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Five Years Later, ‘We Found Love’ Is Still Rihanna’s Most Important Video

On the eve of its sequel, we revisit Rih's Calvin Harris collab

As another Calvin Harris collaboration looms on the horizon, Rihanna is still doing victory laps on their 2011 single “We Found Love.” She made a surprise appearance during Harris's Coachella set to lend live vocals to the track, reminding us that it’s one of the best songs in a discography stacked with gems.

The video for “We Found Love” ranks among Rihanna’s best, too. With its spoken-word introduction and dramatic narrative arc, it added to the tradition of ambitious audiovisual endeavors like Kanye West’s Runaway before it and the two Beyoncé albums that would follow.

Directed by Melina Matsoukas, who would win a Grammy and a VMA for the clip, “We Found Love” comes packed with nods to iconic feature films. Rihanna’s time-lapsed sex scene has roots in A Clockwork Orange’s high-speed threesome, while the closeups on Rih’s dilated pupil when she does drugs are a direct quote from Requiem for a Dream (her bathtub moments echo that movie, too). And those time-lapsed crowd shots look a lot like the experimental film Koyaanisqatsi.

Themes of sex, drugs, and danger appear in a ton of movies, but the projections on the wall behind Rihanna recall Natural Born Killers, while the dynamic between Rihanna and her onscreen bae feel a lot like the high-stakes love of True Romance. There’s a lot going on in just four and a half minutes, and it all lets Rihanna tackle complicated subjects in multiple dimensions at once.

We wanted answers from Rihanna in 2011. We wanted to know why she would forgive a man who had visibly abused her; we wanted a place to put our own anger and hurt about what had happened to her. Rihanna never gave us answers in her music (“We Found Love” isn’t really about Chris Brown), but she did offer us space to work out the contradictions and confusions that come with being human.