HENRY ROLLINS, HENRY ROLLINS…
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.