The first single from Rihanna's seventh album is a departure from the singer's recurring theme of an unhealthy relationship, as the Barbadian songstress croons of a bright love. "Find light in the beautiful sea. I choose to be happy. You and I, you and I. We're like diamonds in the sky," she sings. When asked about the mood of the song following her performance at the iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas, Rihanna replied, "You're not sad. You're happy and hippie. It's hopeful. It gives me a great feeling when I listen to it. The lyrics are hopeful and positive. It's about love and the gears are different than what people will expect."
The song was premiered on September 26, 2012 during Elvis Duran and the Morning Show and was made available for digital download an hour later.
Sia Furler wrote the song. The Australian singer-songwriter had crafted tunes for Christina Aguilera and Will Young, but her songwriting breakthrough was "Titanium" for David Guetta (Sia's demo vocals ended up being used on the track). From that song, she learned to craft a surefire hit: start with a basic image and use it as a metaphor for empowerment, supporting that single theme with the lyrics.
"Diamonds" was written in this vein, and it worked: Rihanna had never before recorded one of Sia's songs, but it became a huge hit. Sia planned to use this newfound freedom to abandon her solo career, but her next single, "Chandelier," made that impossible.
This was produced by the Norwegian production duo Stargate and Benjamin "Benny Blanco" Levin. Whilst it was the first time that Blanco had worked with Rihanna, the Bajan star had previously hooked up with Stargate for a number of her hit singles including "Take A Bow," "Rude Boy" and "What's My Name?."
Rihanna previously sung about love and diamonds when she pondered the existence of both on her 2011 hit, "We Found Love" ("Yellow diamonds in the light. And we're standing side by side. As your shadow crosses mine. What it takes to come alive").
Regarding the song's message, Rihanna told MTV News: "I think a lot of people are afraid of being happy because of what others might think of it, They're afraid to embrace that and embrace themselves and love themselves and do what they love and do what makes them happy. My story is definitely going to be a happily ever after, no matter what."
The Anthony Mandler-directed video showcases Rihanna in a variety of beautiful and sad settings. We see her in four different environments, each representing one of the four elements; earth, air, water and fire, highlighting the song's sense of hope in the midst of chaos and destruction. The Bajan star explained to MTV News that the clip concentrates more on emotion, than any tangible storyline. "With every song it's a different story, so the visuals are very specific to that story and that world. With 'Diamonds,' it was just a series of vignettes that we put together to help get the emotion across throughout the song 'cause the song changes and it builds, and there's no real way that you could do that," she explained. "You just want people to feel that and I wanted little cutaways of interactions that would give you the right emotion."
As well as interpreting the emotion of the song, the series of seemingly unrelated vignettes paint a portrait of Rihanna's much-discussed personal life. "Nothing in life is black or white, just death and taxes, and there's always two sides to the story, and there's always multiple ways to look at the same situation, depending on who you are in that situation. Are you one of the people involved, or are you an outside viewer?" Mandler explained to MTV News. "And you can see what I'm getting at in terms of relating this to Rihanna's real life, and what she's been through. What's truth or fiction? You know 'Is she drowning, or is she in complete ecstasy? Are those hands coming apart, or are they finding each other?' ... we tried to bring up these deeper questions that relate to song and her life and finding beauty in chaos and finding beauty in pain and finding pain in beauty."
Rihanna performed the song for the first time on television during the November 10, 2012 episode of Saturday Night Live.
Asked during an interview on Facebook Live what her favourite of her own singles is, Rihanna replied that she used to favor 'Umbrella' but now this song has replaced it as her preferred tune. "It's a really powerful song even to listen to," she explained, "it just gets you... you just get sucked in. Even if you're in the club, it really f--ks with your head."
"Diamonds" was Rihanna's twelfth #1 on the Hot 100, placing her in second place with Madonna and The Supremes as the female acts with the most chart-toppers. (Mariah Carey had reached the summit 18 times when this reached the peak position).
Regarding the album title, Rihanna explained to WWD: "I named my album Unapologetic because there is only one truth, and you can't apologise for that." "It's honest," she added. "I'm always evolving of course. I think the only motto I have is to be true to myself."
Rihanna finally broke her duck of never having had a #1 album in the US when Unapologetic debuted at the top spot on the Billboard 200. This meant the Bajan star gave up her record of having the most #1 songs on the Hot 100 without ever having a #1 album.
Unapologetic's first seven days sales of 238,000 copies were Rihanna's best sales week to date for an album.
According to an interview with Sia in New York Times Magazine, she wrote this song in just 14 minutes. It turns out Sia was being modest - it was really around 12 minutes, according to producer Tor Erik Hermansen of Stargate. He recalled the swift session in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
"We had been working with Benny Blanco on a number of Rihanna songs, trying to come up with these big, uptempo, dance-pop records. During the last couple of days, we were like, 'Let's just do something completely different - different tempo, different everything.' That's how the track started. Sia came through and worked on a couple different songs, and the last thing she did before walking out the door was 'Diamonds.' The car was waiting outside. She had her coat on, she had her purse in her lap. We just played her the music, and the first thing out of her mouth was, 'Shine bright like a diamond.' She put her vocal down in about 12 minutes while the car was waiting and then left."
Rihanna used Sia's demo vocal as a guide, copying her inflections exactly. When Benny Blanco played the Australian songwriter the finished version, she thought the vocal still belonged to her. "We listened to it on his iPod, sitting on a sofa at ABC Carpet and Home in New York," Sia told New York Times magazine. "I literally punched him in the arm. I thought Benny was playing a trick on me. She could've done it her own way, but I think she really genuinely liked the way it was."