Rihanna is having a moment. She knows we’ve been a collective nervous wreck waiting for her return to music, for the official start of the #R8 era. Rihanna, aware of the fact that she has our attention, is letting herself have a moment. And that moment is “FourFiveSeconds.”


Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney
Roc Nation Records

There’s a lot that feels oddly unexplained about this whole “FourFiveSeconds” thing: the grand departure in sound it represents for her, what it means for the rest of her imminent eighth album, what Paul McCartney is doing there, what the song is even about. The accompanying music video, released on Tuesday, doesn’t do much to address the elephant in the room, though — what the fuck does Rihanna have up her sleeve?

Whatever is up there must be quite big, considering how baggy the vintage Sean John denim jacket (which, somewhat unsurprisingly, belongs to Kanye) is that she’s sporting in the clip. Directed by the famed Dutch duo of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, who are known for their highly posed fashion photography, the “FourFiveSeconds” music video was shot completely in black and white using a square aspect-ratio, perfect for @badgalriri’s Instagram account.

The video features the trio of denim-clad iconic artists using exaggerated hand and body gestures to convey their feelings in front of a strategically-lit white backdrop, all the while looking quite beautiful themselves. The most striking points of the video are the tightly-shot close-ups of Rihanna and Kanye looking directly into the camera with a look that combines scorn with confidence, fear with excitement. There’s a twinkle in their eyes — they know we’re part confused, part intrigued and part excited by the whole thing. What Inez and Vinoodh have created here is something special, and it’s very much in line with the sound of Kanye’s “Only One,” as well as with his Kardashian-induced obsession with high fashion. But, what remains (perhaps purposively) unclear is what is all means for Rihanna and the trajectory of this new era.

“FourFiveSeconds” has grown on me in ways I wouldn’t have expected, and the music video probably will, too. But my favorite moment from the entire video happens just eighteen seconds in after Rihanna sings “I might do a little time” as she looks directly at us, her powerful stare piercing the camera. After a pause, she rolls her eyes hard. Part of what’s great about this moment is that it sort of reflects my feelings about “FourFiveSeconds:” I’m entertained, I’m enjoying it, but I’m also kind of over it. I want to see what’s next. The other reason that this moment stands out is because it’s just that — a moment — and it’s one that reassures us that the Rihanna we love — the fierce, unapologetic RiRi that doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks — is ready to return. It’s a flash of brilliance that allows us to be okay with indulging her in this moment, just as long as it only lasts about four or five seconds.

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