If what you came for was jubilant pop – ‘We Found Love Pt. II’ – you’ll probably be disappointed by the glassy-eyed stare of Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ latest collaboration. ‘This Is What You Came For’ was announced just two days ago (April 27), signalled ahead of time by the pair’s onstage collaboration at Coachella earlier this month. It arrives five years after their last mega-smash, ‘We Found Love’, and expectations were duly raised for another banger full of heart: a banger for all seasons.
‘We Found Love’ was the impossible convergence of pop variables, creating a year-defining hit, blasting Harris into the big leagues of EDM and becoming one of Rihanna’s signature songs, treading even on ‘Umbrella’’s toes. ‘This Is What You Came For’ – a Calvin Harris song featuring Rihanna, it should be noted, not the other way around – is way more about Calvin’s production smarts than Rihanna’s powerhouse vocal. This morning on Radio 1, he admitted she hadn’t heard the final mix until he played it to her at Coachella two weeks ago. Her involvement in the track doesn’t appear to be particularly deep from any angle.
The song opens with delicate harp and about 15 seconds of unaltered vocals from the Barbadian star, before Harris manipulates her voice into an undeniable, but totally synthetic hook. Then he adds a bit of syncopated marimba and away we go, into a tale of a dream girl killing it on the dancefloor: “Lightning strikes every time she moves, and everybody’s watching her, but she’s looking at you“. As it builds to a climax, he pulls it right back, eschewing the EDM drop in favour of voguish and mellow tropical house. You’ll either love that decision, or you’ll hate it, but as a Calvin Harris song, this works. It will definitely be a hit.
The question is really why he’s wasted Rihanna on it. Anyone could sing this melody, and it wouldn’t feel much different. By manipulating her voice so much he’s stripped away the personality that made ‘We Found Love’ such a standout, and her latest album ‘Anti’ so compelling. The result is surprisingly soulless.