An essay I was going to write about Rihanna’s song WORK based on a conversation I’d had one night while nursing a Jameson neat and a Rolling Rock with a friend of mine in a bar that was still gay and where you could still smoke. I had been excited about writing it. But when I sat down to work on it I realized the only thing I really wanted to say about the song was to point out how its varying incomprehensibility—the muddled vocals, the monotonous, almost mumbled lyrics—reminded me of trying to talk to you. The devolution into unintelligibility, into something that is language but not quite. Indeed, “What can I say?” Rihanna-as-narrator implores of her lover, at one point about halfway through the song. In answer, the “Work, work, work, work, work” of the chorus becomes something like “werh, werh, werh, werh, werh,” punctured by gibberish, by nonsense, on loop. I though it was smart—clever, in a way, even if it was a bit winky. The chorus even evokes the colloquial “blah blah blah” lovers on the outs often use to mock each other. As if to say, there’s nothing you can say. Please recognize I’m trying babe. But I never wrote that essay and this is not it. I’ve never been a fan of Rihanna’s but there were many songs on that album that made me think of you.


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