Before ANTI when you listened to a Rihanna album you'd look for four singles and then wait for the music videos. Rihanna was an incredible popstar but her album track record was not good and that was okay. She'd had ten number one singles in the US and given that she'd only been around for just over a decade, that's a phenominal feat. When you think of the greatest popstars of all time though, each of them have an iconic album. Michael Jackson has Thriller, Madonna has Like A Prayer, Beyoncé now has Lemonade and even Lady Gaga has one in The Fame Monster.
When ANTI was released on 28th January 2016, it seemed she'd delivered her most cohesive album yet but it wasn't iconic. Work was good but it wasn't anywhere as immediate as her other lead singles and even the album's best moments sounded fractured, unfinished. Pitchfork wrote that anybody expecting ANTI to be Rihanna's opus is, "likely to be underwhelmed." They were right.
Two years later, they were wrong. We were all wrong. Work, a slinky, subtle dancehall track hit number one in the US almost a month after its release, Needed Me became her longest-running chart hit and Love On The Brain became the album's third top 10. Not bad for an album with no hits.
Looking back at the album now, it's clear to see ANTI was ahead of its time. She tapped SZA for the lead-track before CTRL was even in sight, covered a Tame Impala song before Kevin Parker was writing hits with Lady Gaga and made a dancehall track her lead-single before it became obligatory for every popstar to try it out at least once on their album. Most importantly, ANTI ushered in a period of honest imperfection.
Last year's most celebrated albums had elements on imperfection. SZA's CTRL was as raw as they come, Lorde's Melodrama was confessional without considering reputation and even Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. (which featured Rihanna) was distorted and crumbling in parts. It's hard to say that these were directly influenced by ANTI but it did assist in ushering in a new period where the gloss is being wiped off pop music. There's no room for the perfect popstar anymore. Even Taylor Swift has had to ditch her good girl reputation in search of something darker. Still, RiRi's badgal attitude to hard to adopt effortlessly.
Listening to ANTI two years later, it sounds better than it did in 2016. It's aged better than nearly all records released in 2016 (anyone still listening to VIEWS?) and that's because at the core of it there are these emotions that will never go out of fashion. There's nothing of the time about the doo-wop beat of Love On The Brain or the howling guitars of Kiss It Better. It sounds timeless because it's distinctly Rihanna's emotional manifesto.
We love the no-fucks-given, Consideration Rihanna but the album's centrepiece is its two unfiltered outpourings of love. Love On The Brain holds nothing back in delivering that dizzying feeling of love. This is no I Will Always Love You, although it's a ballad big enough to match it. This is a song made in the moment when love whizzes around the head, numbing any reasoning. It never explicitly acknowledges it but it knows nothing if forever. It's followed by Higher which captures the desperation and imperfection of ANTI better than any other song. There's this image of Rihanna screaming into the phone, clutching a bottle of whiskey in the early hours of the morning. That same feeling might not be there when she wakes but she captures the intensity of that moment poignantly.
Even if ANTI's in-the-moment sentiments don't last forever, the record will. She captured something so fleeting with zero reservations about whether what she was saying was correct. She found her perfect album in her most imperfect album. The one that best captured what we thought we knew about Rihanna's raw public persona.