'Work': A Rihanna Reaction Roundtable

The dancehall goth princess meets sweatsuit Drake uptown.

By Gaby Wilson, Ira Madison III, Hazel Cills, David Turner, Jessica Hopper, and Molly Beauchemin

Hopper: Where do we even start? This double vid of "Work" is such a mushroom cloud of sexiness that we all just forgot that the world, let alone a new Kanye album, exists.

Cills: Showing us Drake and Rihanna in this crowded, sweaty club, which is so sexy just on its own, and then moving us into the second video of just the two of them, is a total power move on viewers. I loved the scenes in the first video where Rihanna is dancing to her own reflection in the mirror, away from Drake and the crowd, and from us, too. But then in the second video, she and Drake are singing directly to us, and that shit is hot. So many little moments where Rihanna is dancing on Drake and slyly looks back at us.


Turner: Rihanna still owns this decade with its best video (“We Found Love”). But, but, I’m happy to see that “Work” decided that instead of inflating a video with needless dialogue and narrative backstory it would just create two inspired videos. The first one was the one teased and hinted at the last few weeks and lives up to whatever Instagram hype one might’ve built. Intense dancing, slow-motion, and the video makes it feel like spring is already here in February. Then, once the video closes and transitions to the next, it’s just Drake and Rihanna coyly dancing together in a video that looks straight out of 2006 — maybe “Pon De Replay” was playing during the shoot?!

Hopper: Also, the second video was hilariously on-brand with Drake as “cameo Drake,” wherein he is perpetually thirsty, helpless, and seated, while the hottest woman on the planet does her thing.

Geffen: I can’t help but think that vid No. 2 is a nod to “Hotline Bling” — the color of the lighting, the dance moves. I love how the camera plays with Rih’s face in the one shot where she’s staring directly at us and the focus sharpens and then softens again. Like “Bling,” it entertains a dorky intimacy, a sweetness inside its innate humor.


Madison III: The second video is actually an inversion of "Hotline Bling." Where before he was dancing solo and singing about a girl who got lost in the sauce, Rihanna is here to return the favor. She takes control and only lets him dance for her pleasure. She's also wearing "less" and enjoying it, and he does too.

Geffen: Yes! It’s great that no matter how many times Drake puts on his concerned face for a girl, he always goes back to being the one we need to worry about.

Hopper: ‘Ye said this year was all about sweatshirts, but I think this video reframes that as monochromatic sweatsuits.

Beauchemin: Don’t think I’m ignoring the fact that Drake looks like he picked up the last FUBU jumpsuit left on the “matched set” rack at Marshalls. Those colors are everything. Didn’t know OVO was taking inspiration from that failed Outkast clothing line.

Hopper: Drake’s narrative is forever ‘bout his feelings, Rihanna’s forever about her power, even when it’s about her vulnerability. Also, I cannot really imagine anyone else that she could have reasonably had as the foil in this song, any male rap star who is so adept at the role of “man in incandescent blast radius of Rihanna.” Is there anyone else that we even wanna see or imagine being like this with Rihanna? What are our options even? Pitbull? Zayn? Bieber? Thug? Who can reasonably be allowed to nuzzle in Rihanna’s hair in a video? Basically no one.


Madison III: Can't sleep on the first video, though, which seems a sequel in spirit to "Pour It Up." Women taking control of the dance floor, the men are there to watch or as accessories. Weed rolling, money flying in the air, sweat dripping, it's taking strip-club feminism to the dancehall.

Beauchemin: Mother of God.

Wilson: "Work" is the ultimate crystallization of Rihanna's visual range. She's Betty and Veronica. She's aspirational and relatable. She's the single girl in the club, dutty wining with her girls and snaring dudes, but she's also the dutiful bae at home celebrating a quiet Valentine's Day with Drake in the living room. She's dancehall goth princess in runway Tommy Hilfiger, and she's frosted eyeshadow, soft pastels, and working what could easily be an outfit ripped straight from the mannequins at Strawberry or Papaya or Wet Seal. LONG LIVE WET SEAL. RIHANNA HAS COME TO SAVE YOU.


Beauchemin: I had to let the “mother of god” stand alone up there -- THAT. IS. A. PINK. MINK. Here’s the thing about this Rihanna video: It was engineered to succeed. It’s hitting all the right spots, relentlessly, like the best sex you’ve ever had. Are you kidding me with that netted Rastafari outfit? It’s P E R F E C T. The other thing is, Rihanna is and always has been the queen of the dutty twerk -- she makes it somehow gentle and graceful in a field of dancers whose acrobatics could otherwise feel intimidating, or at least aggressive to neighboring onlookers. OF COURSE Drake feels like he can cozy up in there -- Rihanna’s got that come-hither swag. I have to say, too, that the way the cinematography works here to build suspense is so key -- we see those fierce stilettos first, then that slow pan up the thigh to reveal what she’s wearing and how she’s styled (because that’s the first thing everyone wants to know when they hear there’s a new Rihanna video!) makes us want this so bad -- and the camera moves so enticingly slow, like, “SHOW ME RIHANNA, PLEASE!” We know Drake is there, too, but he doesn’t open the video other than that quick cameo, so we have the suspense of wondering where and when Drake will enter the dance floor, the kind of welcome, pumped anticipation that used to come with big-feature rap videos in the early 2000s, when you knew there was someone on the remix that you wanted to see in the video. Perfectly executed on all fronts.

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