Rihanna released her debut studio album Music of the Sun in August 2005. An R&B album, Music of the Sun incorporates musical elements of dance-pop and caribbean music genres such as dancehall and reggae. The album received mixed reviews from music critics, who complimented its dancehall and Caribbean-inspired songs, while others criticized some of the production. Music of the Sun debuted at number 10 on the US Billboard 200 and peaked in the top-forty of album charts in Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It produced two singles: "Pon de Replay" and "If It's Lovin' that You Want", the former of which peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and number one on the US Hot Dance Club Songs chart.
When discussing the conception for her second studio album with L.A. Reid—Chairman and CEO of The Island Def Jam Music Group—Rihanna talked about experimenting with different music by incorporating some rock on the album. In February 2006, she announced that she is going to release her second studio album in April 2006 under the name A Girl like Me. When asked about the album, in an interview with MTV News, Rihanna stated, "Vocally I've matured so much, and lyrically I'm speaking about stuff I would never sing about [before]. "Now I'm singing about experiences that I've gone through and stuff that other 18-year-old girls go through, so it's all about progression." In regards to the title of the album, Rihanna explained, "It's called A Girl like Me because it's a very personal album, It's my baby. It's all about what it's like to be a girl like me, speaking of personal experiences as well as things that girls like me have gone through."
For writing and production of A Girl like Me Rihanna teamed up once again with record producers Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers who produced most of the tracks on her previous album, J. R. Rotem and Norwegian production duo Stargate. While recording the track "If It's Lovin' That You Want" for her debut album, Rihanna received a visit from American singer Ne-Yo, in which they met for the first time, although they never got the chance to collaborate on Music of the Sun. When production started, she came up with the idea of working with Ne-Yo. When asked about collaborating with Ne-Yo, Rihanna stated, "We never got around to it on the first album. So for the second album, I was like, 'You know what? I have to work with that guy Ne-Yo.' And it made it a lot easier because he's on the same label I am." In addition to working with Jamaican reggae and dancehall artist Sean Paul, "Break It Off" was recorded in Paul's hometown Kingston, Jamaica.
While working on A Girl like Me, Rihanna not only recorded songs but also promoted Music of the Sun. She commented; "We were so busy promoting the first album while trying to get this one done, working some crazy hours. That's why this album is so close to me, 'cause I really put my heart and soul into it." "SOS" was the first recorded track for the album, a song which was originally intended for Christina Milian's third studio album So Amazin'; however, she rejected it. Reid had Rihanna in mind as the next artist to record the song. The song was recorded within three days and eventually later released as the lead single from A Girl like Me. "Kisses Don't Lie" was penned and produced by Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken and it was one of the three songs on the album on which Rihanna received writing credit. The song was written and recorded in Barbados, and was described by Rihanna as mashed up rock and reggae.
In the song "Unfaithful," penned by Ne-Yo, Rihanna wanted to speak about personal things that girls her age at the time were experiencing, which was inspired by the album's title and according to her it is one of her favorite songs on the album. "We Ride" was written and produced by Stargate, who also produced and co-wrote "Unfaithful". For the song "Break It Off," which features Jamaican artist Sean Paul, Rihanna flew down to Jamaica to record the song with Sean Paul. The song was written by Donovan Bennet and it was co-written by Rihanna and Sean Paul. The album's closing tracks were written by Rogers and Sturken and Rihanna who co-wrote the album's title track "A Girl like Me". Rogers and Sturken produced and wrote eight of the album's sixteen tracks.
Musically, A Girl like Me reveals new types of musical genres compared to her light and uptempo debut effort. Her goal on the album was to find songs that express the many things young women want to say, but might not know how. In an interview, Rihanna said, "Now I'm singing about experiences that I've gone through and stuff that other 18-year-old girls go through, so it's all about progression." Reggae, present in her debut album, subsequently continues into A Girl like Me. However, the album was the final to feature any caribbean musical genres including dancehall and reggae. She used influences of different genres including rock music and like the roots of her previous album, reggae and dancehall. The new effort presents her new side with the ballad elements. The album also follows the disco-ish mode of its predecessor but introduces new genres to her music with the old rock and roll which is being represented by rock and reggae mash-up "Kisses Don't Lie," although she stated that the album is not overall a rock influence. Rihanna commented: "Growing up in Barbados, I wasn't exposed to a lot of rock music, We really love reggae and Soca music and hip-hop. But when I moved to the United States last year, I was exposed to a lot of different types of music, rock being one of them, and I fell the song in love with it. [Now] I love rock music." Celia SanMiguel of Vibe writes that A Girl like Me is "a pop album, one informed but not bounded by Rihanna's Caribbean roots", and that it "dispels any lingering notions of her as a dancehall-meets-R&B ambassador." Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine calls it "a record that almost identically" veers between "sunny dancehall/dub-pop", "hip-hop-infused club bangers", and "adult-oriented ballads".
Lyrically the album's theme speaks of girls' experiences. The album was widely addressed a personal album, speaking about what it is like to be "a girl like me"—things that girls Rihanna's age at the time were going through—as well as every aspect of her life: people being cheated on, falling in and out of love, people hating on you, having a feeling towards a guys and partying. "SOS" tells about a guy who gives the girl a feeling that is very overwhelming—he drives the girl insane, and she needs someone to rescue her from it. "Kisses Don't Lie" talks about a girl who's in love with a guy but is stuck between an ultimatum because she's afraid of getting hurt. "Unfaithful" documents the tragic decay of a relationship when another person starts cheating. According to Rihanna, "I'm referred to as a murderer in that song, Meaning, I'm taking this guy's life by hurting him, cheating on him. He knows, and it makes him feel so bad. It's killing him to know that another guy is making me happy." "We Ride" dealt with lyrics talking about how the guy promises that they will be together forever but she continues to describe moments which he did things that could tear them apart. The lyrics of "Dem Haters" portrays a message about how "haters" try to bring people down and recommends excluding them from your life. "Final Goodbye" deals with lyrics about a woman who wants to spend the rest of her life with a man but feels that she needs to reveal a secret before moving on. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" continues the avenue of love similar to "SOS". However "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" portrays a message about being in love, whereas "SOS" talks about having an overwhelming feeling towards the guy.
The album's opening track "SOS," is an uptempo dance song incorporating the key section, bass line, and drum beat of the 1981 version of "Tainted Love" as performed by Soft Cell. Although "SOS" contains a more dance-oriented beat to create a soulful anthem of young love. The song received positive reviews by critics, calling it "a sexy club tune." The song also features three different music video's including two promotional music videos for Agent Provocateur and Nike, and the official music video which was directed by Chris Applebaum. "Kisses Don't Lie," the second song, uses a mixture of Caribbean elements and electric guitar with the mesmerizing bassline. On the ballad song "Unfaithful" the background instrumentation features a piano and strings. The song is the third track and the second single from the album and was written by label-mate and fellow R&B musician Ne-Yo. Despite its strong chart performance, the song was panned by critics stating that "Rihanna's voice is not particularly strong." The fourth track, "We Ride," features the gently strummed acoustic guitar with the production of Stargate. The song received mixed reviews from critics and was less successful than the other singles. In the video, directed by Anthony Mandler, Rihanna was featured hanging with her friends and scenes of her at the beach. After being the lowest-charting single in the United States from the album, the song became the last single to feature a music video.
"Dem Haters" features guest vocals by Barbadian singer Dwane Husbands. The song is the album's fifth track and was produced by Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers. The sixth track "Final Goodbye" is a mid-tempo ballad containing ambient of strummed acoustic guitar. The following track is a collaboration with Jamaican artist Sean Paul containing a dance hall influence. "Break It Off" is the seventh track and final single from the album. The song, not featuring a music video, still managed to reach the top ten in the United States. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," the album's seventh track, is another collaboration song featuring Jamaican rapper J-Status. The Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers-produced "Selfish Girl," is the eighth song of the album containing the reggae elements. The tenth track, "P.S. (I'm Still Not Over You)," is an R&B song which was also produced by Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers. "A Girl like Me," the albums eleventh song, is another R&B song although it also contains the reggae elements. The album's third ballad, "A Million Miles Away," is the twelfth song on the album. It received mixed reviews from critics commenting that the song "kill whatever momentum the album has." The closing track on the album, is a sequel to her second single from her debut album which features American rapper Cory Gunz.
"SOS" was released as the album's lead single March 27, 2006, as a physical maxi single. The maxi single included both the radio edit and instrumental versions of "SOS", as well as the album track "Break It Off", which features Jamaican reggae singer Sean Paul. "SOS" contains a sped up sample of "Tainted Love", which was originally written by Ed Cobb in 1965 and popularised by English synthpop duo Soft Cell, when they released their cover version in 1981. It received positive reviews from music critics, especially for its energy and Rihanna's vocal performance. It peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and became the singer's first number one single on the Hot 100. It also peaked at number one of the US Hot Dance Club Play chart and US Pop Songs chart, as well as number two on the UK Singles Chart. Two music videos, an official version and a Nike promotional version, were directed by Chris Applebaum.
"Unfaithful" was released as second single from A Girl like Me on June 20, 2006. Written by American singer Ne-Yo, Mikkel S. Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen, the song was originally titled "Murderer" and was inspired by the works of American rock band Evanescence. It garnered a mixed response from critics; many praised its powerful balladry, but some criticized the lyrics. The single peaked at number six on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart as well as at number two on the UK Singles Chart. The song's accompanying music video was directed by Anthony Mandler, and features Rihanna in a love triangle in which she struggles to choose between her husband and her romantic interest, and regrets having cheated on the former. Rihanna performed the song at the 2006 MOBO Awards, and it has been included on the set lists of her arena tours: Good Girl Gone Bad Tour (2007–09), Last Girl on Earth Tour (2010–11), and the Loud Tour (2011).
"We Ride" was released as the third single from the album; the song was sent to US mainstream and rhythmic radio stations to be added to their playlists on August 21, 2006. It was written by Makeba Riddick, Mikkel S. Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen, while production of the song was handled by Eriksen and Hermansen under their production team name, Stargate. "We Ride" was well received by critics, many of whom praised it as a good cruising song. It failed to chart on the US Hot 100, but managed to top the US Hot Dance Club Play chart and peaked at number 34 on the US Pop Songs chart. It failed to match the success of the album's previous singles, peaking within the top twenty of the singles charts in Ireland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. Its accompanying music video was directed by Mandler, who had previously directed the music video for "Unfaithful". According to Rihanna, the video for "We Ride" is not as "out there" as the video's for "SOS" and "Unfaithful" were, as she wanted to do something less provocative to re-connect with people her own age.
"Break It Off" was released as the album's fourth and final single; it was released first in the United States on November 13, 2006, and internationally over four months later on February 27, 2007. The song was written by Donovan Bennett, Sean Paul Henriques (better known as Sean Paul), K. Ford and Rihanna, and it was recorded in Jamaica where Rihanna joined Paul on vacation. The garnered a positive reaction from critics, who hailed it as one of the album's highlights and a return to her dancehall roots. "Break It Off" managed to attain more chart success compared to the previous single "We Ride", and peaked at number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and number six on the US Pop Songs chart. Aside from the US charting, the only singles chart the song made an appearance on was in Belgium, where it attained a peak position of number 10. No music video for the song was shot, although Rihanna performed the song at the Radio One Big Weekend in 2007, after her third studio album Good Girl Gone Bad had been released, and performed "Break It Off" as part of set list with other songs from all three of her albums. It was also included on the Good Girl Gone Bad Tour.
"A Girl like Me" and "A Million Miles Away" made chart appearances of the Spanish singles chart in 2009, three years after the release of A Girl like Me. The title track, co-written by Rogers, Sturken and Rihanna, peaked at number 25. The song prompted a mixed reaction from critics; Quentin B. Huff of Popmatters praised "A Girl like Me", writing that the song is "refreshingly unpretentious" compared to "Unfaithful", which Huff labelled as "overboard with melodrama." However, Celia San Miguel for Vibe criticized the song, and called it a "stumble" on the album and a "yawn-inducing slow jam." "A Million Miles Away" was written by Rogers and Sturken, and peaked at number 38 on the Spanish singles chart. Huff wrote that the song, along with "Unfaithful", was not as good as "Final Goodbye".
During the recording process of A Girl like Me, Rihanna served as the opening for Gwen Stefani during the Harajuku Lovers Tour 2005 in Japan to promote her debut album. While performing on the tour, she performed some of the songs from the album. Before the release of the album, Rihanna was given substantial promotional support from MTV, which highlighted "SOS" on Total Request Live, when she premiered the music video on March 23, 2006. She performed the album's lead single "SOS" on The Ellen DeGeneres Show February 20, 2006 and at the 2006 MuchMusic Video Awards on June 18, 2006. She then took part in advertising Nike and J.C. Penney by shooting a promotional music video for the album's lead single supported by Nike. The album was released through Def Jam Recordings as a physical CD and as a digital download on April 25, 2006 in North America. On the day of the album's release date, she made a guest appearance on MTV's Total Request Live to promote the album.
The album was released eight months after Music of the Sun was released. According to her; "We just felt like it was time. It made no sense waiting...you should never put time on music. You should never say, "Okay, Music of the Sun has to be out at least a year and a half before we start with--" No. That's what's great about the music business. When you feel it's time, you just go for it. And we felt like it was time to come up with a new album." The album's lead single was included on the soundtrack of the film Bring It On: All or Nothing as well as Rihanna making a cameo in the film as herself; her debut single, "Pon de Replay," was also included in the soundtrack.
Rihanna performed the album's second single, "Unfaithful", on Sunrise. On AOL Music, she recorded her first Sessions@AOL broadcast with her, among other content exclusive to AOL members. An expanded double-disc deluxe edition of the album was re-released in Germany titled A Girl like Me: Deluxe Edition on November 17, 2006. Aside from the original track listing, the new edition features a bonus CD containing leftover tracks from A Girl like Me and Music of the Sun. There is also an enhanced CD featuring two of her music videos. In order to promote further the album, Rihanna embarked on the Rock Tha Block Tour and then toured with Pussycat Dolls on the PCD World Tour from November 2006 to February 2007 in the United Kingdom. She also recorded songs for advertising the Happy fragrance by Clinique and deodorant Secret of the company P&G.
A Girl like Me received generally mixed to positive reviews from music critics. Dan Charnas of The Washington Post observed a "much broader musical palette than the wannabe-yonces" and stated, "Sophomore slump avoided, Rihanna actually digs into some ambitious pop ballads". David Jeffries of AllMusic said that "Versatile urban dance-pop singer Rihanna gracefully avoids the sophomore slump with A Girl like Me, a less tropical-flavored, more urban effort than her sun-and-fun debut." Jeffries compared the track "Kisses Don't Lie" to Damien Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock" and commented that "the album gets bolder and seamlessly bounces from genre to genre ... Rihanna goes from a film noir song that elegantly uses murder as a metaphor for cheating ('Unfaithful') to an easy-flowing weekend cruiser ('We Ride')." Ruth Jamieson of The Observer noted "Chuck in a bit of Sugababes-esque harmony, some M.I.A.-style electro and a dollop of reggae, and you're even closer to getting Rihanna. If you liked last year's ridiculously catchy 'Pon De Replay', there's more of the same here."
In a negative review, Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times wrote that, apart from "SOS", "Unfaithful", and "Break It Off", "this scattershot album is full of duds". Barry Walters of Rolling Stone felt that the album "doesn't deliver anything else as ingenious as its lead single: Lightweight dancehall and R&B jams lack the single's ear-bending boldness. But the burning rock guitar of "Kisses Don't Lie" and haunted strings of "Unfaithful" help make "A Girl like Me much more likable." Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani felt that its ballads are "at least a decade too mature for the teenage singer's minor vocal talents." He added that, despite the clever sampling on "SOS", "comparatively gooey and spineless slow numbers like 'Final Goodbye' and 'A Million Miles Away' kill whatever momentum the album has." Robert Christgau of MSN Music graded the album a "dud", indicating "a bad record whose details rarely merit further thought."
A Girl like Me debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 selling 115,000 copies in its first week, nearly twice the debut sales of Rihanna's debut album Music of the Sun which sold 69,000. The album has been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in the United States. As of June 2015, the album has sold 1.4 million copies in the US. The album debuted at number six in Ireland on the Irish Album Chart and then reached number six on the charts. A Girl like Me was later certified 2x platinum by the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA). It also debuted at number six in the United Kingdom on the UK Album Chart with sales of 24,000 on the issue dated April 24, 2006. The album reached its peak of number five in July due to the popularity of new single "Unfaithful" and it has sold almost 600,000 copies in the United Kingdom. In Europe, the album has achieved a platinum certification. The album topped charts in Canada on the Canadian Albums Chart and was later certified platinum.
In Australia, the album debuted twelve on the ARIA Albums Chart. The album later reached the number nine position and remained on the chart for twenty-one weeks. It was certified platinum for shipping 70,000 by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). In Switzerland, A Girl like Me peaked at number six remaining at the number six position for two consecutive weeks and on the chart for thirty-nine. The album was certified platinum selling over 30,000 copies. In 2006, the album ended the year as the 20th best-selling album in the world. In Belgium, A Girl like Me debuted at number forty-five on the Belgian Albums Chart in April 2006. The album further climbed up the chart to reach the top ten at number ten. A Girl like Me managed to reach the top twenty in Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, France and Denmark. The album have sold 3,600,000 units worldwide.Notes
^a denotes a vocal producer
^b denotes a co-producer
"SOS" samples "Tainted Love", written by Ed Cobb and performed by Gloria Jones.
Credits for A Girl like Me adapted from liner notes.Musicians