Robbie Cairns discusses Rihanna surpassing the Beatles for number of weeks at number one.
As Rihanna’s voracious ‘Work’ has twerked its way into a ninth consecutive week at number one, yet another long-standing Beatles’ record crumbled. Almost ten years since her debut number one single ‘S.O.S’, Rihanna, with her fourteenth number one single, has surpassed the Beatles by topping the charts for a staggering sixty weeks. She now stands second in the list of weeks at number one, in the shadow of Mariah Carey and Elvis, who share the pinnacle at a mouth-watering seventy-nine weeks.
To get your head around how Rihanna has achieved this feat, it pays to do some serious number crunching. Between 2006-2010 she released ten number one singles, only producing four since. However, these four post-2010 number ones have dominated the billboard for twenty-six weeks. The album that produced her most number ones was Loud (2010), which gave birth to ‘Only Girl In The World’, ‘What’s My Name?’ and ‘S&M’. But the success Rihanna gained from temporarily forgetting her name and demonstrating her partiality to whips and chains pales in comparison to her potency with other artists. The likes of Jay-Z, Eminem and Drake have all boarded the patented Rihanna-train to consistent chart success. Her most successful single remains her partnership with Calvin Harris, ‘We Found Love’, which dominated the music world for ten weeks across 2011 and 2012. Considering Rihanna’s fierce, independent image, it’s surprising that of her sixty weeks at number one, forty-five have come as part of a collaboration. Compare this to Mariah Carey, who only topped the charts as part of an alliance for nineteen weeks, or Michael Jackson, who only shared the spoils for seven of his total thirty-seven weeks at number one. This is not to take away from Rihanna’s achievement, but it’s notable that she proves more popular as part of a team than as an individual.
And this is where Rihanna’s triumph turns a little sour. The Beatles were revolutionaries. They were leaders in British musical innovation, and the safe, conventional sounds of Please, Please Me (1963) are virtually incomparable to the experimental pursuits of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Abbey Road (1969). But whilst Rihanna’s transition from a pop princess into a certified bad-ass suggest a darker and meaner edge to her music, it’s hard to shake the impression that she’s jumping on the bandwagon rather than leading the pack. The radical evolution she has undergone over her career, on an aesthetic level, doesn’t truly reflect the minimal changes to her music that have accompanied them. No matter what disguise it takes, it’s commercial led palate cleanser responding to whatever musical trends are the most popular.
Even worse, Rihanna has been accused of plagiarism over last year’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’. Fans noted how the song’s hooks and lyrics sounded dangerously similar to Just Brittany’s ‘Betta Have My Money’ (2014). The cover of Tame Impala’s ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ that features on Rihanna’s latest album ANTI is also uninspiring, showcasing little difference from the original. Plus, the iconic Ghetto Goth style that Rihanna adopted recently has caused fury amongst the underground NYC Ghetto Goth scene. Venus X declared she would be shutting down GHE20GOTH1K in dismay, vehemently accusing Rihanna of stealing her brand and appropriating her style.
Rihanna is a pioneer in fashion and more importantly social change, however the incredible work she does outside the recording studio doesn’t translate to the less than innovative mixtures she concocts within it. But it works. Nothing can take away from the fact that Rihanna is arguably the biggest music star of the century and has the records to prove it. It’s just a shame that her music is not as strong a vehicle for social change as the other elements of her outspoken celebrity life.
So what’s next for RiRi? After collecting the scalps of John, Paul, George and Ringo her sights must surely be set on the famous locks of Mariah Carey and Elvis Presley. And since the only surviving integer of that duo hasn’t come close to a chart topping single since 2008, it’s safe to say that, with some purposefully outrageous fashion choices and some smart collaborations, Rihanna will topple that monument with ease. Her genius manipulation of fashion keeps her looking fresh and prevents her from decaying into another Mariah Carey, who has looked virtually the same throughout her career. Within a few years she’ll be donning a new style and collaborating with a bankrupt Kanye West, singing about celibacy and how much money she has.
In the end, we have to praise Rihanna. It’s an incredible achievement. And with Bieber breaking another Beatles record for singles in the top 100 late last year, the long-standing success of legendary artists is being overwhelmed by the superstars that the digital age is creating. Yet we should also congratulate Rihanna’s less celebrated song writers. They have crafted the music to go with the image; together, who knows how long they’ll stay at the top.