In this song, Rihanna comforts her partner by singing about how she will be there for him in good times and bad. She knows that even though he is a star, there will be some rough times, which she articulates in the lyrics, "Baby cause in the dark you can't see shiny cars, and that's when you need me there, with you I'll always share." The umbrella is a metaphor for her support, which she promises to provide.
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Jay-Z, who runs Rihanna's record label Roc-A-Fella Records, performs a somewhat gratuitous rap at the beginning of the song emphasizing his wealth and business success. His presence on the song made it much more marketable even if it didn't advance the storyline.
This was written by Terius "The-Dream" Nash, who helped write "Me Against The Music
" for Britney Spears as well as several songs for B2K and Nivea. Jay-Z also got a songwriting credit on this.
The-Dream didn't have anyone specific in mind when he wrote it. "I felt in my heart at the time that I needed a friend like this," he told Billboard
. "I wanted to also be that person for someone else."
He added: "It took maybe 15 minutes to get out the song, it began like a rap freestyle and it just never stopped pouring, metaphor after metaphor. I was in a zone and in a feeling that wasn't going to end until I finished what I had to say."
This was an instant hit in the UK, where it debuted at #1 on the strength of download sales. The song went to #1 in most of the countries where it was released.
Chris Brown, when he and Rihanna were still a couple, recorded his own version of this song, changing the chorus from "You can stand under my umbrella" to "You can be my Cinderella."
Following the success of this song, Rihanna launched a line of umbrellas through the Totes company.
Mandy Moore recorded a new version of this song, which was used on an episode of MTV's The Hills
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In an interview with MTV News, Mary J. Blige revealed that this song was originally written for her by Tricky Stewart and The-Dream. She said, "They did the song for me. And it was during the Grammy time and I was really, really busy, and I heard it, and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, that's a smash. I love this song.' And it was like, 'It's yours.' So in the midst of it being mine, they were probably telling [Rihanna] it was hers. She's such a beautiful lady, and I love her to death. I was so glad that she caught it and knocked it out of the park, and it's still one of my favorite songs to date."
In an interview with Q magazine (January 2008), Rihanna was asked if she always knew that "Umbrella" was destined for greatness. The singer replied: "I definitely knew that it was one of the most original sounds that I'd heard for a while. But a lot of people didn't really understand it. They thought the repetition was annoying. But I knew that was what people would catch on to right away, because that's what stuck in my head. People didn't get the lyric either."
Rihanna was then asked if this song was about proving protection. She replied: "An umbrella is protection, it protects you from rain. The rain in this case is negativeness and vulnerability."
In the same interview with Q, Rihanna said that she thought the weather "definitely helped the song stay there for so long. People hate the rain, but here was this song that speaks about the rain and makes you feel great. Even if the weather is horrible."
At the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, this won for Video of the Year.
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At the inaugural 2007 VH1 Soul Presents: Vibe Awards Special, "Umbrella" won the Video of the Year accolade.
This entered the UK chart at #1, then spent 10 weeks at the top. In its 11th week it tumbled to #3, thus breaking a record that had stood for nearly 55 years. No other single has had to wait so long into its chart career to occupy a position other than #1. The previous record holder was the very first UK chart topper, Al Martino's "Here In My Heart," which occupied the summit on the very first singles chart in November 1952. It remained there for nine weeks, and only registered a different chart placing on its tenth week on chart.
In addition, it overtook the nine-week run at the top of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy
" to become the longest running #1 of the 21st century in the UK. Indeed it's the longest running UK #1 since "Love Is All Around
" by Wet Wet Wet in 1994, which spent 15 weeks at the top. "Umbrella" also became the first single to be #1 in both the UK and US for at least five weeks each since Elton John's two-sided hit, "Candle in the Wind 1997" / "Something About the Way You Look Tonight," which was #1 in the UK for five weeks and in the US for 14 weeks in 1997.
"Umbrella" has reached the summit of many other countries' charts including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
The December 2007 Observer Music Monthly asked Rihanna what she thought about when she's singing this song. The Barbados-born singer replied: "At first, I tried to channel the emotions of the lyrics as best I could. Now when I perform it, I'm just blown away when the whole audience is singing the words back to me. So I have to just concentrate on remembering them and not get distracted!"
Rihanna and British band The Klaxons performed this in a mash-up with the Klaxons' "Golden Skans
" at the 2008 Brit Awards ceremony. The Barbadian singer told BBC 6Music: "It was really different, very cool, unexpected. But when I hear it, I just want to hear it more. It makes it so much more rock and roll. It's a different tempo and everything. But I actually want to release a version like that. Maybe the same version. I really, really liked it."
Rihanna told the Daily Mirror that mass outbreaks of umbrellas on dance floors and at her shows have rid her of the superstition that it's bad luck to put them up indoors. She said: "I believed that when I was younger, but after all the rehearsals for videos and live shows it kind of fell away. People bring umbrellas to the show and you see them opening - it's the most amazing sight."
Rihanna told Men's Fitness magazine about filming the silver scene in the song's video: "It was actually fun doing it because it's probably something that I'll only do once in my lifetime. Two women painted me, spraying coat after coat. Then I stood in a big black box so that no one could see me in the nude while they filmed. There were only, like, eight people in the box including the director and my manager. The body paint was really oily. I couldn't wait to get it of my face. That was the worst part about it - getting it off. I was in the shower for two and a half hours! My best friend had to come and shower with me, because after I tried to do it myself, the silver would just go back to where I just washed myself. She was just like, 'Take your hands off and let me do it.' Days after, I still had some in my hair, ears, even my belly button. It would not come off. [Laughs]"
English R&B singer and producer Taio Cruz told The Daily Telegraph that when he was working as part of Tricky Stewart's Redzone production team, they were asked to submit songs for Britney Spears' Blackout album and Stewart put forward "Umbrella." He revealed: "They sent it back saying it doesn't work for her. So I demo-ed it and brought it to my record company in London, but they didn't think it was that much of a hit." The song was then sent to Mary J Blige, but before she could record it, Jay Z decided it was just right for his protégée Rihanna.
The Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers recorded a version of this for an album of covers by various acts for the New Musical Express. Released as a digital only single, it climbed to #47 in the UK chart. Their bassist Nicky Wire told the New Musical Express: "This was my favorite track of 2007. It's just so razor-sharp. And who'd have thought a song called 'Umbrella' would be #1 all over the world? It's such an un-pop word. I love it when a record seems to come from another universe. I just wanted us to have a stab at it!"
Rihanna was not impressed by the fact that "The Dream" Nash and the co-writer Christopher "Tricky" Stewart hawked this song around to Mary J. Blige and Britney Spears as well as her. She told the Guardian newspaper May 23, 2008: "No one wants to be teased. How can you bring a record to me when you took it to a million people at the same time? I thought Mary J. Blige was going to get it for sure. But at the back of my mind I was thinking, No wait, I'm never giving this up. I went up to the guy [Nash] at the Grammys and I was like, 'Umbrella is my.' And he just kind of giggled. And I really held his face" - she grabs her own jaw to demonstrate - "like, 'No you're not hearing me, Umbrella is my record.'"
"Tricky" Stewart told MTV News that he was originally unsure whether Rihanna was the right choice for the song, but when the Barbadian singer nailed the "ella" refrain, he knew they were all onto something. He said: "When she recorded the 'ellas,' you knew it was about to be the jump-off, and your life was about to change if you had anything to do with that record."
In the same MTV interview Stewart explained how Jay-Z altered his guest verse. He said: "There was actually another version before that one that he did. And the first one was perfect. And right before they were about to press it up, he went and changed his verse. And nobody even knew he changed his verse. At the time when he did, I didn't really understand. But now, when I go back every once in a while and listen to the old rap, what he wrote [instead] makes so much better sense. And from a songwriter's standpoint, he just really made it more about the song, with the metaphors about umbrellas and about the weather versus what he had before."
England was pounded by rain during the summer of 2007 when this song was a huge hit. The London newspaper The Sun
suggested that "Umbrella" might be the cause, as clubgoers could have been doing an unintentional rain dance when it played. They suggested a ban on Rihanna and an effort to download songs like "In the Summertime
We don't believe him, but The-Dream claims that he pocketed $15 million for writing this song. Speaking with BBC Radio 1Extra's Tim Westwood, he joked that every "ella" is worth half a million. We're guessing he's exaggerating for effect or using some very creative accounting. Top songwriter/producers usually earn somewhere around $300,000 for a hit.
After pitching a few ideas to Rihanna and Jay Z, director Chris Applebaum, who helmed Rihanna's "S.O.S. (Rescue Me)
," was given just one hour to come up with a treatment. He recalled in an interview with Genius
: "I drove up to the house, sat in the living room, spread out a bunch of photo references. I had a bunch of rain images, silver and gold body paint… They said don't be afraid to go out there with it. It doesn't even need to make sense so long as it had a thematic thread. They liked it right away. Rihanna called me and said, 'I love it, I think it's great.'"
Rihanna told Applebaum she wanted to incorporate a dance routine with an umbrella, a nod to Gene Kelly's famous dance sequence in Singin' in the Rain. Applebaum combined that idea with his memories of the Super Bowl of Motocross videos of the '70s that featured motorcycle jumps and exploding cannons.
The video is a popular example for Illuminati conspiracy theorists who believe that a shadowy organization pulls the strings of the government and the media in a bid to establish a New World Order. Sharp-eyed viewers have spotted lots of the organization's symbols in movies and music videos, including this one, where Rihanna sits inside a large triangle - one of the group's most favored symbols. Sorry guys, you've been Punk'd.
"I freely admit to having placed symbols of imagery in music videos, just to f--k around with people, all throughout the 2000s," Applebaum says. "Every time I put something on air on MTV, there’s a shrunken down image of the devil or some kind of odd symbol. For just a single frame. Nobody's stopping me and nobody has stopped me."
According to Applebaum the video made around $10 million dollars through iTunes, and he didn't see a penny of it. He had already successfully transitioned into directing TV commercials, such as the notorious Carl's Jr. ad campaign that featured models seductively eating junk food, so he didn't mind doing a freebie. "I fought all the way down the line to make it exactly the way I wanted to be, the way Rihanna wanted it to be. That's the symbol of something good: would you be willing to do this for free?"