Rihanna’s “Stay” Lyrics Breakdown: Don’t Say the “C— B—” Word

Rihanna Stay Lyrics Analysis

Posted by on 02/21/2013 at 1:18 PM Lyrics

The Popdust Files: lyrics, Mikky Ekko, rihanna, stay

If it wasn’t for the tyranny of “Harlem Shake,” Rihanna’s (and Mikky Ekko’s—let us never forget Mikky Ekko) “Stay” would be the most viral song in the country right now, earning notable covers from both Adam Lambert and Vin Diesel after Rihanna’s spirited performance at the Grammys. What’s going on in the tender ballad? We’ve taken it through our patented lyrics breakdown feature, to see.

All along it was a fever
A cold-sweat, hot-headed believer

Rihanna is lovesick, and quite literally so: Her face is flushed, she’s having trouble sleeping, she’s got a headache. The cause? A passionate lover whose defining trait at this juncture is that he’s got quite the temper. “Stay” was written by Mikky Ekko and Justin Parker so it’s unlikely the resemblance to the artist whose name rhymes with  “Bris Crown” was wholly intentional, but as with any post-2009 Rihanna song, the specter of that relationship can’t help but hang overhead. It’s nowhere near as explicit as it was on “Nobody’s Business,” but it’s there nonetheless, so we might as well talk about it.

I threw my hands in the air and said, “Show me something,”
He said, “If you dare, come a little closer.”

The second-most common way to concern-troll Rihanna over her relationships is to ask, “What could she possibly be thinking?” (The most common, of course, is to just call her a bad role model.) Here we see a glimpse of the appeal: A bad boy is a challenge, an adventure, a risk. A lot of this is wrapped up in our narratives of what romance is supposed to be, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less real. And if you’re going to criticize Rihanna for not acting like a fully rational actor assessing the cost-benefit matrix of her romantic decisions, you should be aware of the 7 billion people on earth beside her who are guilty of the same thing.

Round and around and around and around we go
Oh now, tell me now, tell me now, tell me now you know

This is a cliche, yes, but it’s one with a long history. As long as there is pop music, there will be love songs about frustrating relationships that use circle metaphors.

Not really sure how to feel about it
Something in the way you move
Makes me feel like I can’t live without you

Rihanna has often been incorrectly written off as a dull cipher of pop singer, but there’s no better evidence to the contrary on Unapologetic than this second verse. “Not really sure how to feel about it” are words that, by themselves, are almost completely devoid of meaning, but Rihanna gives the line a vulnerable tremble that sells her ambivalence. It’s the same on “move”—despite her misgivings, you can tell she’s really got it bad for this guy. (That emphasis also helps steer us away from the uncomfortable alternate interpretation of the line, “[You make] me feel like I can’t live without you” which could take as exhibit A for major emotional abuse in a different reading.)

It takes me all the way
I want you to stay

After all the hemming and hawing earlier, Rihanna’s conclusion is simple: Whatever else happens, she wants her man to stick around, and she underscores that with the song’s first big climax, on that long “Stay.” It’s the title of the song, you’ve got to make it count.

It’s not much of a life you’re living
It’s not just something you take–it’s given

Round and around and around and around we go
Oh now tell me now, tell me now, tell me now you know

Mikky Ekko jumps in here for a spell, and it’s hard not to see his inclusion on the track as part of a quid-pro-quo with Rihanna’s people. “I’ll give you this surefire hit, if you give me a verse to jumpstart my singing career.” Still, Ekko’s presence helps to dispel the Brownian vibe. Suddenly, this is a duet—and not one between an abuser and the woman who’s forgiven him, but between two sensitive people with a totally equal power dynamic.

Oh, the reason I hold on
Oh, ’cause I need this hole gone
Funny you’re the broken one but I’m the only one who needed saving
‘Cause when you never see the light it’s hard to know which one of us is caving

While “Nobody’s Business” struck out explicitly against the outside narratives of Rihanna’s personal life, the final verse on “Stay” performs the same task more subtly. People are talking—the guy’s “the broken one,” Rihanna’s the good girl caught in his wake—but what they’re saying doesn’t have anything to do with what’s actually going on. In truth, the relationship is a salve for Rihanna’s own problems. This is not a particularly controversial way to talk about love; we allow all sorts of different people to choose their own romantic saviors. It’s only when they choose Chris Brown that we seem to have a problem with it. This is not an altogether illogical position for us to take—the man remains noxious as ever—but, as “Stay” reminds us, when it comes to love, the opinions of outsiders aren’t worth a tiny damn.

Check out the full lyrics below. You can play the song at the bottom of the post!

All along it was a fever
A cold-sweat, hot-headed believer
I threw my hands in the air and said, “Show me something,”
He said, “If you dare, come a little closer.”

Round and around and around and around we go
Oh now tell me now, tell me now, tell me now you know

Not really sure how to feel about it
Something in the way you move
Makes me feel like I can’t live without you
It takes me all the way
I want you to stay

It’s not much of a life you’re living
It’s not just something you take–it’s given

Round and around and around and around we go
Oh now tell me now, tell me now, tell me now you know

Not really sure how to feel about it
Something in the way you move
Makes me feel like I can’t live without you.
It takes me all the way.
I want you to stay.

Oh, the reason I hold on
Oh, ’cause I need this hole gone
Funny you’re the broken one but I’m the only one who needed saving
Cause when you never see the light it’s hard to know which one of us is caving

Not really sure how to feel about it
Something in the way you move
Makes me feel like I can’t live without you
It takes me all the way
I want you to stay, stay
I want you to stay, oh

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