Diverging from the surprising folk style of her recent pop hit Four Five Seconds featuring Paul McCartney and Kanye West, Rihanna’s latest single American Oxygen takes a dark and unexpected turn. Having seemingly overcome the heavy and resonant sound of such previous tracks as Disturbia, it is interesting to see Rihanna return to such serious tracks – as she has received great success with recent dance hits.
At first listen, the political themes of American Oxygen are incredibly apparent but I feel that it isn’t just the lyrics that give this connotation, but also the atmosphere the music creates. The lyrics and music pair with one another to create a collision of shadowy sound. The distorted piano and strange rhythmic beats play with a dissonant style and effectively create a disjointing feel in the track. The atmosphere is mesmerising and while the song seems to stay at one level the whole time, I think the powerful nature of the lyrics and small changes in accompaniment carry the song to great heights. Rihanna has once again shown how her versatile vocals can perform in different genres – such as pop, RnB, dance and ballad forms. Within the song Rihanna sings about breathing and the ironically clever thing the accompaniment does is provide a feeling of suffocation.
The stripped back but strangely reverberated sound is enthralling. Rihanna’s turn towards more serious tracks is a good one as her vocals are incredibly effective at evoking emotion. She has a musical versatility that many pop artists lack in the industry today.
Overall, Rihanna conjures a sound that is purposefully dissonant, politically heavy and spellbinding. One can’t pinpoint whether this song is a criticism or rather a patriotic anthem. Many people have cited the Eric Garner “I can’t breathe” incident as a possible inspiration for this track while others have expressed their feelings of patriotism that this song creates. This ambiguity will ultimately play a significant part in American Oxygen’s success.