The Ones of the ’10s: Rihanna’s “We Found Love” (feat. Calvin Harris)

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.

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Rihanna- “We Found Love” (feat. Calvin Harris)

HIT #1: November 12, 2011

STAYED AT #1: 10 weeks

EDM finally breaks through in America. It just needed Rihanna to do so. 

EDM and other electronic dance music styles like dubstep had been rising to the mainstream surface throughout 2011 and at the beginning of the year, we got the Britney Spears #1 “Hold It Against Me” which incorporated elements of EDM and dubstep through its use of a post-chorus drop and breakdown. But “Hold It Against Me” was more or less a creation from the pop machine far removed from the people who were involved in these electronic styles as it came from pop mega-producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke. 

So the success of “We Found Love” with Calvin Harris, arguably one of the most successful EDM artists of the ‘10s marks a new point in pop music. It marks a moment where EDM DJs began to rise from the underground and penetrate the American mainstream making EDM/dubstep and other electronic dance-oriented genres the new sound of youth culture in the early ‘10s. 

For Calvin Harris, success had been a long time coming. Growing up in Scotland as the son of a biochemist, Adam Richard Wiles became fixated on electronic music as a teenager and soon enough began creating his music through his computer. After releasing a few songs, Harris moved down to London hoping to succeed in the city’s club scene but the experience was not what he hoped for as opportunities were dim. So he moved back to Scotland where he constantly posted music on MySpace which eventually caught the attention of an A&R guy from EMI records leading to Harris being signed in 2006. 

Harris’ first album, the ‘80s inspired I Created Disco, was a hit upon release in 2007 going Top Ten on the UK Albums Chart and netting two UK Top 10 singles “Acceptable In The ‘80s” and “The Girls.” Harris quickly became one of the hottest electronic DJs and producers in England working on music for many artists that would influence his entire career. Of all his electronic DJ peers, Calvin Harris was one of the few who played the pop stardom game. He didn’t wear any costumes on stage obscuring his identity and even sang on some of his songs. By the time of his second album, 2009’s Ready For The Weekend, Harris was a certified hitmaker in England as the album went to #1 as well as its lead single “I’m Not Alone.”

While Harris was one of the hottest new acts in his home country, he was by this point a virtual unknown in America. He was such an unknown up until “We Found Love” that his singles weren’t making any major chart impact. His two singles in 2011, “Bounce” and “Feel So Close,” a single released in August 2011, a month before “We Found Love,” did little on the Hot 100. Harris needed an x-factor to get over in America. That x-factor was Rihanna.

Rihanna and Calvin Harris started working together when Harris was brought on to support Rihanna during her Last Girl on Earth and Loud tours. During that time, Rihanna asked Harris to write a song for the follow-up album to Loud, Talk The Talk, her sixth album in six years. The original plan was to reissue Loud with new tracks but Rihanna and her management eventually decided to instead release a full follow-up album.

Initially, “We Found Love” was not intended for Rihanna. Leona Lewis and Nicole Scherzinger have both said they were approached to sing “We Found Love” but each turned it down. That turned out to be a good decision cause “We Found Love” wound up being Rihanna’s biggest hit ever spending more weeks at #1 than even her true signature song, the 2007 #1 smash “Umbrella” did. 

Harris’ lyrics on “We Found Love” aren’t much of anything. It’s a vague love song describing a romantic situation in as few lyrics as possible with some head-scratching lines that could have benefitted from a re-write like “Feel the heartbeat in my mind.” (Wouldn’t you feel a heartbeat in your chest. I want answers.) But the main reason the song has resonated is the hook which repeats the line “we found love in a hopeless place” nonstop.

Harris himself admitted in an interview that the lyrics didn’t really mean anything, “It could have been Jumpin Jaks in Dumfries although that has sadly closed down. The thing is, I don’t know exactly what I was thinking about. I was just playing the song and doing nonsense singing to see if the syllables fitted the song. It was like that. I was singing nonsense and that’s how the lyrics happened.” Yeah no shit.

But lyrics don’t matter that much when it comes to EDM or most dance songs. It’s more about the pulse of the beat and the singing taking you away and dominating the song. In its final form, “We Found Love” sounds like the euphoric feeling you get when you’re at a club or high on some drug which is illustrated by the song’s music video showing Rihanna and a boyfriend designed to look like her infamous ex Chris Brown going out on the town doing drugs, getting involved in raves, and having sex wherever they can. Rihanna definitely sells that feeling of being young performing in a big-voiced dance diva style where she gives it her all as if she’s means every word she sings.

It’s that kind of attitude that has helped “We Found Love” garner acclaim from music critics even appearing on many music publication’s best songs of the 2010s lists. Stereogum’s Tom Breihan, who placed “We Found Love” at #5 on Stereogum’s 200 Best Songs of the 2010s list, noted how the song perfects the peak-of-the-night anthem that turns a simple night out into a moment that lasts forever, “Rihanna takes what could be a meaningless lyric and gives it a grand, icily vulnerable reading, transforming it into something that will stick in your soul forever.” He’s right about that but I still don’t care much for the song. 

Seeing music critics give as much praise to “We Found Love” just makes me shake my head. The song is nothing bad but I just never gave it much thought as with many Rihanna hits. Like with a lot of Rihanna hits, everything about it evaporates after listen. She just doesn’t give me much of a personality to latch onto. Even Calvin Harris’ production falls short for me with its mixing of ‘90s house beat with early ‘10s EDM. The post-chorus buildup to the all-important drop just doesn’t have much of a punch. The song should hit hard with the production and vocal performance but it just doesn’t for me. 

Calvin Harris wouldn’t get back to #1 after “We Found Love” but the success of the song helped to break him through in America. For example, “Feel So Close” the single released before “We Found Love” that did nothing on the charts at first got a second wind peaking at #12 on the Hot 100 in April 2012. Since then, Harris became one of the most reliable EDM hitmaking producers of the ‘10s continuing to land hits either from collaborating with singers or by singing himself. 

Harris has had three Top 10 hits since “We Found Love.” “Sweet Nothing,” the 2013 Florence Welch collaboration peaked at #10. (It’s a 5. As a member of Florence + The Machine, Welch’s highest-charting single, “Dog Days Are Over,” peaked at #21 in 2010.) “Summer,” Harris’ sung 2014 EDM hit peaked at #7. (It’s a 4.) And lastly, his 2016 Taylor Swift written Rihanna collaboration “This Is What You Came For” peaked at #3. (It’s another 4. Taylor Swift will eventually appear in this column.) 

Harris has still been active but as EDM sounds began to fade out in the late ‘10s he has switched up his style switching to other dance styles like funk and disco for his 2017 album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 and retro house on hits like “How Deep Is Your Love” with Disciples and “One Kiss” with Dua Lipa. He still tours and releases new music and collaborations every once in a while. He’s doing fine.

Rihanna, meanwhile, continued to be one of the most dependable hit-making pop stars of the ‘10s with Talk The Talk once again netting a bunch of hits. She’ll be back in this column again.

GRADE: 5/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from 2016’s American Honey where “We Found Love” plays as Shia Labeouf and Sasha Lane see each other for the first time:

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