On November 19th, Rihanna will issue her seventh album, ‘Unapologetic’, in as many years. However, this large number of releases by the world’s most prolific and pervasive Pop star doesn’t exemplify a high demand for her music. Rather, it represents an artist eager to remain relevant through clever timeliness and repetition.
Rihanna’s music can only be described as a generic blend of Pop, Reggae, R&B and Hip-Hop; a modern take on the Reggae Fusion genre that rose to popularity in the 1990s and dominated the early 2000s. Fortunately for Rihanna, she is set apart from her peers by her natural West Indian twang, near unlimited resources provided by her label and of course, her unmistakable voice that strangely attracts shallow music fans, who are more enthralled by catchy hooks than dramatic vocal performances. Yet, despite these many advantages, Rihanna is still just a Pop artist with a young audience.
As previously explained in an article I wrote shortly after the release of her ‘Talk That Talk’ album last year – you can compliment me on my amazing plugging skills later – Rihanna is the face of the iTunes generation (the 16-25 age bracket), of which individuals generally purchase singles instead of full albums. Hence, she relies on much larger promotional campaigns to accumulate record sales that her counterparts with more mature target audiences easily command. So, the science of Rihanna’s audience provides a perfect explanation of why she has to release a continuous stream of material in an effort to maintain her relevance.
“…Rihanna needs to remain in the media spotlight with her fashion, propaganda and music so that she won’t be replaced by another trendy Pop act.”
As a ramification of her fans’ short attention spans – I personally blame the patchwork format of ‘Sesame Street’ – Rihanna can’t take an extended break from the music scene. Instead, she needs to remain in the media spotlight with her fashion, propaganda and music so that she won’t be replaced by another trendy Pop act. Hey, you would do the same thing if your boss (Jay-Z) was actively grooming your replacement (Rita Ora).
It would be quite unfair, however, if we pretended that Rihanna was the first artist to drop new albums on an annual basis. That release pattern was actually the standard in the 1960s and 1970s, and only lost popularity when the MTV era was launched.
With the increased popularity of music videos during the 1980s, artists were able to extend the lifespan of their singles and reach larger audiences via television, therefore allowing them to expand their reach with far less effort. Basically, they no longer needed to release 13 albums in a decade as Aretha Franklin did in the 1960s. Of course, black artists similar to the Queen of Soul were competing just to be heard during the then segregated music market, and their struggles were far greater than simply remaining on trend.
This leads us to the next phase of our analysis: Rihanna’s use of timeliness and repetition. Anyone who has been paying attention to this Bajan would have noticed that her last 3 albums were all released during almost the exact same weeks of their respective years – ‘Rated R’ (November 23rd 2009), ‘Loud’ (November 16 2010) and ‘Talk That Talk’ (November 21st 2011). That, my dear friends, was no coincidence.
How do you train a dog? You give it simple commands that follow a similar repetitive pattern. By that logic, the young, unfocused members of the iTunes generation have been groomed to expect a new album from Rihanna in November of each year, thus helping her marketing team to lower the cost of initial promotion because the fans won’t have to be informed that a record is coming; the news only has to be confirmed. Additionally, if the Navy -that is her nickname for her followers – somehow forgets, she simply has to change her hairstyle, which also adheres to a strict schedule, as a reminder.
Furthermore, the November period for Rihanna’s album releases wasn’t chosen at random. When do album sales in the US famously spike every year? That’s right, the week of Thanksgiving, which is also the time when Rihanna’s new albums hit the shelves. Hence, as an artist who needs as much of a sales boost as she can get on the album charts, there is no better opportunity for success.
Now you know why Rihanna releases a new album during the month of November every year. As a basic Pop artist with a young audience, she has to fight to maintain her relevance or else risk being replaced. So, her team has aptly trained her fans and manipulates them as much as they can to purchase her music. For Rihanna’s sake, Mitt Romney better not win the US presidential election or else he will cancel ‘Sesame Street’ and by extension, her fanbase.