With the possible exception of Madonna, I can’t think of a pop superstar with more suspect single-picking tendencies than Rihanna. It’s almost like she tries to balance out every excellent choice with an astonishingly bad one, like a chess master who loses on purpose so as not to seem too annoyingly successful. Did she or anyone at her label, Def Jam Recordings, actually think that “Pour It Up” and “Right Now,” the second and fourth singles, respectively, from Unapologetic, her latest album, would be runaway hits?
Since she’s on a non-roll, maybe she should shoot for 2 for 5 with the next single, and go with “Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary.” She could do a lot better than “Right Now,” possibly the weakest song on Unapologetic, and while “Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary” is not my favorite track on the album (an honor that would go to “Jump” and “Get It Over With,” depending on whether I’m feeling sexy or introspective), “Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary,” with its dark romanticism (the “Love Without Tragedy” portion) and pop psychedelia with a beat (the “Mother Mary” part), is arguably its most ambitious.
Maybe it would actually surprise me by becoming a surprise third Unapologetic hit (following the No. 1 “Diamonds” and the No. 3 “Stay”) while making the pop medley hot again. Well, not again. The medley was never exactly a mainstay on the Billboard Hot 100, only popping up sporadically in the form of a massive hit. But the idea of combining two songs into one has actually been trending for years now, in the form of the mash-up, thanks to innovative DJs and Glee, which has dedicated at least one entire episode to them.
Though they’re related in their two-in-one approach, the medley differs from the mash-up in that it strings songs together horizontally rather than stacking them vertically, which makes for slightly longer singles that test the attention span of the average pop fan. Of course, average pop fans can be fickle, unpredictable creatures. When I first heard “Stay” in the context of Unapologetic, I didn’t dream it would ever go over so well with them. But two weekends ago, as I watched and listened to a bunch of Polish kids singing along to it in a Warsaw club, it sounded just like a no-brainer smash.
With former cultural phenomenon Glee no longer the zeitgeisty influence it was two seasons ago (RIP, Corey Monteith), it’ll be up to something/someone else to revive the pop medley “Don’t Stop Believin'”-style. If anyone can get it trending, it would have to be Rihanna. And if not, we’ll always have the magic musical moments that the lost pop art from has already given us. Here are 10 of them.
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” The 5th Dimension (No. 1, 1969)
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” Paul & Linda McCartney (No. 1, 1971)
“We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions” Queen (No. 4, 1977)
“The Load-Out/Stay” Jackson Browne (No. 20, 1978)
“Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl” The Spinners (No. 2, 1980)
“Cupid/I’ve Love You for a Long Time” The Spinners (No. 4, 1980)
“Hard to Say I’m Sorry”/”Get Away” Chicago (No. 1, 1982)
“Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley” Will to Power (No. 1, 1988)
“Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes off You)” Pet Shop Boys (No. 72, 1991)
“Power of Love/Love Power” Luther Vandross (No. 4, 1991)