws like Hank Williams Jr (whose bragging about who his dad was usually didn’t make me give a shit either) and David Allan Coe (whose boasts could on occasion be funny but probably seemed gratuitous at least as often) might be other big pre-hip-hop/ Internet exceptions. (Still wasn’t hard to relate to Jr.’s “Family Tradition,” though, if you had a fucked-up family, or “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down,” even if your own settled-down friends weren’t named Waylon and Kris.)

  23. So, basically, you only find music enjoyable or useful if you can imagine it’s about you? Anyway, main point:

    And if their music isn’t enough to carry itself without that knowledge, sorry, but I’d say their music is lacking.

    And what I’m saying is, the music isn’t lacking. You don’t have to know Rihanna is a pop star who was beaten by her boyfriend and subsequently became the subject of not-so-supportive Internet debate to enjoy this song. You don’t have to know she’s a pop star at all, or that she’s rich, or that she’s involved in fashion to enjoy this song. You don’t have to know, because the song gives you all the important information (including “fanmail from 27 million”). But you aren’t paying attention, because you’ve decided that any song appearing to be about an artist’s actual life — that is, any song that makes it impossible for you to automatically plop yourself into the center of it — requires you to do all sorts of complicated homework, and warps your point of view as a critic. And as I said before, that’s your failure, not the song’s. (I mean, God damn, even if I accept the idea that songs are somehow lesser if they’re about people I can’t pretend are myself, and even if I therefore find “fanmail from 27 million” hard to relate to because I don’t get massive piles of fanmail myself, it takes what, about two seconds of thought to go, “Oh, but I can relate to the feeling of having people in my corner when other people are trying to bring me down, so I get it”?)

    The song isn’t making you do homework. The song is doing the homework for you. You should care about the fanmail not because it’s a reference to the debate surrounding Rihanna and Chris Brown, or because it’s a reference to Rihanna being a star, but because it’s an important part of the song. It’s what allows the song to do what you want it to do — carry itself without prior knowledge of the singer’s life. And it’s fine if you want to willfully ignore the information a song is giving you, as some sort of protest against The Way Things Are Today, but then you forfeit your right to criticize the song for not giving you the information.

  24. Also, it bugs me that I now appear to be a huge fan of this song, which I would have rated, like, a 6 at most.

  25. basically, you only find music enjoyable or useful if you can imagine it’s about you?

    Well, since I just offered several specific examples here otherwise, obviously not. There’s lots of music that I find enjoyable and useful that isn’t even about anything at all, as far as I can tell! (And even if a song does actually hit me close to home, it might not be “about me” – maybe “about my next neighbor,” or “about some lady I saw at the grocery store once” or “about this sad kid I knew back in eighth grade”, or whoever. Somehow, rich celebrities getting piles of mail aren’t so interesting to me — though I gave three examples of songs about that I love, too! So it’s hardly a hard & fast rule.)

    For what it’s worth, I don’t even hate “Hard”. “Brilliant, resilient, fanmail from 27 million” comes off smug and meaningless to me (rather than, say, an inspirational pep talk or whatever about how much mail I might get if I’m, uh, “brilliant” too) at least partly because Rihanna’s vocal sounds cold and smug to me. I could take or leave Jeezy. But the song has a clank and noise and push to it that halfway justifies its title. I’d give it a 5.

  26. (And obviously, duh, lots of really moving songs are about people unlike anybody you’ve ever met at all, in your whole life!. Or maybe animals, even! Guess I’m partly just saying that I respect stars who resist the urge to spend their songs telling us they’re stars. Which can seem arrogant, presumptuous, and insecure, all at the same time. But right, there are always always always always exceptions. Just thought of another one: Lynyrd Skynyrd, complaining about music critics in “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” and their record label in “Workin’ For MCA.” Not two of their very greatest songs, but very great nonetheless — maybe at least partly because, in the former, they said they’d rather talk about fishing.)

  27. Unless Rihanna’s fans also get huge piles of fanmail, I don’t see how that applies here.

    Rihanna’s fans are the ones SENDING the fanmail! (Even if they didn’t literally do so.)

    I think the album consciously – though only occasionally explicitly – poses the question: Are you with me or not? So when she sings about being brilliant and resilient, she’s not just boosting herself, but everyone who’s on her side, in her army. And yeah, it can be heard as arrogant or smug, terrifically so, if you’re not.

  28. For what it’s worth, I think the fanmail line, and all the boasts in this song, sound oddly “vacant,” too, but it’s part of what I kind of like about the song — that there are these hints throughout that it’s a coping mechanism for something. The song doesn’t tell us what, and I actually don’t just project biographical details in here — I’ve long sensed an odd pain in Rihanna’s music that belies her boasts or frivolity or whatever else; wanted to write an essay a few years ago about the “Rihanna death drive,” which seemed to me to be a sense of despair that seemed to underlie a lot of her songs. Little did I know that she would actually write a quite good song about a literal death drive.

    When I grapple with the fact that on the whole the song is way more boast than pain, and that those boasts eventually start to pick away at the way I want to hear the song and insist that I take it for what it more plausibly is (NEVER!) I downgrade it to a 7-ish. But I’ve never actually listened to this song in isolation, really, and, as is often the case for me (unfortunately?) I rated the “album listen” rather than the “single listen.”

    Thing is, Lex, no one’s in a position to be “with” Rihanna for much of the album; the sound and situations are constantly pushing us out. Which is what I like about it, honestly (I think “G4L” is the worst song on the album). I have a hard time not seeing brilliant/resilient as being met with an opposing sense of being totally out of control. Where she falls flat (and most of my confessional faves don’t) is that she doesn’t really capture the middle ground between pain and triumph, just kind of flips the switch back and forth. Which makes for its own sort of experience, but it lacks subtlety, to say the least, which may be why my favorite song on the album is the CAR BOMB one. (Actually I think “Te Amo” is quite subtle, and that it kind of stands apart on the album, but that’s a whole different convo.)

  29. I’ve actually hated every non-Umbrella song Rihanna ever did; she always seemed to me like a vapid whorish singer who didn’t understand anything she said and sounded like she was just reading her dumb lyrics off of cue cards. Especially on Disturbia. But here she emerges as someone with an actual personality, the, as Kat says, arrogant steely Terminatrix of pop. The hook could be better but the verses are great.

  30. Feeling Jeezy. His music stay tight.