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This is the first single from Barbadian R&B singer Rihanna's fourth album, Rated R.
This creepy ballad was co-written by Rihanna and her fellow Def-Jam artist Ne-Yo, who has previously worked with the Barbados native on a number of her hits, including Unfaithful
and Take a Bow
. Ne-Yo, who also co-produced the track, told MTV News that it was Rihanna who requested the song's haunting vibe. "She wanted to be dark, but not just dark for the sake of being dark," he told MTV News. "Dark with kind of a meaning, dark with some kind of thing to it."
Ne-Yo explained to MTV News how he came up with the song's eerie Russian roulette theme. "I'm listening to the track, and all I can see is Rihanna and some random person sitting across from each other at the table with a gun sitting in the middle of the table and playing Russian roulette," he said. "And I just started thinking, 'What would go through your mind if you was in that situation?' It just all started coming together, and Rihanna has never been one to be afraid to take a chance, especially with me. She's always game to do something a little different. I played it for her, and she loved it - went in and knocked it out. The rest is history."
The song's other co-producer, Chuck Harmony, explained to MTV News that when he and Ne-Yo sat down to conceptualize the feel of the track they didn't want to rehash what fans expect of the singer. "We wanted to give her a movie. We didn't want to just give her a three-minute song," said Harmony. "I felt musically like everybody was gonna give like that 'Disturbia
,' kind of pop, uptempo stuff, and I really wanted the song that me and Ne-Yo did to stand out."
Harmony added that when Ne-Yo sat down with him, the two men knew that the song should be "something a little darker, something a little edgier, something a little more morbid. Just to try it out."
Lyrically the song is about a dangerous relationship. There is speculation that its theme might be linked to Rihanna's former, real-life relationship with the singer Chris Brown. When asked about the sound of the album by MTV News, prior to this song's release, Ne-Yo said: "The best and safest way I can say this is that Rihanna has some stuff to say and she's going to say it. And she ain't going to make no apologies for it."
Harmony told MTV News that no matter what song Rihanna released as her comeback single people would immediately think it was about Chris Brown. He explained: "Because that's the newest situation. Whatever she came with, if she came out with 'I still love you' that would have been about Chris Brown. If she came out with 'I hate your dog' that would have been about Chris Brown, too. It's just a natural reaction for people to associate 'cause she's been so tight-lipped."
The video was shot in New York City and directed by the man behind man behind many of Rihanna's promos, Anthony Mandler. The Barbadian singer wears the same eye patch that she had in Jay-Z's video for Run This Town
. Mandler told MTV News that he saw the clip as the perfect embodiment of the haunting ballad. "I think that with this song and the meaning of this song and how loaded it all is, no pun intended, how much imagery and perhaps symbolism that is loaded in this song, the only way to do it was to do something that was visually challenging," he said.
Mandler added that he thought of the video as a metaphor for Rihanna's very public life in the gossip pages, as opposed to a direct comment on her much publicized domestic violence incident with then-boyfriend Chris Brown. "I think you can't effect change unless you're willing to take a risk," he said. "You can't get people to pay attention and understand unless you're willing to push the limit and try new things. The song, this situation, everything is so frontloaded with so much gossip and so much media coverage and so many emotions and stories that if you don't try to do something that is poetic and layered in symbolism, then you're either running from the truth or you're being too obvious with it."
Rihanna explained the song to Q magazine January 2010: "It's not a literal song but love is a terrifying game. You want to be open and honest but you don't want to end up broken-hearted. Ne-Yo sat down with me and we talked for a long time about all the stuff I've been through this year and he came up with the idea of Russian Roulette, which fitted perfectly."
This topped the singles charts in several countries, including Bulgaria, Norway and Switzerland.
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