Rihanna's Forgotten Bob Marley Cover Deserves a Rewatch
Before the mononymous icon was a multi-genre success, her cover of "Is This Love?" provided a poignant glimpse of her transformative talent.
Photo by Peter Bischoff via Getty Images
This Week in 2007 is a weekly column looking back on Lindsay Lohan, the first iPhone, George W. Bush, and everything else we loved about the year 2007.
Pop culture devotees have escaped 2017 through remembrances of 2007's most notorious celebrity moments, from the picture that turned Lindsay Lohan into a meme to Britney Spears's umbrella attack against paparazzi. Bush-era chaos girls allow fans to ponder the past instead of the scary political problems of today; it's schadenfreude as therapy.
But 2007 also offers happier nostalgia. Ten years ago this week, Rihanna was on a publicity tour for her third studio album Good Girl Gone Bad, where she sang a blues-infused cover of Bob Marley's "Is This Love?"
At the time, Rihanna was still a good girl—not the Instagram-banned-then-reinstated "bad gal" of today. She was a B-list pop singer promoting her first number one hit, "Umbrella" (originally written for Britney Spears), while wearing cocktail dresses on David Letterman. Rihanna would never have worn a Juicy Couture jumpsuit. There was nothing campy about her, unlike 2007 pop golden child Ashlee Simpson who had a prom-themed 23rd birthday party that year. Rihanna was more Ashanti's younger soul sister.
Few gamblers would have bet she'd evolve into a cross-genre star who'd boast eight Grammy wins and a DreamWorks movie, but she offered a clue on her publicity tour. Rihanna appeared on "Stripped," the radio equivalent of MTV Unplugged and chose to retool Marley's hit song.
It's a simple tune that Marley wrote inspired by his small bed in Nine Mile, Jamaica. "I wanna love you every day and every night," he hums. "We'll be together with a roof right over our heads / we'll share the shelter of my single bed."
Rihanna kept the acoustics relatively similar, but her delivery and style transformed the song. She appeared in a white cocktail dress that looked like it was made out of plastic—an outfit a high schooler could have worn to a homecoming dance the week that Bush launched the Iraq War—but sang in an achy voice, extending the phrase "share a shelter."
As the refrain hit, Rihanna increased her speed: "Is this love? Is this love? Is this love?" Her force highlights the repetition; Rihanna makes the song's narrator seem desperate. She needs the love. But the song's next "ahy, ahy, ahy" tumble out of Rihanna's mouth in her trademark vocal style, and "Is This Love?" goes from dark to sweet. It's as bubbly as "Umbrella."
Rihanna stylizes "Is This Love?" as both a lullaby and a lament, which makes for perfect nostalgia listening. Fans can lush in the 2007 of it all, while also relating to its sadness. It's more fitting for the mood of 2017 than any of the songs on the radio.