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RiRi's New Album Is About To Drop

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Photo: Getty
If you're looking for a stocking filler for the Rihanna fan in your life, you could do a lot worse than order a pair of the "holiday socks" she's created with US brand Stance. There's a fun design called Pimp Claus that I've kind of got my eye on. But if you can hold on a little while longer, you might be able to splash out on the singer's new album – rumour has it Anti is finally dropping this Friday.

In a way, the album's title is pretty risky. Because the campaign began way back in January when Rihanna released "FourFiveSeconds", an unexpected collaboration with Kanye West and Paul McCartney, it’s tempting 11 months later to nickname the album – wait for it – Anticlimax. But it would be foolish to write off RiRi at this stage in her career, and though it's been a long time coming, the album is definitely worth getting excited about.

As the furore caused by July's hyper-violent "Bitch Better Have My Money" video proves, Rihanna is still the most exciting pop star we've got. No other recording artist combines huge mainstream appeal – Rihanna has 53 million Twitter followers and eight UK number ones to her name – with an unwavering cool factor. In theory, a person who calls herself "badgalriri" on Instagram shouldn't be able to flog holiday socks and get away with it; novelty hosiery just isn’t hip, right? But in practice, teaming up with Stance has barely dented her street cred. Since she emerged in 2005, Rihanna has cultivated an air of 'I Don't Give A F...' that almost acts as a "get out of jail free card" for her personal brand.
Anti album artwork by Roy Nachum
Admittedly, she's made a few dubious choices along the way. In October 2013, Rihanna was reportedly asked to leave the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi after posing for inappropriate Instagram snaps. One showed her wearing traditional clothing alongside a group of similarly-dressed local women with the caption: "Bitch stole my look." Her bondage-themed video for 2011 hit "S&M" was so kinky it got banned in 11 countries. And some fans and feminist commentators have criticised her decision to collaborate musically with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown on several occasions since he brutally attacked her in 2009, suggesting it makes her a poor role model. But Rihanna has the perfect riposte to any controversy she sparks: "In my mind [Taylor Swift] is a role model," she told NME earlier this year. "I’m completely not."

Her natural cool means that musically, Rihanna can do pretty much whatever she wants and pull it off. Exhibit A: her floor-filling 2011 collaboration with Calvin Harris, "We Found Love", which might have felt cheesy sung by a more vanilla artist. Listening to the three very different singles she's released in 2015 – the folky "FourFiveSeconds", the fierce throwdown of "Bitch Better Have My Money" and the anthemic ballad "American Oxygen" – it's impossible to guess what Anti might sound like. The Weeknd and Sam Smith are both rumoured to have recorded tracks with RiRi, while, intriguingly, a recent video teaser appears to feature the voice of Lady Gaga.
Some fans have speculated that the album hasn't arrived yet because the songs aren't up to scratch, and frankly, this isn't beyond the realms of possibility. But hasn't Rihanna done enough to earn the benefit of our doubt? Her first two albums weren't keepers, but since then she’s released five more, each featuring at least a handful of must-hear bangers. Rihanna's best singles, from "Pon de Replay" to "Umbrella" to "Rude Boy" to "We Found Love" to "Diamonds", rank among the defining pop songs of the past decade.

Excitingly, Rihanna's Anti is poised to arrive at a time when the pop album – a dying art form, we've long been told – is enjoying something of a renaissance. Last month One Direction released their (probably final) album Made In the A.M. on the same day Justin Bieber dropped his (unexpectedly brilliant) comeback effort Purpose. Suddenly we had a good old-fashioned chart battle to obsess over! (1D won in the UK, but Biebs claimed victory in the US). Then the following week, Adele unleashed 25 and broke chart records like most of us break wine glasses. Let's hope Rihanna's Anti keeps the album revival bandwagon gliding.

If Anti doesn't drop before the end of year, Rihanna’s 2015 will still have been pretty stellar. In March, she became the first black woman to be named the face of Dior; in October she landed a lead role in the new movie from The Fifth Element director Luc Besson; and last month she announced a 61-date world tour including a massive show at London's Wembley Stadium next June. She's also sold a few pairs of socks. But it’s the album that fans are really clamouring for, and I’m cautiously confident RiRi’s going to give us an early Christmas present.
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