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Russian Roulette (song)

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Russian Roulette (song)

"Russian Roulette"
Rated R
Released October 27, 2009 (2009-10-27)
Recorded 2009; Roc the Mic Studios; (New York City)
Genre Pop
Length 3:47
Rihanna singles chronology

"Run This Town"
"Russian Roulette"

"Russian Roulette" is a song recorded by Barbadian singer Rihanna, for her fourth studio album Rated R (2009). It premiered on radio stations worldwide on October 20, 2009 and was released as the album's lead single on October 27, 2009 through Def Jam Recordings. Written and produced by Ne-Yo and Chuck Harmony, "Russian Roulette" is a pop beat-driven ballad that contains dark, haunting, morbid, and tense atmospheric elements. Lyrically, the single is about an abusive romantic relationship that ended abruptly; critics noted the lyrical theme as a response to the domestic violence case between Rihanna and her boyfriend Chris Brown.

"Russian Roulette" received generally positive reviews from music critics, with many praising Rihanna's vocal performance and the song's lyrics. The song received commercial success, reaching number one in Israel, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland. It also charted within the top ten of eighteen other countries worldwide, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Sweden. The song reached number two on the UK Singles Chart and number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the UK R&B and US Hot Dance Club Songs charts.

The song's accompanying music video, directed by Rihanna's regular collaborator Anthony Mandler, includes dark imagery depicting Rihanna playing a game of the titular Russian roulette with the character of actor Jesse Williams, with a revolver. Other scenes include Rihanna in the woods where she is run over by a car, in a gas chamber, in a padded cell, and shots being fired at her underwater. "Russian Roulette" has been performed on both sides of the Atlantic, including on the sixth series of The X Factor in the United Kingdom, and on the Late Show with David Letterman in the United States. The song was included on Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth Tour (2010–11).

Writing and production

"Whatever she came with, if she came out with 'I still love you' that would have been about Chris Brown. If she came out with 'I hate your dog' that would have been about Chris Brown, too. It's just a natural reaction for people to associate 'cause she's been so tight-lipped."

—Chuck Harmony talking about the connection between Chris Brown and "Russian Roulette"[1]

Following a domestic violence case between Rihanna and her boyfriend American entertainer Chris Brown, media speculated as to whether any song featured on her fourth upcoming album would be about him.[2] In an interview with MTV News, American singer-songwriter Ne-Yo clarified that he would not write a song for Rihanna about Brown, because he considered the idea unnecessary.[2] Producer Chuck Harmony said that no matter what song Rihanna released as a lead single from the album, it would be looked at as a song about Brown.[1]

In 2009, Harmony and Ne-Yo convened together for to conceptualize a song for Rihanna, that would take her music to a further level.[1] According to Harmony, they didn't wanted to re-work the previous efforts by Rihanna—something that according to him the fans expected.[1] The producer told MTV News that they wanted to give Rihanna a film, not just a song with a length of three minutes, "I felt musically like everybody was gonna give like that 'Disturbia,' 'SOS,' kind of pop, uptempo stuff, and I really wanted the song that me and Ne-Yo did to stand out."[1]

In an interview with the same publication, Ne-Yo explained how he wrote the lyrics, "I'm listening to the track, and all I can see is Rihanna and some random person sitting across from each other at the table with a gun sitting in the middle of the table and playing Russian roulette."[3] Ne-Yo further stated that Rihanna is not afraid to trying new things and from the first moment she heard the song he knew she would like it, "I trust Rihanna to be Rihanna, and she trusts me to be me. That's the coolest thing about our relationship. I must say this song is a step in somewhat of a different direction for both of us." When Harmony heard the song, both him and Ne-Yo were aware that they should change some elements and that it has to be darker and edgier.[1]

"Russian Roulette" was recorded during the summer 2009,[1] at the Roc the Mic Studios in New York City by Marcos Tovar.[4] Mykael Alexander was the assistant recorder while Makeba Riddick made the vocal production of the song. Mike "TrakGuru" Johnson recorded the music and Kevin Hanson served as an assistant. "Russian Roulette" was mixed by Kevin "KD" Davis together with Jared Newcomb who served as an assistant. Jessie Bonds played the guitars in the song. Harmony explained that after the song was done, Rihanna called Ne-Yo and told him that "Russian Roulette" is one of her favorites, "I think overall she was comfortable with the vibe of the song and comfortable with the lyrical content of the song. She loves the song."[1]

Release and artwork

On October 14, 2009, a black metal "R" along with a message saying "The Wait is Ova" was placed on Rihanna's official website.[5] Subsequently, Rihanna posted on her official Twitter profile "#The Wait Is Ova. Nov. 23 09".[6] Speculation rose among fans that "The Wait Is Ova", literally meaning "The wait is over", would either be the name of a new single or the then-upcoming album.[5] According to Entertainment Weekly the date looked accurate for her album release and "The Wait Is Ova" would not be the title of the album.[6] Two days later, a countdown timer appeared on her website and was scheduled to end on October 20, 2009.[7] After the timer finished counting, "Russian Roulette" premiered on BBC Radio 1, the singer's official website and on American radio stations.[8] The artwork for the single features Rihanna posing topless with a strip wire around her chest and wearing an eye patch "that completes the angry look".[9]

Def Jam Recordings serviced the song to contemporary, rhythmic and urban radio in the United States on October 27, 2009 as the lead single from Rated R.[10][11][12] In an interview with NME, Rihanna explained that she and her management didn't have doubts if "Russian Roulette" should be the lead single as it was very personal and emotional track to her.[13] On November 3, the single was released for a digital download via iTunes Store worldwide.[14] The album version of "Russian Roulette" together with its instrumental were released as a CD single in Germany on November 13.[15] On December 11, seven remixes of the song were digitally released in some countries.[16]

Composition and lyrical interpretation

"Russian Roulette"
A 22-second sample of "Russian Roulette", a pop beat-driven ballad[17] that features dark, haunting, morbid, and tense atmospheric elements in the composition.[1][17]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"Russian Roulette" is a mid-tempo pop, beat-driven ballad[17][18][19] that contains dark, haunting, morbid, and tense atmospheric elements.[1][17] The song has an instrumentation consisted of guitars, piano and synths which play over a "heart beat" bass line and is accompanied with Rihanna's "affecting" vocals.[4][20][21] Eric Henderson of Slant Magazine wrote that the song's production is also decorated with the sound of a rolling dice.[22] According to Jon Pareless of The New York Times "Russian Roulette" "is paced by a heartbeat, a ticking clock and Rihanna's fearful voice."[23] The single is written in the key of F# minor, in common time, with a tempo of 83 beats per minute. Rihanna's vocal range spans from F♯3 to C5.[24] Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot called the singer's voice a "delicate instrument" that is often the least element in her song's production, however, he noted that on the song "she's squarely in the center of the action".[20]

Lyrically, "Russian Roulette" is about an abusive romantic relationship that ends abruptly, with some critics comparing them to the relationship that Rihanna had with Brown.[25][26] Kot noted that the single's lyrics compare a relationship to a fatal game of choice,[20] while Andy Jill of The Independent wrote that the its title refers to a "state of relationships".[27] Rob Harvilla of The Village Voice described the song as a spare, suspenseful, violent torch song with a literal title.[28] Los Angeles Times' Todd Martens wrote that although the song's lyrics are vague and find people speculating, they "hint at a situation one probably doesn't want to be in the middle of".[19] Sasha Resende of The Michigan Daily wrote "the ballad, which employs reckless gunplay as a not-so-subtle metaphor for a troubled relationship, achieves its seemingly morbid intent."[18]

"Russian Roulette" begins with a "searing" guitar solo that later transitions into a "pulsing" beat which stays constant until the end of the song.[25] The single opens with the lyrics, "Take a breath/ Take it deep/ Calm yourself/ He says to me/ If you play/ You play for keeps/ Take the gun/ And count to three."[25] The metaphor about the game of Russian roulette is also present in the chorus in which Rihanna sings, "And you can see my heart beating/ You can see it through my chest/ I said I'm terrified, but I'm not leaving/ I know that I must pass this test/ So just pull the trigger."[25] In the upcoming verse, the character that the singer portrays in the song it's scared that the man talking to her will always have a power over, "Say a prayer to yourself/ He says close your eyes/ Sometimes it helps/ And then I get a scary thought/ That he's here means he's never lost."[25] "Russian Roulette" ends with a sound of a gun shot, which according to Michaelangelo Matos of The A.V. Club extends the drama accompanied by "harrowing scenarios and tremulous vocals".[29]

Critical response

Nick Levine of Digital Spy praised "Russian Roulette" and called it a "masterful return effort".[17] He additionally wrote that the single is "brave, brilliantly-realized and bizarre enough to distance" the singer from the other pop or R&B performers like Lady Gaga.[17] According to Levine, the song is her best vocal performances and shows Rihanna growing in front of the audience's eyes.[17] Will Hines of Consequence of Sound called the song a worth centerpiece and further wrote that it stands out from other tracks on the album which proves that Rated R "was a cathartic process for the singer".[21] Todd Martens of Los Angeles Times wrote that although is hard to imagine the song to be played in a car or a club, it's "attention-grabbing stuff, standing in stark—emphasis on stark—contrast to much of the current pop landscape."[19] Alibhe Malone of NME wrote that Rated R is an album about power and control in which "Russian Roulette" sets the agenda.[30]

The Boston Globe's Sarah Rodman wrote that the song is moody but far too deliberate and "has a grab bag of evocative images but never quite jells".[31] A reviewer of OK! magazine wrote that the single represents a downbeat way for return to the charts for Rihanna, but can grow on you.[32] Andy Jill of The Independent stated that "Russian Roulette" and "Fire Bomb" have "inflammatory" titles.[27] Entertainment Weekly's Simon Vozick-Levinson wrote that although Rihanna took risk with releasing the song, it pays off, "Rihanna is in fine vocal form throughout, and Ne-Yo's songwriting is economical and evocative per usual."[33] A staff from MTV Newsroom thought that the single retains some sort of attitude and atmosphere that made Rihanna "such a definitive artist".[34] Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone concluded that works like "Russian Roulette", "a domestic-violence victim's confession whipped into soaring melodrama — tell us why: She was busy saying her piece in the studio."[35]

Andy Kellman of Allmusic stated that in the song Rihanna had a sudden desire to provoke even if that is in metaphorical context.[36] Pitchfork Media's Ryan Dombal concluded that the single is a bad Céline Dion song with "barrel-turning revolver noises that actually sound like a can of spray paint being shook up".[37] Rob Harvilla of The Village Voice stated that "Russian Roulette"'s composition, makes the song unpleasant for listening.[38] Chris Richards of The Washington Post wrote that the song has "plodding beat" and "forgettable hook" and additionally criticized the ending of the song with a sound of gunshot; according to him that's an attempt to "salvage its wasted potential".[39]

Chart performance

"Russian Roulette" debuted at number 100 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in the issue dated November 7, 2009.[40] The next week, the song jumped to number 75.[41] On November 21, 2009, the single sold 132,000 digital copies and reached a peak of number nine.[42] It became Rihanna's twelfth top-ten single on the chart making the singer the second female artist of the 2000s decade with most top-ten songs, only behind Beyoncé Knowles.[42] "Russian Roulette" debuted at number 56 on the Radio Songs chart for the issue dated November 7, 2009.[43] It rose to number 36 the following week,[44] and its third week on the chart it peaked at number 35.[45] For the issue dated November 7, 2009, "Russian Roulette" debuted on the Pop Songs chart at number 36,[43] earning the 'Greatest Gainer' accolade the following week, rising to number 23.[44] It climbed to number 21 in its third week, remaining its final peak.[45] It debuted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at number 62, becoming the week's 'Hot Shot Debut'. It rose to number 49 the following week, becoming its eventual peak on the chart. The song had more success on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart; it debute at number 33 and climbed to number 16 in its second week.[46] In its fourth week, it reached the top five, rising from number 11.[47] It topped the chart in its seventh week on the chart, for the issue dated February 20, 2010.[48] As of September 26, 2010, the song has sold over 830,000 copies in the United States.[49] The song also managed to peak at number nine on the Canadian Hot 100.[50]

"Russian Roulette" entered the New Zealand Singles Chart at number 19 on November 9, 2009, climbing into the top ten the following week at number nine. After fluctuating around the top ten mark over the following three weeks, it regained its peak position on December 14, 2009. It remained on the chart for 12 weeks, earning a Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand.[51][52] "Russian Roulette" debuted on the Australian Singles Chart, at number 11 on November 16, 2009. The following week it climbed to its peak of number seven. It remained in the top ten for three consecutive weeks, and for 12 weeks on the chart in total.[53] It has been certified Gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association denoting sales of 35,000 copies.[54]

"Russian Roulette" entered the UK Singles Chart at number six on November 29, 2009.[55] The following week, it rose to its peak of number two, giving Rihanna her eleventh top five single in the country.[56] Simultaneously, it peaked at number one on the UK R&B Chart and remained at the top for three consecutive weeks.[57] It was certified Silver in the United Kingdom on February 12, 2010, after selling 200,000 copies.[58] As of August 2011, the single has sold over 360,000 copies in the United Kingdom. Elsewhere in Europe, the song managed to top the charts in Norway,[59] Slovakia, and Switzerland,[60] and attained top five positions in Austria,[61] Belgium,[62][63] Finland,[64] France,[65] Germany,[66] Hungary,[67] Ireland,[68] Scotland[69] and Sweden.[70] It also reached the top ten in Denmark,[71] Italy[72] and Spain.[73]

Music video

Background and development

The music video for "Russian Roulette" was directed by Rihanna's frequent collaborator Anthony Mandler, who directed Rihanna's previous videos for "Take a Bow", "Disturbia", "Rehab" and "Wait Your Turn".[74] In November 2009, Rihanna appeared on "TV Total" in Germany to talk about her new album and preview 30 seconds of the video for the song. Mandler spoke to MTV News, stating "I think that with this song and the meaning of this song and how loaded it all is, no pun intended, how much imagery and perhaps symbolism that is loaded in this song, the only way to do it was to do something that was visually challenging".[75] The music video for the song premiered on ABC's 20/20 on November 13, 2009.[75]

The music video opens with shots of Rihanna hooded, lying on the floor of a gas chamber. Three men, dressed in black uniforms and wearing dark round glasses circulate around the singer, attempting to extort information from her. The scene then moves to a dimly lit room in which Rihanna sits at a table with her love interest (played by American actor Jesse Williams) opposite. On the table between them lies a silver revolver in which, throughout the video, they take it turns holding to their heads. Other scenes include Rihanna in a woodland at night standing in the middle of a highway before a car speeds towards her, quickly cutting to another scene, giving the impression she is run over. Elements of blood and tears and vehicular assault dominate the video.[74] In the final scenes, Rihanna is shown underwater, floating whilst being fired at; one bullet is visually seen cutting her throat. The video ends with her lover apparently committing suicide with the revolver placed between them.[76][77]


The reception of the music video was mixed, with many critics noting its dark theme. James Montgomery of MTV reviewed the video stating:,"There's seemingly no bottom to the inky depths Rihanna plumbs in her brand-new 'Russian Roulette' video, a dark, claustrophobic descent that's creepier than anything she's ever done before (including the 'Disturbia' video)".[74] Katy Hall from The Huffington Post commented that the video comes from a pretty dark place and tells more depressing story than Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance".[78] According to Daniel Kreps from Rolling Stone, there is a lot of imagery that is influenced by the altercation of Rihanna and Chris Brown from February 2009, including a speeding car that approaches Rihanna while she stands alone at night – "a moment that seems to mirror the events immediately following the assault".[79] Megan Masters from E! Online commented that the video "portrays "some seemingly real emotion with her bouncing back-and-forth between writhing around a padded cell."[80] Simon Vozick-Levinson from Entertainment Weekly supported the dark imagery used in the video, explaining, "What, you thought Rihanna was going to give 'Russian Roulette' a video full of sunshine and rainbows and peppy choreography? Her first single from Rated R is a song about violence".[81]

Live performances

Following the release of Rated R in the United Kingdom, Rihanna performed the song for the first time at the Nokia promotional concert at Brixton Academy in London.[82] Rihanna performed the song as part of a set list, which included "Wait Your Turn" and "Hard", the latter of which Rihanna was joined on stage by Young Jeezy, to perform the song together.[82] During the set, Rihanna also performed songs from her third studio album Good Girl Gone Bad, including "Disturbia", "Don't Stop the Music" and "Take a Bow". "Run This Town" and "Umbrella" were performed with assistance of Jay-Z, whose vocals are featured on the songs.[82] She performed "Russian Roulette" while particularly sitting on a throne chair. A reviewer from MTV UK stated that "The Barbadian beauty then sat seductively on stage in a throne that even the Beckhams would be proud of to belt out the ballad".[82]

After the release of the album in the United States, she embarked on some promotional performances. Rihanna performed "Russian Roulette", together with "Wait Your Turn", "Hard" and "Umbrella" on Good Morning America as part of the fall concert series in New York City.[83][84] Just a day later, she performed the song again, this time on the Late Show with David Letterman.[85] On November 29, 2009, Rihanna flew to the United Kingdom, again, to perform "Russian Roulette" on the series six of The X Factor. The performance was similar to the one from the Nokia promotional concert and featured Rihanna sitting on a throne chair.[86] In February 2010, Rihanna recorded on AOL Sessions, where she performed the song, together with "Hard", "Rude Boy", "Disturbia" and "Take a Bow".[87]

"Russian Roulette" was the opening song on Rihanna's setlist for her Last Girl on Earth Tour, after the presentation "Mad House".[88] She performed the song on a movable platform while wearing a floor-length gown covered with red LED lights.[88] Neil McCormick of The Telegraph, in a review of one of the tour's concerts, said: "She kicked off with the homicidal pop-rock ballad Russian Roulette to screen imagery of burning naked mannequins and had shed most of her clothes by her second song...".[88] Later the track was excluded from the setlist for the Australian leg of the tour, together with "Rehab", and was replaced with "Only Girl (In the World)" as the tour starter.[89]

Formats and track listing


  • Recorded at Roc the Mic Studios, New York City, New York; mixed at Chung King Studios, New York City, New York.
  • Songwriting – Shaffer Smith, Charles Harmon
  • Production – Ne-Yo, Chuck Harmony
  • Vocal production – Makeba Riddick
  • Recording – Marcos Tovar
  • Assistant recorder – Mykael Alexander
  • Music recorder – Mike "TrakGuru" Johnson
  • Assistant music recorder – Kevin Hanson
  • Mixing – Kevin "KD" Davis
  • Assistant mixer – Jared Newcomb
  • Guitar – Jessie Bonds

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Rated R, Def Jam Recordings, SRP.[4]

Charts and certifications

Radio and release history

Country Date Format Label
Worldwide[132] October 20, 2009 Radio premiere Def Jam Recordings
United States[10][11][12] October 27, 2009 Contemporary hit, rhythmic and urban radio
Australia[14] November 2, 2009 Digital download
New Zealand[140]
United Kingdom[90]
Germany[15] November 13, 2009 CD single Universal Music
France[145] November 30, 2009
Denmark[16] December 14, 2009 Digital remixes Def Jam Recordings

See also


External links

  • YouTube
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