Sounding Board

If Rihanna Can Go Platinum Giving ANTI Away For Free, What Does Platinum Even Mean?

Michael Nelson | February 2, 2016 - 11:47 am

Last October, Jay Z was photographed exiting Samsung’s Silicon Valley offices, where he’d reportedly taken a meeting with Daren Tsui, the vice president of music at Samsung Media Solutions Center. That bit of news led to speculation that Jay was in talks with Samsung to sell his newly acquired streaming service, Tidal, to the South Korean company. It’s a hypothesis that made sense in the moment and still makes sense today: Tidal has been something of a noble failure since its dramatic relaunch in March 2015. Looking back now, though, it seems equally likely Jay was meeting with Samsung to finalize the details of a $25 million sponsorship of his Roc Nation Management company’s prize star: Rihanna. And among other things, that sponsorship would guarantee that Rihanna’s eighth album, ANTI, would go platinum on its day of release.

How would that work exactly? Well, either as part of the $25 million pact or through an unrelated additional purchase, some undisclosed sum would be used to buy one million digital copies of ANTI (at a reduced bulk rate) from Jay’s Roc Nation Records, and those downloads would be given away, one at a time, to the first million customers who went to Tidal and typed in the appropriate access code.

It’s an unconventional, even counterintuitive approach — one that seems to prioritize platinum plaques above actual revenue — and it’s cloaked in confusion, secrecy, and conflicts of interest. But before we deal with all that, let’s back up a little bit so we can get a better idea of just how we arrived at this impossibly strange and troubling place.

***

Jay Z has been overseeing Rihanna’s career since February 2005, right around the time of her 17th birthday. In late 2004, the Barbadian singer was shopping her newly recorded demo, and Jay was the first label executive to respond. Jay had been appointed president and CEO of Def Jam only months earlier, and he met with Rihanna in the label’s Manhattan offices. Per Rihanna’s account, “The audition definitely went well” — although the story as she tells it sounds a little uncomfortable in retrospect:

[Def Jam] locked me into the office — till 3AM. And Jay Z said, “There’s only two ways out. Out the door after you sign this deal. Or through this window …” And we were on the 29th floor. Very flattering.

Rihanna did sign the deal, agreeing to deliver six albums for Def Jam. Six months later, the first of those albums, Music Of The Sun, arrived in stores. Between 2005-2012, Rihanna released seven albums with Def Jam, and during that time, she became one of the biggest stars in the world — and one of the best-selling artists of all time — moving more than 200 million units internationally, and racking up more than 100 million Gold & Platinum song certifications, according to the Recording Industry Association Of America, aka the RIAA.

In the meantime, Jay stepped down from his administrative role at Def Jam in 2007. In 2008, he signed a $150 million 360 deal with concert-promoter juggernaut Live Nation — an agreement whose terms “would include financing for Jay Z’s own entertainment venture, as well as the rights to his recordings and tours for the next decade. The deal would [also] provide money for a host of business ventures, which are expected to include a label, music publishing, talent consulting and management services.” In 2009, Jay reportedly bought out the remainder of his contract with Def Jam for $5 million, and soon afterward, he launched his Live Nation-funded company, Roc Nation.

And where Jay went, Rihanna followed. In 2010, the singer ditched her then-manager, Marc Jordan, to sign on with the fledgling Roc Nation Management. In 2014, Rihanna parted ways with Def Jam and inked a contract with Roc Nation Records.

Almost immediately after signing that new deal, Rihanna started work on her eighth album (and her Roc Nation debut), which we later learned would be called ANTI. Rihanna was reportedly “employ[ing] a revolving stable of full-time engineers to work on her tracks and vocals — at a cost of more than $300,000 during the span of 18 months.” And on 10/29/2015 — two weeks after Jay took that meeting with Tsui — it was revealed that “South Korean electronics giant Samsung has reached an unprecedented $25 million deal to sponsor Rihanna’s upcoming album and tour.”

The proximity of those two events — Jay’s meeting with Samsung and the announcement of Samsung’s deal with Rihanna — could be nothing more than a coincidence. According to Billboard, the Samsung deal had been completed by January 2015, and the two parties were “initially targeting a June 2015 release with Live Nation ­exploring ­summer tour dates.” But delays mounted: The album didn’t arrive in June, or September, or November (all of which had reportedly been target dates). Per Billboard:

The repeated release-date shifts made Samsung anxious, according to one source. With such a big outlay of cash, the company was stuck, ­holding back on its ­promotional campaign until Rihanna felt ­comfortable with the album.

Then, on 11/22/2015, the Samsung campaign kicked off in earnest, via ad spots aired during the American Music Awards, which drove viewers to “an immersive online experience — a website and game — where consumers can put together clues and possibly find out when Rihanna’s new album will be released.”

It seems Samsung could have used some clues, too. Last Wednesday, Rihanna dropped ANTI’s first single, the Drake-featuring “Work.” According to Billboard: “Mere hours before ‘Work’ arrived, the album was still being mastered.” But mere hours later … ANTI leaked.

***

Suddenly, everyone was forced to scramble. Bizarrely, ANTI’s leak hadn’t occurred through the channels via which we’ve been conditioned to expect these things — torrent trackers such as the Pirate Bay, for instance — but on Tidal itself. The album appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as mysteriously. Then … it appeared again, this time for good. A little before midnight on Wednesday 1/27, Rihanna tweeted that fans could download the album for free through Tidal by using the customer code “ANTI,” and she also included a disembodied mention of the album’s patron.

The album’s leak had been a mistake, but the basic parameters of the giveaway had been worked out well in advance. According to Uproxx, “[Rihanna] partnered with Tidal and Samsung in an effort to provide one million ‘complimentary codes’ allowing fans to grab the LP the moment it released on Wednesday.”

The source of those funds and the nature of that partnership are unclear. In any case — whether the cost of those “complimentary codes” had been bundled into the $25 million deal Samsung had struck with Jay or whether Samsung had paid for them separately — the end result is this: Samsung bought a million copies of ANTI to distribute to a million different US residents. There was never the slightest question about whether ANTI would go platinum; that much had been guaranteed when Samsung paid Jay for the privilege of giving away those downloads. As for everything else, though? Questions abound.

Last week, Tidal’s Director Of Marketing Grace Kim explained to Spin that the leak had taken everyone by surprise, saying:

When we started this campaign, we expected this to take a week.

It stands to reason that the “week” they expected would have included another elaborate interactive element, much like the “immersive online experience” that had been launched in late November. But the leak immediately endangered any such campaign, and rather than go through with the plan they’d had in place, all parties agreed to make the best of a bad situation, and activate both the album as well as the complimentary codes.

Said Kim:

Look, we know what happened here, in the sense that unfortunately we still rely on systems, and there was a system error. But I don’t think it hurt it at all.

That quote was followed by another one, a clarification. This time, an unidentified Tidal representative told Spin that Kim had been “referring to a system error caused by Universal Music Group. The error was not something Tidal caused.”

(UPDATE: Billboard talked to a Universal representative about Tidal’s accusation; the source spoke “on the condition of anonymity,” but flatly denied any culpability whatsoever: “This whole thing is absurd, we would have taken responsibility if it were our error. Instead of having their flack flail around trying to revise their own media spin, maybe they should just focus on serving Rihanna — that’s what we’re focused on.”)

Irrespective of whether the album’s leak “hurt it at all,” it seems almost impossible that the compromised release was satisfying to anyone at Samsung, who’d paid handsomely to oversee the giveaway, and surely intended to get more publicity out of it than a decontextualized, dangling mention in a single tweet. But the giveaway itself went great: Within 14 hours, all of Samsung’s one million complimentary codes had been redeemed. On top of that, another 484,833 people had allegedly actually bought the album. Allegedly. On 1/29, less than 36 hours after the system error had caused ANTI to leak on Tidal, the RIAA announced that ANTI had gone platinum.

But had it?

***

That’s a question that dates back two and a half years, to the last time Jay Z struck one of these deals with Samsung. That time, it was in conjunction with the release of Jay’s own 2013 LP, Magna Carta Holy Grail. That arrangement was a little different than the ANTI giveaway — in that customers had to download a proprietary app to a Samsung Galaxy device in order to access the album in question — but the total number of albums purchased by Samsung was identical: Samsung reportedly “agreed to purchase one million copies of [Magna Carta], at $5 a pop ($5 million),” and the company would hand out those million copies to the first million people who satisfied the end-user terms. (To be clear: Though the bulk total is identical, the respective costs to Samsung may not be; the amount Samsung paid for one million copies of Anti hasn’t been revealed.)

Prior to the release of Magna Carta, the RIAA’s criteria for achieving platinum status were pretty simple, if archaic and obsolete. The album in question had to shift one million units, and those units wouldn’t be tallied till a month after the album dropped. Per the RIAA’s terms: “Sales become eligible for certification 30 days after the initial street date.” The RIAA claims its certifications are presided over by a “third party auditing firm,” and the whole affair is taken “very seriously.” How seriously? This seriously:

Gold & Platinum Awards are earned by artists who have met rigorous standards, and recipients join the ranks of the most iconic recording artists.

But “rigorous standards” is a pretty nebulous bit of language, especially when you’ve got someone of Jay Z’s “iconic” status pressing you to bend the rules. Jay petitioned the RIAA to change its terms in order to allow the unconventional release of Magna Carta to not only qualify for platinum certification, but qualify immediately, so that he wouldn’t be forced to wait 30 days before receiving his award. And the RIAA complied! Wrote Billboard of the shift:

The music industry’s trade organization will update its policies to allow its digital album certifications to be handed out upon release date, rather than after the 30-day waiting period still applicable to physical releases.

Weirdly, in much the same way as it went with ANTI, the release of Magna Carta Holy Grail was an ungodly mess, too. It’s not even clear if every one of those complimentary copies was successfully downloaded. But nonetheless, on 7/9/2013, the RIAA awarded Magna Carta a platinum plaque for its “pre-sales,” i.e., the one million copies purchased for giveaway by Samsung.

In essence, Jay Z had cut out middlemen such as record stores, online retailers, and streaming services so that his album could be used as a promotional Trojan Horse for Samsung and still reach listeners. That’s not totally unreasonable. But Jay’s request that the RIAA change its policies solely so his gambit would also ensure a platinum certification? That seems a little strange if not unscrupulous.

Still, the music industry has a long history of employing strange and unscrupulous tactics to achieve those certifications. For instance, in the early days of Taylor Swift’s career, certain factions lobbed accusations that Swift’s father had purchased “a mass quantity of her first album to drive sales numbers.” The website Saving Country Music summarily dismissed those allegations, saying:

If he did, no smoking gun has ever surfaced to prove so. However this practice to artificially bloat sales numbers to increase visibility and attention through chart rankings is not uncommon, especially for inaugural albums.

As it happens, Jay Z has also found himself at the center of such a controversy. In 2007, 50 Cent accused Def Jam — then led by Jay — of “rigging sales” of Kanye West’s Graduation in order to push West ahead of 50 in a well-publicized and deeply contentious race to the top of the charts. Said a perplexed 50 (referring to himself in the third person):

[West has] never had a fraction of the sales 50 Cent has. They could have only one scan and have it count four times. West’s entire career hasn’t sold half what I sold on my first album.

In 2010, Tommy Boy’s Tom Silverman told Wired that major labels “have teams of people who actually buy singles on iTunes to try to drive it up the charts — buying their own songs.” Of course, noted HipHopDX:

No one has actually proven labels buy their own product to boost sales, and technically the process is not illegal. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal reports the figures may be inaccurate even if some labels aren’t buying their own artist’s material.

So: not illegal but decidedly a bit unsavory. In that respect, Jay’s “third-party bulk giveaway” tactic seems like an attempt to end-run even the accusations of impropriety. Still, the RIAA is only one of two major services that track sales of recorded music. And the other service — Nielsen/Billboard — was also petitioned by Jay to include the Samsung giveaways in its sales reports. But Nielsen decided not to play ball with Jay. As Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde wrote in 2013:

[O]ur role as the chart of record is to set the rules, and hopefully even raise the level of play. It is in this spirit that I say it wasn’t as simple as you might think to turn down Jay Z when he requested that we count the million albums that Samsung “bought” as part of a much larger brand partnership, to give away to Samsung customers. True, nothing was actually for sale — Samsung users will download a Jay-branded app for free and get the album for free a few days later after engaging with some Jay Z content. The passionate and articulate argument by Jay’s team that something was for sale and Samsung bought it also doesn’t mesh with precedent … Had Jay Z and Samsung charged $3.49 — our minimum pricing threshold for a new release to count on our charts — for either the app or the album, the US sales would have registered. And ultimately, that’s the rub: The ever-visionary Jay Z pulled the nifty coup of getting paid as if he had a platinum album before one fan bought a single copy. (He may have done even better than that — artists generally get paid a royalty percentage of wholesale. If Jay keeps every penny of Samsung’s $5 purchase price, he’d be more than doubling the typical superstar rate.) But in the context of this promotion, nothing is actually for sale.

And the same exact situation repeated itself with ANTI. This time, Billboard’s Director Of Charts Silvio Pietroluongo told Digital Trends that Nielsen has a “well-documented policy of not counting free albums towards the charts.” Moreover, “Billboard and the RIAA don’t always coincide with how they count things. [The RIAA’s] platinum albums have always operated under their own sort of rules.”

Those rules are, of course, wildly inconsistent. Just yesterday — quite coincidentally! — the RIAA announced that it had changed some elements of its longstanding certification methodology; the organization would now “include on-demand audio and video streams and a track-sale equivalent in Gold & Platinum (G&P’s) Album Award.” And here’s how they’re quantifying those sales:

After a comprehensive analysis of a variety of factors — including streaming and download consumption patterns and historical impact on the program — and also consultation with a myriad of industry colleagues, the RIAA set the new Album Award formula of 1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale.

Got that? So if you stream, say, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Boy Problems” 1,500 times across any number of platforms, that will count as one sale of E•MO•TION in the eyes of the RIAA. Or you could stream “Boy Problems” 750 times and “Run Away With Me” 750 times, and it’s the same thing: one sale.

Incidentally, those numbers seem almost punitively unreasonable to me. Can you imagine buying a 10-song album with the awareness that you had to listen to each of those songs an average of 150 times in order to justify the purchase? Think about this: There are nine songs on Thriller, and the whole thing clocks in at a little more than 42 minutes total. By the RIAA’s streaming standards, you would have to listen to that album for 117 hours in order for it to qualify as a single sale.

But even beyond that, the RIAA’s methodology is inconsistent if not arbitrary. For instance, U2’s Songs Of Innocence was not awarded a platinum plaque by the RIAA, even though it was reportedly “experienced” by more than 81 million people worldwide: “a global figure that includes plays and streams through iTunes, iTunes Radio, and Beats Music.” The Wall Street Journal noted that, “Because of the secrecy surrounding the deal, U2 did not consult with the RIAA in advance.” Soon afterward, USA Today clarified a little further:

Though details of U2’s arrangement with Apple haven’t been disclosed, the RIAA’s gold and platinum program requires that a minimum of $2 per copy be issued to the artist and/or label.

“Promotional radio, press copies, and the like are not included towards certification,” says Liz Kennedy, director of the RIAA program. “The common rule is in place to prevent music certifications for which consumer demand doesn’t exist.”

***

Consumer demand. That’s a phrase that comes up pretty often when the RIAA is discussing its certification criteria. So let’s talk about consumer demand for a sec. To reiterate: According to the RIAA’s updated terms, ANTI has gone platinum, simply because Samsung bought a million copies of the album. According to Tidal, ANTI sold another 484,833 copies beyond that initial million. According to Nielsen, ANTI was streamed 4.2 million times, and sold 126,000 individual track downloads — good enough for a #27 debut on the Billboard chart. That isn’t bad for most artists, but it’s Rihanna’s worst opening week to date by far.

Still, the real kicker is this: According to The New York Times, those numbers are slightly distorted. Um, more than slightly distorted, actually. Says the Times:

Nielsen reported that the album sold fewer than 1,000 copies in the United States; a subscriber to [Nielsen’s] service who declined to be identified because the data is private, said that the number of albums sold was 460.

WHAAAAAAAAAT THE FUUUUU

Billboard’s chart policies disqualify albums that are part of gratis promotions, so the Samsung giveaways do not count. But what about all the rest of the sales that Tidal claimed? … One possibility is that the sales of ANTI were made outside the United States — Tidal operates in dozens of countries around the world — or extended past the deadline to be included on this week’s chart, which was midnight Thursday.

Neither of those possibilities makes the slightest bit of sense. Let’s break them down.

Possibility 1: ANTI sold only 460 copies in the United States, but 484,373 copies across the remainder of the globe’s Tidal-occupied territories?

Nope. Did not happen.

Possibility 2: Tidal’s sales figures extended past the initial 24.5-hour window charted by Nielsen?

Maybe, but: A) In the same Spin interview in which Tidal’s Grace Kim chalked up the leak to a “system error,” she also said, ANTI sold “1.4 million in not 24 hours but 15 hours”; and B) even if you choose to disregard Kim’s comment altogether: ANTI sold 460 copies during its first 24.5 hours of availability and then 484,373 copies between, say, midnight and 8AM EST on Friday 1/29?

Nope. That also did not happen.

Making matters even more insane are the pair of conflicting, confusing updates offered by Tidal reps to Spin. Look at these:

Update 1: In regards to Kim’s comment that Billboard and Nielsen are not counting ANTI’s sales on Tidal toward their totals, Tidal has clarified with the following statement: “Billboard and Nielsen are counting ANTI’s sales on Tidal towards their totals, [but] they aren’t counting the Samsung/Rihanna download code gift to fans. The 400k+ sales of ANTI via Tidal will be counted by Billboard.”

Update 2: Another Tidal rep further clarified the situation: “Of the 400K+ in global sales of ANTI via Tidal, Billboard will only be counting US sales.”

How is it that three people offered statements on this subject — each person clarifying (and refuting) what was said by the last person — and yet there is still nothing resembling clarity?

On that note: How much did Samsung pay for those ANTI giveaways? That’s a mystery. It could have been $5 apiece; that would have matched what the company paid for each “pre-sold” copy of Magna Carta. It could have been $2; that would be the minimum amount necessary to satisfy the RIAA’s requirements, at least according to its statement regarding Songs Of Innocence. In either case, it’s a good deal less than what the end user would pay. If you were to buy the standard-edition version of ANTI today on iTunes, it would run you $11.99. That won’t count as six sales, mind you. Even though it would be the equivalent value of six sales — if you were to pay the bulk minimum offered to Samsung, based on the RIAA’s requirements — it will go down in the books as only one.

Which brings us back to the question of consumer demand. More specifically: How does any of this, in any way, reflect consumer demand? If anything, it seems to obfuscate actual demand. Does the high number of doughnuts given away on National Doughnut Day reflect the public’s actual appetite for doughnuts? Or just our appetite for free shit? One could argue that piracy is a better indicator of consumer demand than stunts like the ones pulled by Samsung and Roc Nation. Why would people break the law to obtain music if they weren’t interested in hearing it? Forget about piracy — how about mixtapes? It seems grossly unfair (and radically unrepresentative) to award plaques only to those artists who are able to strike lucrative deals with gigantic multinational conglomerates.

None of this is intended to suggest that there isn’t a high demand for new Rihanna music. To be clear, there is a ferocious demand for new Rihanna music. But the bargain struck by Jay leaves an asterisk next to her name. If Samsung paid only $2 (or even $5) per copy for those giveaways, how were those royalties divided? There are dozens of co-writers and producers credited with having contributed to ANTI — how are those artists being compensated? Leaving aside those practical concerns, let’s consider the more abstract ramifications:

If Samsung, Roc Nation, and the RIAA can collude to drive an album to platinum certification — and do so by undercutting the rest of the market altogether — does platinum even mean anything at all?

***

Of course, there are more nefarious possibilities to consider, too. Let’s go back to that meeting between Jay Z and Daren Tsui in Silicon Valley back in October. Let’s say Jay was in talks with Samsung to discuss not the Rihanna sponsorship, but a Tidal sale. What if Jay put the prospect of ANTI on the table and said, “Our subscriber numbers are a little low right now, but we can use this as an opportunity to inflate them?” What if Jay was working in tandem with Samsung to drive users to Tidal — where those users might sign up for a free trial or even a premium membership to the service — employing ANTI as bait? Could such an arrangement possibly be considered beneficial to Rihanna? If Rihanna were not managed by Roc Nation, if her albums were not released by Roc Nation, would any independent manager or label sign off on such a deal?

The entire ordeal seems rife with conflicts of interest. Jay has to do whatever is best for Rihanna — his client — but he also has to do whatever is best for Tidal — his $250 million-valued streaming service — and he also has to make sure all that coincides with the terms of the $25 million agreement he signed with Samsung. It seems a foregone conclusion that the “system error” leading to ANTI’s leak upended the entire Samsung rollout, especially considering the incredibly elaborate social-media campaign that had been arranged for the album’s (horribly botched) announcement: a website and game, not to mention discrete Instagram and Twitter accounts. So who’s on the hook for that? Universal? Tidal? Roc Nation? Rihanna? Does Samsung eat the loss and hope the tour goes more smoothly, or does the company renegotiate the terms of its deal based on whatever estimated losses it might have suffered?

The whole thing brings to mind another of Jay’s business endeavors: In 2003, he joined an investment group led by developer Bruce Ratner to buy an NBA franchise: the then-New Jersey Nets. The intention was for the group to acquire the Nets, which they did, and build for the team a lucrative new arena in Brooklyn, which they also did (that venue is now known as Barclays Center). Jay wound up a minority owner of both the team and the venue — his stake in the Nets was worth one-fifteenth of 1 percent, and his stake in the arena was worth one-fifth of 1 percent. But in 2013, he was forced to sell all his shares in both. Why? Because Roc Nation had diversified, adding a sports-agency division to its expanding portfolio. And as Jay explained:

Our newest endeavor is committed to building the brands of professional athletes as we have done for some of today’s top music artists. For Roc Nation Sports to function at its full potential, NBA rules stipulate that I relinquish my ownership in the Brooklyn Nets.

The rules included such a stipulation because the NBA couldn’t allow a team owner — even an owner whose stakes amounted to a tiny fraction of a single percent — to also advise and negotiate on behalf of clients. If Jay had managed to ink, say, LeBron James to Roc Nation Sports, the rapper-turned-agent might have used his leverage to guide LeBron to Brooklyn, and that move would have been a tremendous boon to the team and the arena, and by extension, the team/arena’s owners. It might not have been in LeBron’s best interests, though, and it certainly would have been viewed as an act of collusion by pretty much every single person in the world. The NBA has a vested interest in preserving a perception of fairness, and in order for Jay to operate as an agent, he would have to sever all official ties to the team and arena. So he did.

Strangely, Jay signed a new deal with Barclays in 2015, in which Roc Nation Music would partner with the arena to produce events at the venue. Wrote Billboard of the arrangement:

As for whether the partnership will prevent top Roc Nation talent like Kanye West, Rihanna, or Shakira from playing other New York arenas on future tours, [Barclays Centre CEO Brett Yormark] says simply, “Barclays has been and will continue to be the home for Roc Nation artists, and I think that’s a mutual feeling.”

Still, the Roc Nation deal gives Barclays a competitive advantage in the increasingly crowded New York arena market.

As it happens, that dovetails with this whole other thing I wrote just last week, about the ways in which companies are battling for that marketshare, employing all sorts of back-room manipulation and contractual leverage to edge out their competitors. Unlike the NBA, the music industry doesn’t rely on the perception of fairness simply to exist — as long as nobody runs afoul of antitrust regulators, everybody is free to operate however they see fit — so in this instance, Jay’s conflicts of interest are perfectly above-board. As long as his clients are happy, then he’s doing a good job.

Needless to say, however, his clients aren’t always happy. In December 2015, Roc Nation signee Rita Ora sued the company. Among other things, Ora’s complaint stated:

When Rita signed, Roc Nation and its senior executives were very involved with her as an artist. As Roc Nation’s interests diversified, there were fewer resources available and the company suffered a revolving door of executives. Rita’s remaining supporters at the label left or moved on to other activities, to the point where she no longer had a relationship with anyone at the company … Rita is caught in a political quagmire of dysfunction.

That was how the complaint was presented by Ora’s attorneys. But soon afterward, a rumor surfaced via Perez Hilton:

According to new reports, [Rihanna] is actually part of the reason why Miz Ora is suing Roc Nation … A source weighed in, adding:

“Rihanna has never liked Rita and has been using her power at Roc Nation accordingly. This is the main reason the label’s execs have been uninterested in putting effort into promoting Rita. Songs that might be submitted to her are automatically given to Rihanna, who may then hold them for months before deciding she doesn’t want them.”

If that wasn’t enough, the same insider shared:

“The fact that Rita’s ex Calvin Harris is on their management books hasn’t helped either. He is one of their highest earners and they did nothing to stop him when he blocked Rita from using songs that he had written on her album.”

Again, this stuff is unsubstantiated, and has to be taken with a grain of salt, if not altogether disregarded. But would it really surprise anyone to learn that Roc Nation had prioritized Rihanna’s (or Harris’) interests at the expense of Ora’s? For that matter, would it surprise anyone to learn that Jay Z had prioritized Tidal’s (or Roc Nation’s, or Samsung’s) interests at the expense of Rihanna’s?

It shouldn’t. As the line goes, he’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man, and Rihanna is one small piece of that business, damn. Tidal is a bigger one; Roc Nation is bigger still; and Samsung is bigger than all of them combined. Samsung employs nearly 500,000 people and has total assets of $529.5 billion. Whatever it paid for ANTI to go platinum will ultimately have a negligible impact on the company’s bottom line. It cost Samsung nothing. Which is also what most people spent on the album: nothing. And you know what? The tangible cost of all this to Rihanna is probably also nothing. She’s already filthy rich and she’d be filthy rich if she just gave away all her music from now until the end of time. But make no mistake, that plaque on her wall? That’s worth nothing, too.

Tags: Jay-Z, Rihanna, Tidal