Forget about Yeezy season, its RiRi season. And it’s about time. After releasing new albums almost annually from 2004-2012, Rihanna took a hiatus. Now, Robyn Rihanna Fenty, known by her stage name Rihanna, is doling out singles to prep for the release of her next album, set to drop this year. Unnamed until recently, the highly anticipated “R8” was first introduced with the single “FourFiveSeconds” (2015) which features vocals from Kanye West and Paul McCartney. The first release was received with widespread praise, perhaps because of its utilization of vocals by greats in both the pop and rap genres. Following this release, RiRi added “Bitch Better Have My Money” (2015), a simple yet catchy anthem to the “R8” repertoire. Now, Rihanna has offered another tease of “R8” to her fans with the release of the third single of the album, “American Oxygen” (2015). Even Rihanna herself seems to be excited by the release of this latest single, claiming, “I can’t believe they’re playing this on the radio,” in one of her latest Snapchat stories (@rihanna). Unfortunately, though, only an exclusive group has had access to the latest track, as the artist chose to release it on Jay Z’s highly controversial music streaming site, Tidal.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to pay the $19.99 per month Tidal HiFi subscription fee (or $9.99/month for the site’s basic package), or at least have opted to participate in the month-long free trial, not only will you have access to “American Oxygen,” but also to its accompanying featured music video. The track starts out with some purposefully fuzzy piano chords. Woven throughout the video are snippets of historical documentary film from various points in American history, such as Barack Obama’s inauguration. Immediately, the tone and message of the single is established. Apart from Rihanna serenading the camera while she stands in front of an American flag, the opening lyrics serve as the chorus, exclaiming “Every breath I breathe / chasing this American dream / we sweat for a nickel and a dime / turn it into an empire,” allowing the viewer to identify the song’s evident patriotic, American-centric theme.
The video is peppered with a melange of clips that depict different aspects of American history. As the video progresses, the viewer is presented with scenes that explore the motif of wealth and money, shown through video clips like stock market transactions and currency being printed. There are also somber clips, such as the attack on the Twin Towers and scenes of people being arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border. There are alternating shots of Rihanna in front of the American flag and of her struggling to pull a parachute behind her, a symbol of the “American struggle.” Other standout lyrics on the song include “breathe in, this feeling,” highlighting the track’s nationalism. The lyrics, “This is the new America / We are the new America,” depict the strong message of hope that pervades the song.
Amongst Rihanna’s discography of love songs and party staples, it’s refreshing to see her attempt a track with a different kind of lyrical depth. Rihanna does not hide her views on political issues on her various social media accounts. Most notably, she has a powerhouse presence on Twitter. But it isn’t very often that her music is infused with such blatant political commentary. But that’s not to say that more familiar Rihanna vibes are absent from this song-video combination; for example, when the camera pans out on Rihanna herself, the viewer can see her sans-bra. This creates an interesting, yet not surprising, combination of messages projected by the artist. Perhaps due to her lack of experience including personal political views in her music, the message of “American Oxygen” seems forced. The song doesn’t allow for any interpretation on the viewer/listener’s end, which contributes to the song’s overall lack of innovation. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that “American Oxygen” serves as a modern day “America the Beautiful” (originally published in 1893), trying to serve as an anthem above all else.
Although undeniably catchy and meaningful, the message of Rihanna’s latest release, “American Oxygen,” is blunt and forced. Her ventures to expand the range of content addressed in her songs, however, is something listeners will be excited to hear.