By the time the 2010s rolled around, Rihanna was on top of the world. With a handful of hit singles (including 2011’s “We Found Love”, which became her longest-running No. 1 song) and sold-out tours, there was no question that she was a certified pop phenomenon. But the higher her star ascended, the more powerful the microscope looking into her personal life became. Following criticism about her overtly sexual “bad gal” persona and brief reconnection with former flame Chris Brown, Rihanna audaciously brought all these thoughts forward with 2012’s aptly titled Unapologetic. Her seventh album is also her most underrated, as it showcases the complexities she was navigating in the public eye. There’s an iciness to the collection, from the production’s overall darker undertone to the intricate songwriting (the singer’s hesitation to peel back her layers is near tangible in her vocals), making it a more adult sequel of sorts to the personal diary that was 2009’s Rated R. Coming off singles-based albums like 2010’s Loud and 2011’s Talk That Talk, Unapologetic goes back to more sonic and lyrical cohesion. The Unapologetic era was anchored by vulnerability, with the No. 1 lead single “Diamonds” revealing a different side of Rihanna. Rather than choosing a fast-paced club anthem for the first single as she’s done with albums prior, she instead opted to slow the tempo. The choice was similar to the Rated R rollout (which was led by the melancholic ballad “Russian Roulette”) and displayed the artist’s growing maturity. Working with Sia for the first time, Rihanna brought her poetic lyrics to life with one of her strongest vocal performances to date. The overarching theme of “Diamonds” is wrapped in love, but Rihanna’s throaty, yearning timbre amps the song’s emotions. The album’s sombre nature continues with “Stay”, a piano-led duet with Mikky Ekko. The ballad and accompanying video find Rihanna stripped bare, revealing a raw tenderness as she begs her lover to not leave her side. Unapologetic is more introspective, with songs like “Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary” detailing a self-awareness with her ever-growing celebrity influence: “Mother Mary, I swear I wanna change/Mister Jesus, I’d love to be a queen/But I’m from the left side of an island/Never thought this many people would even know my name.” The crashing ballad “What Now” finds her searching for answers as she tries to figure out what life path she should take, while the Chris Brown-assisted “Nobody’s Business” and deluxe track “Half of Me” reveal how fed up she is with the media’s perception. “You saw me on a television, hanging out my dirty linen,” she muses on the latter. “You’re entitled to your own opinion/Sit and shake your head at my decisions.” But Unapologetic is not all serious. Rihanna finds balance by doubling down on her “bad gal” persona, paired with a heightened version of her signature sex appeal. The hedonistic “Pour It Up” adds a strip-club banger to her party catalogue, and the fashion-forward “Phresh Out the Runway” highlights her edgy charm. What most people adore about Rihanna is how human she is, and Unapologetic captures that relatability. She’s not afraid to showcase her imperfections, making her one of music’s most humble divas.

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