Meanwhile, Calvin Harris had made a name for himself across the pond: In the U.K., he frequently dominated the albums and singles charts with his rollicking house tracks. By 2011, the star was quietly riding the early wave of EDM interest in the U.S., hoping to capitalize on the newfound mainstreaming of dance. Having just released his soon-to-be-smash single “Feel So Close," the then-up-and-comer was on the precipice of blowing up.
But when the two started working together on Rihanna’s Last Girl on Earth tour (Harris opened for her during her Australian leg), sparks immediately began flying. When they got into the studio, they started a raging fire called “We Found Love.”
The track’s premise was simple — a steady, repeating polysynth melody, accompanied by Harris’ flourish of alarms, rising bass and a demolishing drop. The lyrics followed a similar pattern, repeating the same melody with relatively cryptic phrases about “yellow diamonds” and a pulsing “heartbeat in my mind.”
It was the song’s psychedelic music video that helped launch it into international acclaim, where director Melina Matsoukas depicted a drug-addled, abusive love affair, with Rihanna’s co-star bearing more than just a passing resemblance to her former boyfriend Chris Brown. With flashing colors, eye-popping visual flourishes, and a story about a love gone completely wrong, the video took what was already a popular song and skyrocketed it to the top of the charts.
“We Found Love” went on to become both artists’ biggest hit single, and ultimately, one of the most successful singles of all time.Phil Tan, one of the engineers who helped mix the track, had worked with Rihanna on many of her previous hits, including “Don’t Stop the Music,” “Disturbia,” “SOS” and more. But when he first heard “We Found Love,” he says there was something about the track that couldn’t be denied. “Even at first listen it felt like a no-brainer to me,” he says. “I was pretty certain it would be well received.”
Rihanna’s long time collaborator and vocal recorder Marcos Tovar agrees, saying that the song demanded attention from the first time he heard it. “As a general rule, I usually don’t prognosticate future chart positions when listening to songs,” he says. “But with [‘We Found Love’] it was a bit more obvious that it was going to leave a mark.”