Rihanna’s “Man Down” and the accompanying video represent pretty much everything that people either love or find problematic about Rihanna. You could argue that she is again commodifying and fetishizing sexual violence (spoiler: she shoots a man who raped her), though Rihanna’s intent is probably just to tell the story of a strong woman. The point is that there’s a lot of murk to sift through just to enjoy this song. But once you do leave it behind, “Man Down” is great.
The track starts slow, but soon Rihanna is rolling her R’s like a machine gun (“R-R-R-Rum-pa-pa-pum”). As the macabre tale ramps up, Rihanna’s accent thickens, and she basically loses her shit (to excellent effect), going full-on island diva on rhymes like “Oh lord have mercy, now I am a criminal / Tell the judge, please give me minimal.” This is all laid over a fairly unobtrusive and sunny reggae riddim that bounces along like the track isn’t about murder, desperation, and regret. Rihanna puts on a spectacular show here, and her voice and cadence are in top form; it would be a shame to get caught up in the tertiary baggage and hullabaloo. Just take “Man Down” for what it is: A fantastic pop song that tells a riveting story, and one of the best tracks we’ve heard from Rihanna is some time.
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