Well, if her new album, Talk That Talk — in stores November 21 — is any indication, she's not really sure of the answer. But here's the brilliant thing about the disc: Rather than go searching for a new public persona, this time around, she's simply content to sharpen her focus.
And in doing that, she's created an album that is badder, raunchier and louder than anything she's ever done before; an endlessly compelling, hit-soaked, high-powered thing that's not only the best effort of her career, but arguably the best pop album of 2011. Talk That Talk outmuscles Born This Way, outguns Femme Fatale and, while it might never outsell 21 (because, really, what album can at this point?), it certainly outworks it.
Simply put, it's the album on which Rihanna absolutely goes for it, pushing her naughty-girl image to the breaking point, embracing the clubs with both arms, strutting and lilting and sassing her way past her pop contemporaries. Working with a blue-ribbon panel of today's most gifted hitmakers (Dr. Luke, Calvin Harris, Stargate, Bangladesh, No I.D., Hit-Boy, etc.), she's managed to craft an album that will no doubt bear radio fruit for the foreseeable future (current single "We Found Love" is the #1 song in the country, just in case you didn't know) but also pulls off the rather interesting feat of being endlessly, obsessively interesting too.
Take, for example, album opener "You Da One," which starts in traditional RiRi territory — building on a slow, skanking rhythm — expands with a starbursty chorus, then contracts nearly as quickly on a knotty, ratcheting middle. Or "Where Have You Been," a song that not only sees her borrowing lyrics from Geoff Mack's dusty stomper "I've Been Everywhere," but features a chorus that sounds very much like Faithless' "Insomnia" and a breakdown that recalls stuff like Skrillex.
There's the futuristic, military whomp of the title track (which gets an assist from Jay-Z, who drops bons mots like "I sell out arenas/ I call that getting dome!"); the Stargate-helmed, XX-sampling "Drunk on Love"; and the rattling raunch of interlude "Birthday Cake," and, perhaps most notably, the oddball, organic machinations of "Cockiness," a classic Bangladesh track that stitches together vocal whoops, cracking drums and bawling horns and features what might possibly be the year's best (or silliest) come-on line, when Rihanna coos, "Suck my cockiness/ Lick my persuasion" (it's either that or Gaga's "I want your whiskey mouth/ All over my blond south").
Of course, all those production flashes would be empty if RiRi didn't match them every step of the way. There's the do-it-on-the-décor lyrics of "Watch n' Learn," the soaring chorus she works herself up to on "We All Want Love," and her genuinely stirring work on album-closing ballad "Farewell," which may be her finest bit of on-album singing to date. She's got attitude and altitude and even a little bit of verisimilitude too — all of which are necessary components of why Talk That Talk works so incredibly well.
And sure, the back end may be a bit slow, but you can certainly say that about most pop albums, can't you? The point is, it takes a truly bad bitch to pull off an album this bodacious — regardless of genre — and on Talk That Talk, Rihanna proves that she just might be the baddest bitch of them all.
Are you excited for Rihanna's latest? Let us know in the comments!