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An article about Rihanna's 'gutteral utterances' is causing uproar

Don’t accuse Rihanna of singing gibberish, you hear?

#SeptemberIssue @Wmag cover styled by @edward_enninful, shot by @stevenkleinstudio

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THIS WEEK, RIHANNA was revealed as the cover star of September’s W Magazine.

The magazine invited a wealth of contributors to write about Rihanna’s impact as a pop star.

One writer, Brian Moylan, wrote a piece about how she was the first “post-verbal pop star” and posited that she was “speaking some sort of alien tongue” on her latest album Anti.

Is she too lazy to enunciate? Too emotionally bereft to elucidate? Or too far out that she’s speaking some sort of alien tongue that she’s making up as she goes along, like Björk or Khaleesi?

He described Work as sounding like “Charlie Brown’s teacher or a duck in your neighbour’s apartment”.

She doesn’t make sense as much as she makes noise, commuting a story not through words, but phonetic shapings that sound something like words left out in the rain, their definition bleeding out into each other until there is nothing but a string of guttural utterances set to a pulsating beat.

Which is all well and good until you remember that Rihanna isn’t just singing gobbledygook in Work, but rather she is singing in her native patois. (Patois refers to a dialect spoken in Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Barbados.)

Here’s how Rihanna explained it to Vogue back in April:

You get what I’m saying, but it’s not all the way perfect. Because that’s how we speak in the Caribbean.

So you can see why describing it as an “alien tongue” or accusing Rih Rih of not enunciating properly rubbed a lot of readers up the wrong way.

Neither the magazine nor the journalist have addressed the criticisms yet, but this is not the first time that Rihanna has been accused of singing “gibberish”.

As Black Girl Long Hair notes, a Music Times review praised Work and said, “ And Work just works, in all its gibberish filled madness.” Another review accused Rihanna of slurring her words.

What begins as slurring soon just devolves into gibberish, “work work work work work” becoming “wor wer waa wahhhhh wa”. Repeated listening is genuinely hilarious.

But just because you don’t immediately understand what she is singing doesn’t give you the right to dismiss it as gibberish or unintelligible.

As Kat George wrote for Dazed and Confused:

We shouldn’t dismiss Rihanna’s patois as gibberish. Nor should we consider it “abnormal” or “out of the ordinary”. It’s as normal and ordinary to Rihanna and Bajan culture as the Queen’s English is to ours, or as any other language is to the culture it flourishes in.
Rihanna’s patois doesn’t have to suit you. That’s not the point of “Work”. And if you’re going to make value judgements about things you perceive to be “funny”, make sure those “hilarious” points of difference aren’t the artefacts of someone’s cultural identity.

giphy (8) Source: Giphy

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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