Rihanna’s new album will be called Talk That Talk; we know this because fans unlocked a bunch of missions. What does that even mean? Unless you’re a Rihanna devotee (in which case you probably already knew what the album’s called), you won’t find out by reading music sites. They all say the same thing in the same language: the title was unlocked by completing missions, which evidently involve unlocking things in a series of missions. Helpful! You could try going to Rihanna’s Facebook page, but you have to Like the page (and be on Facebook) to get access to its app, and–spoiler–right now it just tells you to wait for the next mission, whatever that might be. Google a bit, and you’ll find the press release, which helps a little:
“Pushing musical and digital boundaries, the “Rihanna: UNLOCKED” campaign is designed as a thank you to her tens of millions of fans worldwide, aka the #RihannaNavy, who will be in the driver’s seat with the power to unlock exclusives from Rihanna’s new album.
Rihanna: UNLOCKED “lives as an interactive, gamified experience on her Facebook profile, and the Navy is tasked to work in combination with fans around the world on multiple “missions” to unlock the exclusives.”
“Interactive” and “gamified” (terminology crash courses here) are pushing it; it’s not like Rihanna fans are clicking cows or harvesting raspberries for a song. So is “thank you”–it’s not like Def Jam’s sending every buyer a bouquet of roses and an embossed card. Allow us to translate: the “missions” involve getting Rihanna’s fans to like Rihanna’s Facebook page, or make certain topics trend. It’s a fancy, gimmicky way for the label to asking fans to
spam tweet and Like and social-network the shit out of every crumb of Rihanna news they offer up, producing a ton of word of mouth and then a ton of sales.
We’re not against this. It’s marketing, and it’s the same kind of marketing lots of artists are doing (and that means indie artists, guys, not just the pop machine; look at who did the “tweet for a song” campaigns first). There’s just something slightly disingenuous about Rihanna’s version and how it’s implying cause and effect. Suppose that all Rihanna’s fans suddenly got sleeping sickness on the eve of Rihanna’s “mission” that was supposed to premiere “We Found Love” and that not a tweet was heard. Do you really think Def Jam would risk withholding the song and its potential iTunes sales, not to mention screwing with all the premiere appearances and interviews they’ve got lined up? Probably not; these “missions” are just a way of getting fans to respond to announcements before those announcements even exist.
There’s a problem with that. Rihanna’s interview in Vogue or the Alan Graham dustup are more revealing than any of the exclusive! rewards! that’ve come out of this campaign. An album title is not an exclusive, not on its own. We can prove it, too: Talk That Talk. There, it’s not exclusive anymore. It’s also not exciting on its own. The album’s called Talk That Talk, but that’s precisely what isn’t happening–what does the title mean to her? Why’d she choose it? It’s not that the title is new, either–why did Rihanna choose to work with Calvin Harris? Did she, or did her producers? How does she relate to “We Found Love,” and what do the lyrics mean at all? “We found love in a hopeless place” is so abstract that it’s meaningless without a personal connection to that hopeless place–a connection Rihanna almost certainly has. These are exactly the kind of “exclusives” fans deserve to get excited about, rather than song titles and single premieres (and album art and video teasers, because those are almost certainly next) that were going to be revealed anyway as milestones. Def Jam’s got the style down–now let’s hope for substance.