Did Eminem rescue Rihanna from her first flop in four years with ‘Love the Way You Lie’?
Is it the end of the road (for now) for Rihanna? Well, maybe (thanks to “Rockstar 101,” her currently underperforming U.S. single) and no (thanks to Eminem).
After an impressive run of Top 20 singles featuring Rihanna as the lead artist — 11, dating back to 2007’s “Break It Off” — it looks like her winning streak is about to be broken. “Rockstar 101,” which she performed on American Idol in April, has yet to chart on Billboard’s Hot 100 despite being commercially available as the fourth single from Rated R since May.
I can’t say that I’m surprised. Although the song makes sense when listened to as part of Rated R’s dark song cycle, taken out of the context of the album, it might be too weird for fans who already may have been put off by the edgier — and in my opinion, improved — Rihanna on display throughout Rated R. Not even the momentum of “Rude Boy,” the third single, which spent five weeks at No. 1, seems to be enough to push “Rockstar 101″ upward. The visually arresting video — featuring a more-out-there-than-ever Rihanna dressed up as Slash, who plays guitar on the track — probably didn’t do much to help its case.
I like “Rockstar 101,” and I think her Idol performance of it was brilliant, but it’s the worst possible choice for a single. To be fair, it’s hard to score a hit single No. 4 from any album, and even “Te Amo,” one of Rated R’s most commercial-sounding tracks, only made it to No. 14 in the UK, where it’s the third official single. (It’s already on deck as U.S. single No. 5.) But I think that a much better choice would have been the Will.I.Am collaboration “Photographs,” the Rated R track with the lightest musical touch. It’s such a no-brainer single it’s a wonder why Rihanna’s label, Def Jam Records, didn’t release it first.
But Rihanna has already bounced back big time. Since “Pon de Replay,” her 2005 breakout hit, I can’t recall a time when she didn’t have a song on the radio and a single on the Hot 100 — usually in the Top 10. Right now is no different: “Love the Way You Lie,” her duet with Eminem from his Recovery album, just entered the Hot 100 at No. 2. It’s a rare superstar collaboration that earns its monster status by actually being a great song. Its four and a half minutes go by like that. Eminem rocks his verses (as usual), but Rihanna totally owns the song. “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/But that’s all right because I like the way it hurts,” she sings on the hook. The Chris Brown connections will be inevitable. I’d like to see Rihanna pull an Alicia Keys and turn it into a full solo song the way Keys reworked her Jay-Z collaboration, “Empire State of Mind,” into a stripped-down solo version that’s as good as the original.
Can the Eminem/Rihanna tag team knock “California Gurls” duo Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg from their No. 1 perch? I certainly hope so.