GOOD GIRL GONE GREAT
Those legs? They're insured. That haircut? Legendary. The chances that serial hit-maker Rihanna will keep churning out gold-whether in music, fashion, or film-for some time to come? Spectacular.
By Candice Rainey
There are those hits that climb to the top of the music charts, live in our iPods for a couple months, morph into ring tones, do a cameo on Grey’s Anatomy, and eventually reach their shelf life and disappear into the pop-music ether. And then there are hits, addictive sonic pleasures that burrow deep inside our brains. Songs that seduce not only the Sidekick-packing teens but also the snobby music critics: Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”; George Michael’s “Freedom 90.” Songs that stick.
Rihanna, the Barbados-born singer who landed on our shores only three years ago, launched her career by perfecting the formula for the first kind. There was “Pon de Replay,” a reggae-tinged dance-hall theme from her inaugural album, Music of the Sun, which stormed the radio in summer 2005. Then came her second record, A Girl Like Me, with “SOS,” a hook-driven club phenomenon that heavily sampled the ’80s cover of “Tainted Love” by new-wavers Soft Cell, and “Unfaithful,” a darkish ballad mostly memorable for its video, featuring the barely legal, emerald-eyed heartbreaker writhing atop a grand piano. They were all decent songs, just not unforgettable.
View behind-the-scenes photos of Rihanna's cover shoot
But last year, just as some critics were about to write off Rihanna as another fresh-faced R&B flirt with, you know, stuffing where her soul should be, she unleashed a monster. Over futuristic drums and a shimmering bass line, the 20-year-old gave us “Umbrella,” a synthesized love poem that Jay-Z, then president of Def Jam Records and Rihanna’s mentor and boss, anointed when he rapped a few tightly written rhymes for the intro. It was a benevolent gesture that only amped up the song’s It Factor. (It also fanned the rumor flames that he and she were at one time romantically involved. But we’ll get to that.)
However, it was Rihanna’s delivery, clear and clipped in all the right spots, and that MTV Music Award–winning video that cemented “Umbrella.” Unlike one of those carb-free pop tarts trying her hardest to nail the choreography and muddying up the choruses with vocal acrobatics, Rihanna lets her Bajan accent lace itself through the -ella, -ella, -ella, ey ey eys. Her hips float in fishnets, swaying back and forth—she’s the hottest girl in the club. And yet, even in the video’s many phallic moments involving an actual umbrella, she comes off as simultaneously sexy and adorable. The combination is organic; how can we help but compare her to a sexually emerging Britney, who first made us aware of her budding talents by throwing on a thigh-high pleated skirt and doing school-girl slutty? Maybe the dichotomy within Rihanna is the birthright of an island girl who spent a lot of her life in a bathing suit with the beach as her backyard. Wherever it comes from, the idea that a young performer could be so incredibly game, so comfortable in her own skin, and not yet (maybe never?) affected by the physical and psychological weirdnesses American fame brings is like candy to us. We just want to gorge ourselves.
Rihanna on her hair:
“I kept telling my managers, I’m cutting my hair. I’m cutting my hair. And they’re like, ‘How short? Not too short. Cut it how short?’ And I’m like, ‘Up to here,’ ” Rihanna says, raising her hand up to her ear. “They never believed me. So when it was time to do the album cover [for Good Girl], the night before I cut it, I dyed it black. We went straight to the photo shoot, and no one at the record label knew what I looked like. When we sent the pictures over, they saw the hair and they all loved it. They loved it.”
On the success of “Umbrella:”
“That song is very, very magical,” says the singer, nodding her heart-shape face. “Because even when I travel, I can’t believe the kind of people that know that record. Their age, their nationality, they don’t speak English, but they all know that song.”
On her formerly alcoholic father:
“That was way, way, way back,” she says, shaking her head and staring at her dish of pasta. “We’re friends now. Now my dad is like the coolest person on the planet. He doesn’t smother me. He lets me live my life. And he’s been like that a lot, even when I was younger. He would watch me making a mistake and he wouldn’t stop me. My dad, he lets me make it and then I learn.”
On singing in front of Jay-Z for the first time:
“I remember staring into everybody’s eyes in the room while I was singing, and at that point, I was fearless,” she says about the audition. “But the minute I stopped singing, I was like, Oh my God, Jay-Z is sitting right in front of me.”
On the rumor about a relationship with Jay-Z:
“Well, it’s crazy that you ask me that. People know that it’s not true,” she says, straightening up. “I think it’s kinda a cliché question, and people know it’s not true, so I don’t even know why it’s still addressed to this day. I get asked about it all the time and I’m like, You’re asking, but you know the answer. I don’t even like to address it anymore.”
On Chris Brown:
“We’ve always been friends, but we’re very close now.”
CHECK OUT THE JUNE ISSUE OF ELLE, ON NEWSSTANDS NOW, FOR THE FULL STORY ON RIHANNA
SOURCE: ELLE.COM AND CONCRETLOOP.COM