This emotive ballad about a relationship was penned by Nashville-based singer songwriter Mikky Ekko (born John Sudduth), Lana Del Rey's frequent songwriting partner Justin Parker, and producer, songwriter and mixer Elof Loelv, who has also worked with Niki & The Dove, Erik Hassle and Pixie Lott. Ekko also trades vocals with Rihanna on the track. Rihanna performed the song without Ekko on Saturday Night Live, November 10, 2012.
This simple piano balled landed in the Top 5 on 28 charts, which alone is testament to its universal appeal. Why is the song so memorable? The intimacy of the piano and the simple, repetitive melody help, but the real clincher is Rihanna's vocal, the inflections of which help the listener discern the intense emotion behind each lyric. Note, for example, the third and fourth line of the first verse, which quickly switch between gutsy confidence and vulnerability simply through Rihanna's momentary falsetto and fragile vibrato.
Speaking with Gigwise
, Ekko admitted that he was initially "a little freaking out" when he heard that Rihanna had recorded the track as it had a personal meaning to himself. "The track had become so special to me as well, and knowing what the track means to me and what I think it means to her too, it really worked," he said. "It speaks to such an intimate side of her that is so rare and so far removed from what people think of her."
He added: "I met up with some of her people in LA. She came out, we met, we hugged and talked for a minute about the song, she said, 'Oh, just so you know, I've cut the vocal', and I was like, 'WHOA!' and of course I said, 'That's no problem' - even though I was a little freaking out."
Rihanna performed this song with its co-writer Mikky Ekko at the Grammy Awards in 2013. Afterwards, the cameras panned onto Chris Brown giving his girl a standing ovation, four years after their infamous pre-Grammy brawl.
The song's music video was directed by Sophie Muller and shot with a single camera. Speaking with Ryan Seacrest, Rihanna said, "The video was really, really simple. I pretty much stayed put in a bathtub, and we shot it really tight, really close. There's Mikky Ekko in the video as well. This is the first time I've ever collaborated with him, so I'm excited about that because he's actually the one who wrote the song and I kinda just fell in love with it so much and in love with the tone of his voice and we wanna keep him a part of it, so you'll see him in the video."
She added, "It's a very emotional song and it's personal, so you just think about, it's almost like telling a story, and when you tell a story, even to yourself - if you're saying it out loud and expressing how you feel - it needs to be powerful because it needs to be authentic."
Rihanna was only 25 years old when this became her 27th million-seller.
This was Rihanna's tenth #1 on Billboard's Pop Songs chart. When it climbed to the top of the tally, the Barbadian star became the first artist to score ten leaders on the BDS-based airplay chart.
The song topped the singles charts in several countries, including Canada and Denmark.
Rihanna has had numerous hits on Billboard's Pop, R&B and Dance charts but this was her first release to enter the Top 10 of the Adult Contemporary listing.
The breadth of the lyrics elicits the listener's emotional response and possibly a sense of empathy, but part of the interest in the track is attributable to how the lyrics might add to the media speculation about the relationship between Rihanna and Chris Brown.
Read in their context of their tempestuous relationship, the lyrics take on a much darker tone. For instance, the line "if you dare come a little closer" is on the surface a simple, relatable evocation of how love makes us vulnerable, but here there is the paradoxical promise of threat and intimacy which seems to characterize their relationship.
Indeed, the characters that populate this song are "hot headed" and the song is made particularly intriguing by its themes of apprehension and uncertainty:
"Not really sure how to feel about it, something in the way you move, makes me feel like I can't live without you."
This particular lyric might be an allusion to The Beatles' 1969 single "Something
," which similarly relates a protagonist who is unsure about a relationship: "You're asking me will my love grow... I don't know."
Ekko told MTV News UK how the duet came about: "It was crazy. I wrote that song with my buddy Justin Parker - who wrote 'Video Games
' with Lana Del Rey and wrote 'Laura
' with Bat for Lashes - two artists I love.
"So we went in and wrote 'Stay' and I hated it I couldn't stand it. Because I hated how vulnerable it was. So I went away for a while and everybody convinced me, 'you need to go listen to this song again' and I was like, 'I don't want to but I'm going to'." He continued: "So I went back and listened to it and I was like, 'this is really important to me'. And so when we were in the process of looking for producers, I got a call saying Rihanna wants you to sing on her records I was like, 'ahhh of course.'
From there, it was just a series of putting things together that felt right and making sure we captured the essence of the song. We worked really hard, I worked really to marry what I do with what she does to give people some perspective on both of us."
This won Song of the Year at the 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards. It was one of four awards that Rihanna took home, she also captured the Artist of the Year honor, whilst "Pour It Up
" won for Hip-Hop/R&B Song of the Year, and her fan base, the Rihanna Navy, was awarded the Best Fan Army prize.