The Curious Meaning of ‘Diamonds’ by Rihanna

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

A paean to drugs? Or alcohol? Or sex? Or the heady sensory experience of falling in love? Just what is the meaning behind ‘Diamonds’, one of Rihanna’s catchiest songs?

‘Diamonds’ is from Rihanna’s seventh studio album, Unapologetic (2012). If the song reminds you of another anthemic ballad from around the same time, namely ‘Chandelier’ by Sia, that’s because ‘Diamonds’ was written by Sia, along with the song’s producers, Benny Blanco and Stargate. Sia provided the lyrics (discussed below), reportedly writing them in just 14 minutes.

‘Diamonds’: song meaning

The song is about finding the light which will enable you to shine as brightly as you deserve to shine. The reference to ‘you and I’ strongly suggests that we should view ‘Diamonds’ as a love song of sorts: it’s about two people in love who believe they are beautiful and amazing because being in love makes them ‘glow’ with happiness.

The reference to diamonds in the sky is literally true: at the heart of many stars and planets are thought to be diamonds larger than any found on Earth. But of course it’s possible to view stars themselves as like diamonds, twinkling away in the night sky. Diamonds are rare, of course, and highly prized: precious as well as beautiful.

The references to moonshine and molly are the most difficult to interpret. But ‘moonshine’ is an old name for distilled liquor, so suggests the taking of alcohol. Meanwhile, ‘molly’ is slang for ecstasy or MDMA.

This meaning is reinforced by the reference to a ‘vision of ecstasy’ in the song. Ecstasy literally means ‘to stand outside oneself’: to experience ecstasy, or extremely heightened pleasure, is to have an outstanding experience and to feel as though one has travelled outside of the confines of one’s body. Certain drugs can generate that feeling, so this is why MDMA became known as ‘ecstasy’.

So the singer in the song is drinking and taking ecstasy with her lover, while they raise their palms to the sky in pleasure as they dance and lose themselves in the moment. And in that moment they feel invincible, as though they will live forever. Diamonds are also, of course, durable and virtually indestructible.

So in likening herself and her lover to diamonds, the singer is saying they are both rare, precious, beautiful – and indestructible together.

‘Diamonds’: analysis

Lyrically, the song may be simple – it explains how Sia was able to pen them so quickly – but they are a masterclass. Perhaps no finer example of the mantra ‘simple but effective’ is to be found in any song from the past decade or so.

Most of the lines of the song’s lyrics end in a long ‘i’ sound: sky, alive, eyes, I … and then there is the triple-assonance of ‘shine bright tonight’, lest we forget. Other words which feature in the lyrics – like, life, sight, inside – reinforce this.

Such assonantal echoes play off the long i within ‘diamonds’ itself, of course, but also create a rather narrow, even monolithic, effect in the song’s range and focus.

This has been written off as ‘insipid’ by at least one reviewer, but perhaps the song is saved from such a charge by utilising this one-note assonance so relentlessly in its three minutes and forty-six seconds as to step straight over insipidity and into something more pleasing, however surprisingly so.

And we might also wonder how upbeat this song is supposed to be. Are we right to interpret it as a paean to the ecstasy and joy of losing oneself in hedonistic pleasure with the one we love (or at least fancy the pants off)?

Perhaps, and if we take the song’s lyrics at face value, we’d probably arrive at that conclusion.

But for a song in praise of bacchanalian excess, it’s surprisingly muted, and there are no sharp gear-changes in either the tempo or the pitch of the song. It remains on a fairly even level throughout.

This is arguably why the song succeeds where it might be expected to fail: because the song surprises us with the calmness of Rihanna’s delivery, the lack of variation between verse and chorus, and the almost stiflingly narrow reliance on those few key words in the song’s lyrics.

This makes the song something more complex and hard to pin down than it would be if it were simply another joyous song about joyous love and joyous sex and joyous drugs.


Perhaps, in the last analysis, this is why ‘Diamonds’ is an oddly haunting song within its genre: we cannot be sure how we are meant to take it.

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