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Rihanna's new single proves she only does what she wants

The cover art for Rihanna's new single
The cover art for Rihanna's new single
Rihannanow.com

Rihanna dropped the second single from her upcoming eighth studio album on Thursday, March 26, after almost 24 hours of hype.

"Bitch Better Have My Money" is a bass-heavy, confidence-drenched hit that's bound to climb the charts.

"Don't act like you forgot / bitch, I call the shots," Rihanna sings in the lead-up to the chorus. It's a reminder that even if she's not going anywhere anytime soon, she's going to do things her way on her own time. After all, she's earned the right to.

"I've made a lot of songs that are really, really big songs. And I wanted to kind of get back to — not that they weren't real music — but I just wanted to focus on things that felt real, that felt soulful, that felt forever," said the pop star in a recent interview with MTV News. "I find that when I get onstage now, I don't want to perform a lot of my songs. They don't feel like me. So I want to make songs that are timeless."

Rihanna hasn't released her eighth album (lovingly referred to as #r8 on her social media accounts) yet, or even a date when fans can expect it. What she has done is prove she's in charge of her sound, her image, and just about everything else.

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Rihanna performs onstage during the Concert For Valor at the National Mall on November 11, 2014, in Washington, DC. (Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for HBO)

Her promotional work is by the books

Rihanna's playing by the promotional rules of music. She's released two singles — the first was "Four Five Seconds" — before the release of her new album, and she's released those singles almost two months apart. She is also playing by the typical publicity rules, hooking up with an app for marketing and debuting her song on iHeart Radio.

Rihanna, more than any other artist, has developed a persona that would allow her to completely ignore jumping through hoops. She's developed the persona of bad-girl Riri. And she runs her own wildly popular social media accounts, complete with vacation selfies and pictures of her niece. Rihanna, it seems, shouldn't have to play these games.

Yet she is.

Rihanna released the intro and the outro of "Bitch Better Have My Money" via Dubsmash, a lip-sync short video app. To hear 10 nonconsecutive seconds of the song, users had to download the app. Fans and critics felt ripped off. Many thought this was the only release of the day.

Spencer Kornhaber wrote for the Atlantic that the Dubsmash release "prompts a deep feeling of being duped and also questions about the future of music. Why even write three-minute pop songs anymore? Maybe what’s next are Vine and DubSmash microjingles that can be played on a loop at least 24 times before your Amy’s Palak Paneer is done microwaving."

More and more it seems like music's place in people's entertainment consumption is changing. Singles have taken the place of albums, and maybe soon snippets will take the place of singles. But "Bitch Better Have My Money" is a three-minute pop song with a standard structure and catchy hook. Rihanna even debuted it on traditional radio at 9 am, during rush hour on the East Coast.

Everything about this build-up shows Rihanna is solidly playing by the established rules —which she can do if she wants, because her success as an artist has given her full rein to do as she pleases.

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Rihanna performs onstage in 2009. (Christopher Polk/Getty)

Rihanna has earned the right to do whatever she wants

Rihanna has a deeper, more popular discography than almost any other working pop star. Between 2005 and 2012, she released seven albums — almost an album per year. She has seen 26 of her songs hit the Billboard top 10. The only other artists to have a number-one single every year across seven years are Elvis and the Beatles. Her 2013 single with Eminem, "The Monster," became her 13th song to reach the number-one spot, tying her with Michael Jackson.

Thus, Rihanna's swagger comes from the fact that she's earned it. That's why it's so interesting to see that swagger toned down on the first two singles from her eighth album.

"Four Five Seconds," the first single, released in late January, sees Paul McCartney and Kanye West join Rihanna for a blend of pop, soul, country, and folk. The song showed significant growth in Rihanna's vocal range and tone. It featured more vulnerability than we had heard from her since 2012's "Stay," and it hinted that her new album might have a more confessional tone.

"Bitch Better Have My Money" definitely has a little more swagger to it, but it's still a subtler, quieter song than some of Rihanna's fan favorites.

Historically, Rihanna songs have fallen into two major categories: bad-girl club anthems like "Pour it Up" and "Only Girl (In the World)" and top-40 ballads like "Stay" and "Diamonds." Neither "Four Five Seconds" nor "Bitch Better Have My Money" fit into either group comfortably. Instead, they hover somewhere in between.

"Bitch Better Have My Money," like "Four Five Seconds," isn't an instant radio hit. It's not the kind of song you want to scream along with in your car. It's not even a full-blown club hit. Instead, it's a strange marriage of the two. And Rihanna can only get away with that because she's Rihanna.