In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.
Rihanna- “Only Girl (In The World)”
HIT #1: December 4, 2010
STAYED AT #1: 1 week
Many times a phase in an artist’s career is just that a phase. They’ll deviate from what fans and critics normally expect from them for one album in order to adapt to changing music trends or life stories. But after that, they’ll go back to what worked for them before bringing back the fans and critics they may have alienated. That’s basically the story of “Only Girl (In The World).”
“Only Girl (In The World)” was written by songwriter Crystal Johnson alongside the production duo Stargate and fellow producer Sandy Vee. The main origin story to “Only Girl (In The World)” is that Rihanna told Stargate before recording her 2010 album Loud that she wanted them to come up with fun, uptempo songs after the dark filled music of her previous album Rated R which was coming off the media attention of the Chris Brown assault.
According to Stargate member, Erik Hermansen, Only Girl (In The World) had been shown to Rihanna and Katy Perry with Perry immediately wanting to record it but figured it would work better as a Rihanna song. Rihanna immediately picked Only Girl (In The World) for Loud even before she recorded it. As Hermansen put it, “It was the easiest process ever with that song because it was brief. Rihanna recorded the song and put it out super fast. I think the secret to that one is the statement it makes in the chorus. This is as close to a diva moment as you’ll get. It’s modern in its sound, but it has that classic diva moment, where she’s really belting and singing it out. You don’t get a lot of those records.”
“Only Girl (In The World)” was released as the lead-off single for Loud but was the second song from the album to hit #1 after its second single, the Drake collaboration “What’s My Name?,” hit #1 a couple weeks before marking the first time in Hot 100 history where an album’s leadoff single wasn’t the album’s first #1.
You can definitely hear what Hermansen means when he notes how “Only Girl (In The World)” bridges both current and classic elements. Musically, it has the sound of the European electropop dominating American pop in 2010 alongside the likes of Lady Gaga but Rihanna’s defiant singing is almost reminiscent of earlier dance diva songs from ‘90s techno to ‘70s disco.
Lyrically, “Only Girl (In The World)” is both a love song and a sex song where Rihanna demands love and attention from her lover making her feel like the only girl in the world that’s ever existed. Like with “What’s My Name?,” Rihanna discusses love in sexual metaphors like, “I want you to love me like I’m a hot ride/I wanna make your beg for it/Then I’mma make you swallow your pride/Baby, I’ll tell you all my secrets that I’m keeping/You can come inside/
Like the last Rihanna #1, “Only Girl (In The World)” is clearly the work of people who know what they’re doing and it’s a fine enough piece of music. But like the last song, it’s also a piece of music that doesn’t register much with me. The synth touches are all nice and try to add flavor when they go all out on the chorus but it all just evaporates after listen. Rihanna gives off a more impressive singing performance in attempting for a dance diva quality on the chorus but it’s a performance that can also get annoying. It winds up as another forgettably annoying song.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Ellie Goulding covering “Only Girl (In The World)” in a BBC Radio 1 performance
(Ellie Goulding’s highest-charting single 2011’s “Lights” peaked at #2. It’s a 9.)