“Disturbia” became a big hit and a perennial Halloween favorite. It’s interesting to think Brown turned down a song like that. However, Brown had specific reasons for giving the song to Rihanna.
AllMusic reports Brown co-wrote “Disturbia” with Robert Allen, Andre Merritt, and Brian Seals. According to CapitalFM, “Disturbia” was written to be included on the re-release of Brown’s album Exclusive. However, it was not included on Exclusive. This was because Brown felt the song was more suitable for a female singer, so he gave it to Rihanna. This is interesting, as the lyrics of the song never mention gender in any way. Perhaps Brown just didn’t like the idea of singing a song about feeling abject terror.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Brown enjoyed writing the song even though he felt it didn’t “fit” him. “It’s fun being creative and even if you have a concept in your head to write about, you can write it and give it to someone else because it might not personally fit you, but it might be an idea you have. So with (Rihanna) that was an idea I had. I just wanted to go totally left and kind of weird, and that’s what I threw at her.”
The song’s significance in Rihanna’s career
MTV News reports Rihanna later brought the song to producer L.A. Reid. Reid said this was the first time Rihanna brought him a song and said she wanted to release it. He saw this as an example of her taking control of her career. Reid noted Rihanna “understands what hits are, and she knows what she wants to say. She’s at that place where she can do it.”
The video for the song was memorable. It featured Rihanna and others in what appeared to be a mental asylum. It included trippy visual effects, Gothic costumes, and weird, twitchy dancing. The video became one of the more iconic visuals of Rihanna’s career. It showed she could embrace her dark side — a dark side which would become more prominent as her career progressed.
Interestingly, the video’s director, Anthony Mandler, said the video was met with some opposition. He told Rap-Up “Disturbia” was the one that everybody said would ruin her career from the inside out. People were not supportive of that video and it took myself, Rihanna, and my partner Ciarra Pardo to defend it and push it forward, move the needle as far as what was OK and not OK with a girl like her. It really broadened and opened her brand.”
The risk paid off. Billboard reports “Disturbia” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. That’s quite an accomplishment for a song that didn’t suit its writer.