It’s creepy. It’s dark, perhaps even sinister. But “Russian Roulette” by Rihanna is #PhillipsSongOfTheDay.
This song is incredible and awful at the same time. I say that because while the songwriting and performance is phenomenal, the overall theme of the song is just too dark for my taste. I first want to commend songwriters Shaffer Smith and Charles Harmon for their ability of telling such an in-depth story. While it is simply a story of a person (or persons) playing a game of russian roulette, it captures the terrified emotion of the narrator, and it brings in the ideas of the meaning of life and how one’s actions have consequences. For example, the character in this song starts to realize while they are playing this game that they may actually die, the ultimate loss:
“I’m wondering, will I ever see another sunrise?
So many won’t get the chance to say good-bye
But its too late to think of the value of my life.”
The fact that this song has so many layers that are so intricately woven in themselves is just incredible, and I really admire that as a songwriter. I personally find when I write songs that my songs need to convey the specific emotion or feeling while, if possible, telling a story, which “Russian Roulette” does. I find poorly written songs tend to be so broad that it’s impossible to connect with or understand what the song is conveying. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if a song is too detailed or has too much in it, it may deter listeners as it may be overly complicated or suggest a behavior that is not desirable. “Russian Roulette” may possibly do this.
At the very last second of this song, a gun shot is fired off, suggesting that the character pulled the gun and died (sad face). That, to me, is an example of how this song is inspiring and disgusting. The gun shot furthers the story and causes the listener to paint their own mental image, but at the same time it’s not really a delicious image to envision. This may be how Smith and Harmon put too much info into the song; like, we get it, Rihanna’s character is freaked out…does she really need to die?
I also want to commend Rihanna’s vocal ability of evoking such dark emotion. Specifically, at the parts where she sings:
“And you can see my heart beating
You can see it through my chest.
Said I’m terrified but I’m not leaving
I know that I must pass this test
So, just pull the trigger”
It’s at moments like these where Rihanna’s vibrato is prominent and sheds the almost perplexed fear of the narrator. I honestly think the song would not work if Rihanna’s vocal performance was not as strong as it is here.
Check out this lyric video of “Russian Roulette,” listen for Rihanna’s incredible vibrato/vocal delivery: