This bluntly-titled cut is the opening track from Barbadian recording artist Rihanna's fifth studio album, Loud. The Stargate-produced and Ester Dean-penned song finds the singer proclaiming her vices: "I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it/Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it/Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me."
Rihanna told Spin magazine that people shouldn't take the raunchy lyrics too literally. "I don't think of it in a sexual way, I'm thinking metaphorically," she said. "It's more of a thing to say that people can talk… people are going to talk about you, you can't stop that. You just have to be that strong person and know who you are so that stuff just bounces off. And I thought it was super bad ass."
Rihanna told Q magazine the refrain "Sex in the air/I love the smell of it" is a raised middle finger to the media monks who say she is too raunchy. "You think I give a f--k what you think about me dressing sexy?" she exclaimed. "I love it. Come on, I love you for hating me."
The song's racy music video was shot in Los Angeles during the weekend of January 15, 2011 with director Melina Matsoukas, who had previously directed the promos for "Hard
", "Rude Boy
" and "Rockstar 101
". It's concept is about the media's fascination with the Bajan pop star and features a cameo from blogger Perez Hilton who is seen paraded by Rihanna on a dog leash. Matsoukas told Billboard
magazine the clip is inspired by the singer's "sadomasochist relationship with the press... it isn't just about a bunch of whips and chains."
On its release, the video was immediately banned in eleven countries, mainly in South Asia, due to its overt sexual content and BBC 1 Radio refused to play the track before 7 p.m. The clip was also labeled "inappropriate" for viewers under the age of 18 on YouTube, and a restriction put in place. Rihanna responded to the news via her Twitter account, posting "They watched Umbrella
... I was full nude."
An edited version was released in the UK for daytime radio titled "Come On."
The controversial video became the target of a lawsuit from prominent photographer David LaChapelle after a number of media and bloggers noted the similarities between the clip and LaChapelle's work. Even Perez Hilton who appears in the clip tweeted: "The next time you make a David LaChapelle music video you should probably hire David LaChapelle."
The celebrity snapper accused Rihanna of ripping off images from his popular photographs, which have appeared in various publications. He claimed that the video copied the "composition, total concept, feel, tone, mood, theme, colors, props, settings, decors, wardrobe and lighting" of his work.
In an interview with Vogue magazine, Rihanna insisted the controversial hit is only superficially about sex. "The song can be taken very literally, but it's actually a very metaphorical song. It's about the love-hate relationship with the media and how sometimes the pain is pleasurable," she explained. "We feed off it - or I do. And it was a very personal message that I was trying to get across."
The song was Rihanna's tenth Hot 100 chart-topper. The Bajun singer was 23-years-old when it reached pole position, making her the youngest artist to rack up ten #1 hits. Mariah Carey held the previous record when she was 25.
The song's ascent to the summit was fueled by a "Rih-mix" featuring Britney Spears. The Rihanna/Spears collaboration was only the fourth #1 to feature two or more solo women. Can you work out the three previous chart-toppers to do so? They were:
1979 Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)."
1998 Brandy & Monica "The Boy Is Mine
2001 Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink "Lady Marmalade
Ester Dean told Billboard magazine how the song came about: "I wrote it, Father forgive me, on a Sunday. The track was already there," she recalled. "The first thing that came to me was 'Come on, come on.' I'm thinking, 'I don't know what in the hell this is about to be.' And I remembered I'd seen something that said, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones.' Then came 'But chains and whips excite me.' And I'm like, 'Oh, my God, I got to write that.' I'm in the studio with the engineer and just kept looking at him, asking, 'Is that OK?' And he says, 'I like it.' When people have a great track that speaks to me, it feels like it already has a story in it."