The guilt of killing her boyfriend in self-defense overwhelms Rihanna in the foreboding “Man Down.”
Wailing sirens and searching steel drums open the single, setting an alert tone. His still open eyes follow her everywhere. It happened so quickly. He texted her to meet her at a club downtown in 30 minutes. She saw him standing outside, waiting for her. She ran to greet with a kiss and a hug. He held her hands up and pushed them down. With a cold voice, he told her that she was late. She explained there was a lot of traffic. He called her a lying bitch and shoved her into the wall. She struggled with him, squirming and twisting, trying to get from his under reach. Somehow, she was able to reach for her gun and shot him right in the chest, killing him instantly. His final moments replay in her mind, continuing into her sleep, turning a casual dream into a violent nightmare. She sits up in her bed and covers her face. She gets up to turn on the light and stares at the photo of her and her mother smiling outside of her childhood home. She takes it off the wall and opens her closet, looking for a suitcase. She has to get out of here. Eventually, the police will arrive to arrest her. (“ I didn't mean to end his life/I know it wasn't right/I can't even sleep at night/Can't get it off my mind/I need to get out of sight/Before I end up behind bars/What started out as a simple altercation/Turned into a real sticky situation
In the pre-chorus, she only wanted him to stop. His mother will be devastasted, saying he was a good boy who didn’t deserve to die. He had so much life to give. With one shot, she took away his future and any glimmer of hope that existed inside of him. (“'Cause I didn't mean to hurt him/Could've been somebody's son/And I took his heart when/I pulled out that gun/Rum pa pa pum/Rum pa pa pum /Rum pa pa pum/Man down/Rum pa pa pum/Rum pa pa pum/Rum pa pa pum/Man down.”)
In the chorus, she calls up her mom and confesses. On the other end of the telephone, her mom breaks down, telling her “no, no, no.” She tells her it’s true. There were plenty of witnesses around. She tells her mom she loves her and hangs up the phone. (“Mama, mama, mama/I just shot a man down/In Central Station/In front of a big old crowd/Oh why, oh why/Oh, mama, mama, mama/I just shot a man down/In Central Station.”)
Her 22. caliber gun was something she kept tucked in her shoe. It give her a sense of safety. She was intending to threaten him. However, she thought he was going to go for her throat again. She should’ve shoved him back. She should’ve had him on the ground first. She could’ve run and gotten help. However, it’s done and there’s nothing she can do to change it. She throws a bunch of clothes into the suitcase and gets her keys. She’ll figure everything else out later. (“It's a 22, I call her Peggy Sue/When she fits right down in my shoes/What you expect me to do/If you're playing me for a fool/I will lose my cool/And reach for my fire arm/I didn't mean to lay him down/But it's too late to turn back now/Don't know what I was thinking/Now he's no longer living/So I'm 'bout to leave town.”)
The pre-chorus and chorus are sung again.
In the bridge, she believes she took it too far. She thought of herself as a reasonable person, capable of rational thinking. She’s turned into a murderer. But at the same time, she felt she had no choice.Best case scenario, a plea bargain is the most she will be able to get. (“ Look, I never thought I'd do it/Never thought I'd do it/Never thought I'd do it, oh gosh/What ever happened to me/Ever happened to me, ever happened to me/Why did I pull the trigger/Pull the trigger, pull the trigger, boom/And end a *****, end a ****** life so soon/When me pull the trigger, pull the trigger, pull it 'pon you/Somebody tell me what I'm gonna, what I'm gonna do/Rum pa pa pum/Rum pa pa pum/Rum pa pa pum
The chorus is sung again to end the single.
Rihanna’s anxious vocals plead to be believed. She knows the law is not on her side. In her trial, she will be portrayed as the scorned girlfriend who had planned his murder for some time. The personal details of her sex life will be put on display. The jury will see multiple photographs of a young man surrounded by family, full of dreams. She’ll be convicted to the full sentence.
The anguished “Man Down” knows there isn’t an escape from domestic violence, continuing long after it’s ended.