Rihanna’s new video for “Diamonds,” the first single off her forthcoming album, is not overtly glamorous—which is odd, because it features so many jewels. The piece manages a pared-down mood even as Rihanna’s tattooed fingers run through a generous pile of diamonds. She’s not wearing them, though; she’s rolling them into a blunt. This sets the tone for the remainder of the video, full of naturalistic but non-sequitur imagery—Rihanna running down a country road, Rihanna floating in the sea, Rihanna standing on a grassy hilltop. Each picture is beautiful, but ever-so-slightly awry.
About a minute in, that general sense of unease crystallizes in a pop-culturally-packed picture: a shot of two tattooed arms, clasping each other but drifting apart, one identifiable as Rihanna’s, the other eerily resembling Chris Brown’s. Tabloid conjecture, maybe. But every shot is very vaguely suggestive, and in sequence those suggestions are hard to deny. The living-room debris she kneels in conjures images of domestic violence. Her face, bare of makeup, and later on slightly blued in the water (which is menacingly black), begins to recall that painful photograph that circulated the night of the 2009 Grammys. The image of her running down a nondescript road, disheveled, looking back fearfully again and again at a pursuant pair of car lights, is even more uncomfortably specific.
In the end, the singer finds herself amidst a fiery war zone, a mob of people darting in the periphery. The clearest figure is a masked man whose back is on fire, advancing calmly. She faces him with her cheeks spattered in dirt, ash, blood—something that resembles bruising.
The takeaway is unclear. Spliced with that final wartime scene are shots of two dark horses that might suggest a resolution indifferent to public clamor. The new album, set to drop on November 19, is titled Unapologetic, and is exactly that. Its cover is just as evocative as its name, and it features a sure-to-be-controversial duet between Rihanna and Brown. Consider this video a teaser and a primer.