A Strong Suggestion: Step It Up, Rihanna

No matter how entertaining and captivating she is, the “DGAF attitude” she’s praised for might also prove to be her Achilles heel.

How does one find inspiration to push yourself harder when you’ve already proven that you could seemingly give half the effort and achieve maximum success all the same? In the case of Rihanna, she could retire at the age of 26 and still go on to be rightfully hailed as one of the most successful recording artists in history. That would probably make Mariah Carey – who will likely have to relinquish bragging rights for the most number one singles on Billboard’s singles charts besides The Beatles to Rihanna sooner than later – very happy, though the chances of Rihanna retiring are as probable as Cassie getting a co-sign from Aretha Franklin. Yes, in the race for pop culture dominance, Rihanna could grab a chair, order three rounds of drinks and still zoom past all but one of her peers to the finish line. That reality is a testament to her ability to capitalize on the visual, and more importantly, the growing importance of likability thanks to the rise of social media and celebrity culture, as well as one other little attribute about Rihanna that all too often is ignored: The woman has a great ear for music. Nevertheless, as we wait for Rihanna’s eighth studio album, I wonder where the pop star takes her career in the next few years. No matter how entertaining and captivating she is, the “DGAF attitude” she’s praised for might also prove to be her Achilles heel. I am a Rihanna fan, but if there’s any legitimate complaint to be made about her, it’s the lassiez faire attitude she continues to have about singing and performing. Rihanna certainly has her moments of excellence – her rendition of “Stay” on SNL or her 2010 America Music Awards performances instantly come to mind – but they are typically far and in between. Some people excuse this and it’s a shame I don’t have the power to issue cease and desist letter. In the essay, “Confessions of a Beyoncé Dissident,” Ian Russell writes, “Of Mrs. Carter’s peers, Rihanna pops to mind as a performer who, though certainly lacking Beyoncé’s voice, suddenly becomes likable for her DGAF attitude.” Uh, perhaps for a few, but there’s a reason why Beyoncé can sell out a world tour without a new album while her contemporaries are lucky to do that (or come close enough) with new music and a gang of hit singles already amassed under their belt. More importantly, people may like you now, but what’s going to happen in the next decade or two when Rihanna is on a downswing? As much as people harped on Jennifer Lopez’s less than stellar first-week sales of her latest album, AKA, J. Lo, who turns 45 this year, continues to out-dance women half her age – including Rihanna. That makes it easier for her to continue being booked to perform at major award shows and managing to fill up venues post-peak of her musical career.

It’s not that Rihanna isn’t capable of stepping it up; only she barely elects to do so. Such is her right, but pop music is not kind to aging women (and it is unfair), and as J. Lo rightly pointed out in a recent interview, she and Mariah Carey have already built a fan base. So has Rihanna, but will The Navy still be willing to see that same old lethargic two-step and so-so vocal depending on the day 20 years from now? Or even five, when there’s sure to be some other slick-mouthed pop star, who unlike Miley Cyrus, might manage to properly copy RiRi’s style.
None of this is a condemnation of Rihanna. It’s just that when you know someone is capable of doing more than what they’re presently giving, you want them to tap more into that. And when you consider the people Rihanna professes to admire – Beyoncé and Madonna – you wonder whether or not she’ll match or exceed them beyond racking up hits. The likes of Wendy Williams may dismiss Rihanna as someone you smash and take penicillin afterwards, I’d love to see her explore her sexuality the way Madonna did with Erotica. Speaking of, if there’s an artist who could offer the 2010s answer to Madge’s excellent Truth or Dare documentary, it’s Rihanna. There are so many layers to her, given her background as the child of an addict and the ex-girlfriend of an abuser. I’m curious to see what Rihanna thinks besides the snark and shade she delivers superbly on Twitter. Of course, she could continue to be on the path that she’s on, drop more hits crafted by the hitmakers of the moment, and sell out shows for the next few years all over and remain the poster child of not giving a fuck. Yet, giving a shit tends to make you better. I hope she and her enablers realize that in due time. RELATED: 30 Rihanna Photos You Might Have Missed Since She Left Instagram Michael Arceneaux is from the land of Beyoncé, but now lives in the city of Master Splinters. Follow him at @youngsinick.