Semiotic Analysis of Rihanna's Song Work, Essay Sample

Published: 2019-10-31
Semiotic Analysis of Rihanna's Song Work, Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Music Analysis
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1423 words
12 min read

Semiotics is the study of popular music, a design tool helpful in the comprehension of the musicological depth of a given song. The advantage of semiotics helps to understand the coding in popular music and music in general. Semeiotics helps one to study the timbre, repetitions and the rhythm of a song. The study of music helps to give a clear breakdown of styles, sub-culture, lifestyle and beliefs of a given musician or a given community. This paper is going to focus its attention to the semiotic analysis of Rihanna and her songs. The paper is going to analyze the lingua used in the music, the depiction of Caribbean culture that is portrayed on the song, the use of repetitions, conventions in the music and codes (Spencer, 2014). The analysis of the use of codes and their arrangement in the music, the lyrical content, musical motif and the sound effects in the music track are all critical. Below is an introduction of the artist, the song and a semiotic analysis of the song.

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Rihanna's History and Background

Rihanna, was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in 1980 to a peasant family in the Barbados. She was born in Saint Michael and raised in Bridgetown. She started her music career in 2003 and was signed into Def Jam Recordings where she debut her first album in 2005 and her music career has been on a continuous rise over the years. She has managed to make over 200 million album sales worldwide (Spencer, 2014). At a young age she listened to reggae music w which was her pillar of music and she started singing from a tender age.

Music and Voice

Rihanna is considered highly talented due to her mezzo-soprano voice of three octanes. She has had a great experience in using the two notes vocal range, her voice is amazing and she has a great stage presence. Musically speaking, her songs encompass quite a number of musical genres, from reggae, dancehall, R&B, hip hop and dubstep. She has been writing songs with the Caribbean roots, her sound was a fusion of reggae, hip hop and a bit of R&B. She has been known to sing with the Caribbean dialect in some of her music.

The focus of Rihanna's Song Work

Work is a track on Rihannas Anti album, a song which was produced in collaboration with Drake, a famous hip hop rapper. The song is highly popular, catchy and is said to elicit emotion. The song is characterized by many repetitions of the word work and dirt, a very popular technique in pop music. In many scenes artists employ repetitions in order to give their music a catchy feeling and ease of mastery by listeners. Many commented that the song is imperfectly perfect, it wowed many global listenersand attracted media attention.


The song is featured with a lot of linguistic features, the artist mixed the use of Jamaican Patois and English. The mixture of the two languages indicates how the artist is rich in lingual tricks. She has a great command of both languages and this is portrayed in the song with connotations such as me haffi which means, I have to, others like beg you something which means I am asking you something. The use of these words indicate her cultural background and how it has influenced her musical career (Gray, 2016).


The song is structured in a chorus-verse-chorus-verse format, the chorus is a repletion of the word work,dirt and hurt. Below is a script of the songs chorus:

"Work"(feat. Drake)[Chorus - Rihanna & Drake:]Work, work, work, work, work, workHe say me have toWork, work, work, work, work, workHe see me do meDirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt!So me put inWork, work, work, work, work, workWhen you all gon'Learn, learn, learn, learn, learnMe no care if himHurt, hurt, hurt, hurt, hurting

The structure is one that employs the use of structural arrangement that enables the listener to understand the theme of the song and the ease of understanding of the music. In every sense the music is well arranged, allowing for a step by step flow of the chorus and the verses (Gray, 2016).

Conventions and Codes

Conventions and codes are used to give meaning to music videos. They can be divided into technical and symbolic. The technical aspect is developed in the way technical equipment are used to derive meaning in the music; the use of different shots, the pace, the style of editing, the camera angles and the sound used. Sound can either bediegetic or non-diegetic. Symbolic techniques include the use of gestures, poses and facial expressions to pass meaning.

The song Work is one that is shot on close angles. As the video starts, close up shots of Rihanna and Drake are displayed, the focus of the camera is on the dancers and Rihanna who is the main actor. She gives the impression of a solitude life where the character has been busy working and has not had the chance of meeting the partner for a while. Both artists give an impression of longing for each other, an expression that implies they had both missed each other and they should take advantage of the moment they have in order to have a great time and not reminisce on the past.

The scenes depicted are slow, commonly characterized in situations where individuals are intoxicated on some form of drugs.

The show of indulgence, sexual depictions, slow moves, gyrating and scenes with body exposure tells on the positive vibe that comes with drug use and longing for ones partner. The video setting gives the impression that drug use and smoking is a fun activity, the scantily dressed artist and dancers is a show of admiration of nudity, drug use and entertainment through music. Partying and clubbing is an activity enjoyed by the youth; stereotypically this video is set out to attract the attention of the youth as this is what they enjoy.


The imagery in the video is used to express longing and sexual urge. Rihanna is dressed in a fishnet dress that exposes her boobs and lower body parts. The video also focuses on gyrating by the dancers. This tells the viewer that images of sexual dance and lustful dancing is acceptable, and seduction is highly depicted on the video as it has scenes of slow motion dancing with the major focus being on the private parts.

The video basically tells the viewer that group parties, alcohol, marijuana use, slow dancing, scanty dressing are cool and acceptable. In a way the video changes the perception of many youths who watch this video, most will end up indulging in such activities in order to feel cool.

Beat and Rhythm

The beats and the flow of the rhythm of the music is one that is highly danceable. The beats get to a slow start that builds up in tempo as the song progresses. It maintains the high tempo as the song gradually drags on. The beats have close similarities to dancehall music which is of Caribbean descent and embodies the use of slow beats that match up with the voice and pace of the artist (Gray, 2016). The beats have variations of the drum beat, piano notes and other instruments. The slow and upbeat rhythm gives a feel of a slow motioned scene, one filled with slow movements but danceable at the same time.

With a 100% totality, the music lyrics and video affirm the social concept of indulgence that is common among the youth of the 21st century. The current generation is one that is characterized by indulgence, sexual activities, and drug use and group parties. The vide on the song features scanty dressing that show body parts, gyrating, slow dancing, use of marijuana, alcohol and other forms of substance abuse. All these activities are becoming a way of life for many in 21st century, the music industry and artist being the biggest promoters of these behaviors and attitudes.

The song Work by Rihanna features all the above mentioned negative traits and in the long run the youth take up such behaviors which are socially unhealthy and also very risky. Risk of drug addiction, unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection are the ills that come with adopting of behaviors depicted by artists.


Gray, J. (2016). What Do Rihanna's 'Work' Lyrics Mean? The Single Is Pretty Relatable. Romper. Retrieved 13 September 2016, from

Spencer, L. (2014). Styles, Conventions and Techniques. Music Videos. Retrieved 13 September 2016, from

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