Should Have Been Bigger: Rihanna’s “Man Down”
Rihanna could do no wrong during her Loud era. After exploring darker territory on 2009’s Rated R, the diva switched things up with an explosion of super-sized beats and bright pop productions. Debuting a vibrant look, characterized by her flame-hued hair, the hitmaker made it clear that a new age was upon us. And the direction turned out to be endlessly successful. In fact, it may be her most commercially bountiful LP to date. After topping the charts with Rated R’s “Rude Boy” and alongside Eminem on “Love The Way You Lie,” she landed her eighth, ninth and tenth number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 right out of the gate.
Her euphoric lead single, “Only Girl (In The World)” opened the project with a bang. Similarly, her Drake-assisted “What’s My Name” left a lasting impression. Buoyed by an outrageous video and a surprise cameo from Britney Spears, “S&M” also soared to the top spot. The siren cracked the Top 40 with “California King Bed.” After the hard-hitting beats of her previous singles, the restrained ballad performed respectably but did not garner the same return. However, it did better than her massively underrated fifth single, “Man Down.”
Boasting a reggae-infused production, the track has been described as a murder ballad. On it, the diva sings about her guilt after gunning down a man who had hurt her. “Oh mama, mama, mama, I just shot a man down in central station. In front of a big ol’ crowd,” RiRi mourns on the chorus. Returning to her roots, the Barbadian superstar delivered a compelling performance that highlighted her conflicted emotions. In comparison to the LP’s previous singles, the brooding release felt sonically similar to her last album with its somber lyrics.
The darker vibes carried over to the accompanying video, which was shot on-location in Jamaica and brought the lyrics to life. Opening with the femme fatale literally shooting down a man in central station, she then explains what led to her decision. Turning back time, we see that the man in question assaulted her the day before. Returning home after the attack, a distraught Ri reaches for her gun and goes out to seek revenge.
Taking to Twitter following the release, Rihanna shared a message for her fans. “Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things!” she wrote. “We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naive! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful.” However, the video was met with multiple complaints for glorifying violence.
Possibly because of the public’s conflicted take on the video, “Man Down” failed to leave much of an impression on the charts. In fact, the anthem is one of her least commercially successful singles to date. It just cracked the Top 60 on the Hot 100 and peaked at the number 59 spot. Internationally it had a bit more success. In France particularly, it soared to the top spot. However, it barely registered as a blip on her lengthy and hit-filled career.
Although the single underperformed, that didn’t stop Ri from closing out her impressive era on a high note. She followed it up by landing a fourth Top 10 hit with “Cheers (Drink To That).” The Avril Lavigne-sampling party anthem offered a reset with its carefree vibes and equally relaxed video. She ended Loud by reasserting her dominance, and her success carried over into the Talk That Talk era. That same year, she soared back to the top of the charts across the globe on the world-conquering “We Found Love.”
“Man Down” may get lost in the mix of other, more successful singles. But amidst rumors that Rihanna’s ninth studio album will be inspired by dancehall and reggae, it becomes increasingly important. It may offer a hint of what to expect in the near future. And if it does, it is very clear that R9 will be filled with unending potential. Revisit the anthem below!