I Listened to Rihanna’s “Work” on a Loop For Six Days Straight. Here’s What Happened.

What is this place? How long have I been here? 

Workworkworkworkworkwork. Whoops, sorry. What I meant to say was, who am I? I can’t seem to remember.

rihanna-2b3a7018-77cc-4009-a7dc-8f4ae7f1e554

Here is my life. This is what I know:

The beat picks up and plays for eight measures alone. This is my signal to steel myself for the coming emotional torrent. I am scared. But I have survived it multiple hundreds of times already, and I will survive it this time as well. I will survive, because I must survive.

Rihanna enters with the first iteration of the song’s hook. Singing in the language of her native Barbados, she introduces us to a strong, sexually liberated woman who enjoys her time with the man she is seeing. Yet something is amiss in their emotional relationship. Something is lacking. I identify with this woman. I am intrigued and invested in her story.

The first verse follows seamlessly. It slams its emotional truth into me like when I was a kid and would go to play in the ocean even though the waves were just too powerful and my mother said not to. Rihanna tells us she is going to leave this man. She tries to play it cool at first, but as the verse goes on she reveals more to us until we realize… She put everything into this relationship. She opened herself up to this man. She gave him the best parts of her. She loved him. And what has she gotten in return? Good sex. And nothing else. Men. They are so withholding. So cruel.

She has to leave, for her own emotional safety. She has to protect herself by running away. Oh, but it’s so hard to leave the one you love. This is the part where I start to feel the pains in my chest. My stomach gets queasy. Rihanna’s loneliness and emotional rejection are mine as well. I carry them in my heart, and I feel them acutely in every atom of my being.

The hook repeats. Now that I know what I know about Rihanna and her relationship, it stings in a way it did not the first time. She puts on a brave face. As I put on a brave face. As we all put on a brave face. Do we not?

I shed a single tear as the second verse swells. Rihanna begs her lover to give her that deeper connection she’s been searching for. Walking away is just too hard. So she opens up in a last ditch effort. She offers him all the attention and emotional support she is capable of. If only he will give this relationship a real shot. What does he have to be afraid of? She has so much to give. Just like I have so much to give. So much to give that goes so unappreciated. I feel like I have been struck by a lightning bolt except it’s made out of super cold ice instead of heat. But it still has electricity. I feel like I’ve been struck by frozen electricity. Because I have just realized again for the several hundredth time that the “work” Rihanna sings of………. is actually the emotional work required to foster a successful relationship.

It is so kind of Rihanna to repeat the hook yet again to give me a moment to catch my breath.

Drake gets one verse to captivate me emotionally, to catch me with his honesty and vulnerability. This has always been Drake’s strong suit, and he does not fail to live up to the standard he has set. Drake wants a deep connection with the woman he cares for, but he fears the potential sabotage of his own sexuality. Must it be sex or love? Or can a pair of humans possibly have both? 

Rihanna and Drake sing the hook together one final time as the music fades out. I feel incomplete. Unresolved. The story hasn’t ended, has it? Did Rihanna’s lover realize what a gem he has and agree to commit to something real? If not, has Rihanna found the strength to cut the cord and move on? I am left with the yearning, the loneliness, the desperate cry for love. I feel cut open. I feel hollow. What now?

I close my eyes and try to quiet my mind in the the few seconds rest before the journey starts anew.

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