August 26th, 2010

[MUSIC] Rihanna, "Umbrella"

Rihanna's 2007 "Umbrella" was a huge song at the time, and by now has entered the popular music vernacular as a standard. In case you forget, listen to/watch the striking official video here, and/or the fan video with the music, at least, below.

The genius of the song--the thing that made "ella ella ella ella" echo around the world from a million speakers and earplugs and karaoke bars--is the potential of the song for ambiguity, especially in the original version. Take the first verse sung by Rihanna.

When the sun shines, we'll shine together
Told you I'll be here forever
Said I'll always be a friend
Took an oath I'ma stick it out till the end
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella

In her live performances, and in most of the covers I've seen, the first verse--and the following--are delivered comfortably, safely, assuredly, confirmingly. The below clip, from a 2007 performance of the song in Manchester, shows the sort of thing I'm talking about.

I've only noticed in the past months that in the original version of the song, the one that got radio and iTunes release and was the source material for remixes like this one, Rihanna's delivery is more complex; I can hear the extent to which the song isn't just a reassurance, but as an attempt to reconfirm the integrity of the relationship with the object of the song, an attempt that won't necessarily succeed. This melancholy, as much as the optimism, is something that I think is responsible for the song's massive popularity. People like complexity in their hits.