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Man Down (song)

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"Man Down"
A black and white image of wearing oversized sunglasses with "Man Down" written vertically on the right hand side
Single by Rihanna
from the album Loud
Released May 3, 2011 (2011-05-03)
Format
Recorded 2010 at The Village (music) and Westlake Recording Studios (vocals)
Genre
Length 4:28
Label
Writer(s)
Producer(s)
  • Sham
  • Kuk Harrell (vocals)
  • Bobby Campbell (assistant vocals)
Rihanna singles chronology
"S&M"
(2011)
"Man Down"
(2011)
"California King Bed"
(2011)

"Man Down" is a song by Barbadian singer Rihanna from her fifth studio album, Loud (2010). It was released by Def Jam on May 3, 2011, as the fifth single from the album. Barbadian singer Shontelle and production duo Rock City wrote the song with its main producer, Sham. The reggae-influenced track was inspired by Bob Marley's 1973 song "I Shot the Sheriff". The lyrics of "Man Down" involve Rihanna being a fugitive after she shoots a man. Critical response to the song was positive, with Rihanna's confident performance – emphasizing her West Indian accent – and vocal agility praised.

In the United States, "Man Down" reached number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 9 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The song topped the chart in France for five consecutive weeks and reached the top three in Belgium and the Netherlands. Anthony Mandler directed its music video, in which Rihanna's character shoots a man after he rapes her. The video was criticized by the Parents Television Council, who faulted Rihanna for suggesting that murder is an acceptable form of justice for rape victims. "Man Down" was on the set list for two of Rihanna's tours – the Loud Tour (2011) and the Diamonds World Tour (2013) – and was covered live by British singer and songwriter Leona Lewis as part of a mashup with Lewis' 2008 single, "Better in Time".

Background[edit]

In March 2010, Def Jam held a writing camp in Los Angeles for writers and producers to compose material for possible inclusion on Rihanna's then untitled fifth studio album, Loud.[1][2] Ray Daniels, the manager of musical duo Rock City (brothers Theron and Timothy Thomas), was present during the sessions, and stated that a writing camp typically involves the label hiring ten recording studios for two weeks at the cost of $25,000 per day.[2] Daniels revealed that it is where songwriters have written a song but have no music and where producers have music but no lyrics.[2]

Shama Joseph, professionally known as Sham, was hired as one of the producers to work on crafting songs at the camp. He confirmed that Def Jam had rented out nearly every recording studio in Los Angeles in order to create as many songs as possible.[1] Sham's manager organised for him to attend the camp as a result of knowing someone who worked for the record the label. Sham explained that he found a flight to Los Angeles and began working on music as soon as he arrived, stating that he had "nothing to lose and everything to gain".[1] His inspiration was to envision Rihanna performing songs at a concert that were "very much native to where she came from".[1] He noted that Rihanna had not explored Caribbean themed music since her debut album, Music of the Sun (2005).[1]

Production and recording[edit]

Bob Marley onstage with a guitar
Rock City wanted to recreate Bob Marley's 1973 song "I Shot the Sheriff" from a female perspective.

According to Daniels, Rocky City knew Sham but they had not heard the West Indian/Caribbean themed music that he had composed during the camp, which eventually became the music for the final cut of "Man Down". Sham played the music to them, to which the brothers responded "Let's give Rihanna a one-drop! Like, a response to 'I shot the sheriff!"[2] Together, Sham and Rocky City write the lyrics to "Man Down" in twelve minutes.[2] In an MTV News interview, Rock City said they intended to write a song that would embody Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" (1973) from a female perspective and to "tap [Rihanna's] island origins in a way that sounded authentic".[3][4] In a Flavour Magazine interview, singer Shontelle said that Rihanna called her during the Last Girl on Earth tour and asked her to be involved with the song. According to Shontelle, Rihanna was present when "Man Down" was written in the recording studio.[5] Daniels said that once the writing camp concludes, Rihanna listens to all of the songs which have been composed for her and picks her favorites, comparing the process to a reality show whereby Rihanna is the judge.[2] In September 2010, Rihanna called Sham saying that she wanted to record "Man Down" for inclusion on Loud.[1]

Rihanna later described the sentiment she wanted to express as "gangsta", elaborating on how reggae culture has influenced her musical style: "I'm super inspired by reggae music [and it] has been a part of me since I was born, and I grew up listening to it. I grew up loving it. My favorite artists are all reggae artists ... I never get tired of it. I can listen to reggae music all day long, and it was exciting for me to take this on as my own and do a song like this, especially with the lyrics being like that."[6] Recorded during Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth tour, the song's instrumental was recorded by Cary Clark at The Village in Los Angeles. Kuk Harrell produced Rihanna's vocals with Josh Gudwin and Marcos Tovar at Westlake Recording Studios, also in Los Angeles. Bobby Campbell assisted with vocal production and recording. The song was mixed by Manny Marroquin at Larrabee Sound Studios in Los Angeles, assisted by Erik Madrid and Christian Plata.[7]

Daniels estimated the total cost of the writing camp to be approximately $200,000, averaging $18,000 for each of the eleven songs which were included on Loud; the camp consisted of forty writers and producers.[2] Daniels confirmed that Rocky City received $15,000 and Sham $20,000 for their part in the production of "Man Down". He said that "to get that twelve minutes of inspiration from a top songwriting team is expensive — even before you take into account the fee for the songwriters."[2] Prior to Rihanna entering the studio with a vocal producer, a cost of $53,000 for "Man Down" was already incurred.[2] Although Makeba Riddick did not serve as the song's vocal producer, Daniels cited her as an example of how the process worked and how much she charges. It is the responsibility of the vocal producer to tell Rihanna how to sing the song correctly as to achieve the desired sound, and to provide any riders – something to "get them in the mood to get into the booth and sing" – such as strobe lighting or incense.[2] Daniels said that Riddick's fee varies from $10,000 to $15,000, and that the final part of the process is for the song to be mixed and mastered, which incurs a similarly priced fee. The final cost of writing, producing, vocal producing, mixing and mastering "Man Down" was estimated to be $78,000 by Daniels.[2]

Composition and lyrical interpretation[edit]

A man wearing a purple vest and cap.
August Brown of Los Angeles Times saw "Man Down" as a warning to Rihanna's ex-boyfriend Chris Brown.[8]

"Man Down" is a four-minute, twenty-six-second[9] reggae influenced song with "Caribbean-rhythms" and elements of ragga and electronic music.[10][11][12][13] The song, in the key of C minor, has a tempo of 77 beats per minute.[14] Rihanna's voice spans more than one and a half octaves, from F3 to E5.[14] With its strong Barbadian "patois",[10] Slant Magazine critic Sal Cinquemani described "Man Down" as one of Rihanna's "most confident vocal performances".[13] According to its lyrics, Rihanna is a fugitive after she shoots a man, but later regrets it.[13][15][16] She cries to her mother about the act that she has committed, expressing guilt and remorse for not meaning to kill her attacker, and that he is somebody's son.[17]

On February 8, 2009, Rihanna was reported to have been involved in an altercation with her boyfriend, Chris Brown. He allegedly punched Rihanna and threatened to kill her. Brown turned himself in to the police and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault during the trial.[18][19][20] August Brown called the murder ballad theme an apparent "warning" to Chris Brown and a response to his song "Deuces" (2010),[8] which denounces an ex-lover.[21][22] Kitty Empire of The Guardian wrote that the song has lyrical context, with regard to Brown's assault on Rihanna.[16] When asked by HipHopDX about how he reacted to listeners of the song saying that it condones violence, Sham dismissed the accusations:

I didn’t think it made any sense. I think it was because of who it was saying 'I just shot a man down.' I think it was very hypocritical for some of the parents against violence in media, those same parents have probably allowed their kids to watch all types of movies and programs that have depictions, or things that insinuate violence. So for them to be mad about, number one, an issue that actually exists? People focus so much on the incident of rape that they fail to think about, once this experience has happened to this person, that they have to live with it. A woman feeling like she wants to shoot somebody who’s still alive because of something that they took from her, that’s real and that’s honest. So the emotion is a very true emotion, and there are probably many people who still have to deal with that experience, and they relive it on a daily basis. I think it was crazy and blown out of proportion. I think instead of talking about a guy being shot down, they should have talked about the fact that somebody couldn’t deal with this. But people benefit from controversy, and those same people who probably were trying to bring awareness, now they have a voice and now they’re 'specialists,' and they can speak for a group of people all of a sudden.[1]

Release and reception[edit]

On March 1, 2011, Rihanna asked fans to help her choose the next single from Loud using Twitter, saying that she would film a music video in the forthcoming weeks. After an influx of suggestions, the singer said she had narrowed the options down to four songs: "Man Down", "California King Bed", "Cheers (Drink to That)" and "Fading".[23] On March 12, she confirmed that "California King Bed" had been selected as the next international single,[24][25] although the releases were subsequently changed,[26] and "Man Down" was sent to rhythmic and urban radio stations in the United States on May 3,[27][28] before the May 13 release of "California King Bed", making "Man Down" and "California King Bed" the fifth and sixth singles from Loud.[29] The song was released in France and Switzerland on July 11[30][31] and the Netherlands on July 15.[32]

"Man Down" received positive reviews from critics. Some noted Rihanna's Barbadian intonation; Jon Pareles of The New York Times said that the singer "plays up her West Indian accent",[12] and August Brown of the Los Angeles Times described the vocals as reasserting "her Caribbean lilt".[8] Cinquemani chose "Man Down" as the best song on Loud, calling Rihanna's vocal agility "surprising" and noting that the "fully-fledged reggae" song is co-written by a fellow Barbadian-born singer, Shontelle.[13] Entertainment Weekly writer Leah Greenblatt described "Man Down" as a song with "island rhythms".[11] In her review of Loud, Emily Mackay of NME called its experimentation more "organic" than that on Rihanna's previous album Rated R (2009), citing "Man Down"'s theme of "doomed youth".[33]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States, "Man Down" debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 94 on June 1, 2011, peaking at number 59[34][35] and spending a total of 14 weeks on the chart.[35] On the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it peaked at number 9 on August 6, 2011, remaining there for 2 weeks[36][37] and spending a total of 19 weeks charting.[38] It was number 47 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 2011 year-end list.[39] The track peaked at number 56 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart,[40] number 20 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Songs chart[41] and number 40 on the Radio Songs chart.[42] "Man Down" was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), denoting shipments of more than 2 million units.[43] The song reached number 92 on the Canadian Hot 100.[44]

"Man Down" debuted at number 65 on the French Singles Chart on June 6, 2011, a month before its release as a single.[30][45] It rose to number 1 on July 30, remaining there for 5 consecutive weeks, and was number 2 the week before and for 3 weeks after its chart-topping run.[45] It stayed on the chart until May 12, 2012, but re-entered three weeks later.[45] The song, on and off the French chart for the rest the year, continued to appear on it sporadically in 2013.[45] After a total of 73 weeks on the chart, the track's last French chart appearance was at number 172 on August 8, 2013.[45] "Man Down" was number 1 for two consecutive weeks in the Romandie (French-speaking) region of Switzerland.[46][47]

In the United Kingdom, "Man Down" entered the Singles Chart at number 117 on June 11, 2015,[48] reaching number 75 the following week.[49] The song peaked at number 54 in its fourth week, remaining there for 2 weeks[50][51] and spending a total of 11 weeks on the chart.[52] On the UK R&B Chart, "Man Down" reached number 15 on June 26, spending 18 weeks in the top 40.[53][54] In Belgium, the song peaked at number 3 in Dutch-speaking Flanders[55] and number 2 in French-speaking Wallonia.[56] It was certified gold by the Belgian Entertainment Association (BEA) for selling more than 15,000 copies.[57] Although the song spent only 1 week on the Italian Singles Chart (at number 8), it was certified platinum by the Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana (FIMI) in 2014 for selling more than 30,000 copies.[58][59]

Music video[edit]

Background and synopsis[edit]

Director Anthony Mandler filmed the music video for "Man Down" in April 2011 on a beach in Portland Parish, on the northeastern Jamaican coast.[60][61] Rihanna told Rap-Up that the video has a "strong underlying message [for] girls like me!", and urged women to listen to their mothers.[60] On May 1, 2011, three camera phone teaser photos, of Rihanna on a beach in a white Dolce & Gabbana dress and riding a bicycle in Portland Parish, were released.[62] The music video premiered on BET's 106 & Park on May 31, 2011.[60] In an interview for MTV News, Mandler said that "Man Down" required "a strong narrative and visual" and that fans could expect something "dramatic and shocking and intense and emotions and uplifting and enlightening".[61]

The video opens as the protagonist (Rihanna) shoots and kills a man while he walks through a busy train station. She flees before a flashback to the previous day, when she rides her bike, meets friends and is alone in a bedroom at dusk. At a nightclub the protagonist dances and flirts with another club-goer, who then attacks her when she leaves the club. Disheveled, the woman cries in the street after an implied sexual assault, and the video ends as she runs home to grab a gun hidden in a dresser drawer.[63]

Controversy[edit]

The Parents Television Council (PTC) criticized Rihanna for her portrayal of "cold, calculated execution of murder" in the music video, arguing that murdering a rapist as socially-acceptable justice is impermissible. The group disagreed with Rihanna's rationale for the storyline: that the video has "a very strong underlying message [for] girls" like Rihanna.[64] According to the PTC, if Chris Brown murdered a woman in a video that premiered on BET "the world would stop" and thus Rihanna should not have been allowed to release her clip.[64] The week before the council's statement about the video it had objected to Rihanna and Britney Spears' performance of the "S&M" remix at the Billboard Music Awards, having called it a "profanity-laced, S&M sex show on prime-time broadcast television".[65]

After the PTC's statement, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd of AlterNet wrote that the group seemed to employ a double standard; it had not condemned Kanye West's music video for "Monster", in which dead women hang from ceilings and West holds a decapitated head. Shepard added that Eminem and Rihanna's video for "Love the Way You Lie" had not been criticized, despite "glorified and romanticized" domestic violence.[66] Director Anthony Mandler addressed the controversy in an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, saying that the visual evoked the reaction he intended and that it highlighted an issue still taboo in modern society.[67] He recalled growing up in an era in which artists such as Madonna released controversial music videos, and noted that contemporary videos no longer tackle taboo subjects as frequently.[67] Rihanna responded to the PTC's criticism on Twitter:

A woman with her head tiled up slightly, smiling.
Actress Gabrielle Union, a rape victim, said that she could relate to the music video's storyline.

I'm a 23 year old singer who doesn't have kids. What's up with everybody wanting me to be a parent [to their children]? I'm just a girl, I can only be our voice. We all know it's difficult and embarrassing to communicate touchy subject matters to anyone, especially our parents. The music industry isn't 'Parent's 'R Us'. We have the freedom to make art; let us! It's your job to make sure your children don't turn out like us. You can't hide your kids from society, or they'll never learn how to adapt. This is the real world![68]

Actress and women's-health advocate Gabrielle Union, a rape victim, voiced support for the video on Twitter. Union called it "brave" and, although she did not agree with the eye-for-an-eye sentiment, she could relate to the situation:

Saw Man Down by Rihanna. Every victim/survivor of rape is unique, including how they think they'd like justice to be handed out. During my rape I tried to shoot my rapist, but I missed. Over the years I realized that killing my rapist would've added insult to injury. The desire to kill someone who abused/raped you is understandable, but unless it's self defense in the moment to save your life, [it] just adds to your troubles. I repeat self defense to save yourself/protect yourself, I'm all for. Otherwise victim/survivor taking justice into your own hands with violence equals more trouble for you!![66]

Live performances and covers[edit]

Rihanna has included "Man Down" on the set lists of several concerts and tours, including the 2011 Loud Tour,[69] BBC Radio 1's Hackney Weekend on May 24, 2012[70] and the 2013 Diamonds World Tour.[71] British singer-songwriter Leona Lewis performed a mashup of her 2008 single "Better in Time" and "Man Down" at BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge in June 2011,[72] after the announcement that she would be a Hackney Weekend ambassador.[73] Lewis included the "Better in Time" and "Man Down" mashup on the set list of her 2013 Glassheart Tour.[74] Lewis' rendition received a mixed response from critics. Katherine Hollisey-McLean of the Brighton Herald complimented the fusion of "Better in Time" with reggae beats.[75] But The Guardian‍ '​s Malcolm Jack thought the performance cringeworthy and called Lewis a "reasonably priced Rihanna".[76]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Belgium (BEA)[92] Gold 15,000*
Italy (FIMI)[93] Platinum 30,000*
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[94] Gold 15,000x
United States (RIAA)[43] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label Ref.
United States May 3, 2011
  • Rhythmic radio
  • Urban radio
Island Def Jam Music Group [27][28]
France July 11, 2011 Digital download Universal Music [30]
Netherlands [32]
Switzerland July 15, 2011 [31]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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