Princess RiRi is the cover girl of the November issue of Vanity Fair Magazine. The beautiful photos were taken in Cuba earlier this year by Annie Leibovitz.
Read the great cover story below and click here for photos.
The magazine will be available on October 8 in the digital editions and on October 13 on U.S. newsstands.
Rihanna is firmly in control of her life and career—but not of her image, which has veered between club-hopping temptress and poster child for victims of domestic abuse. As the 27-year-old readies her long-awaited new album, she talks candidly about the chasm between her reality and her reputation.
What makes Rihanna special—outside of the music—is that she is someone who is genuinely herself. People connect with her. You are seeing the authentic version of who she is. You can see her scars and her flaws…. She’s gone through things that everyone’s gone through—dysfunctional relationships, things that played out in front of everyone’s eyes—and she’s done a real good job of keeping her life private, but just living her life as a young person … unapologetically. You have to have a tough skin in this business; you’re going to hear some things about yourself that you’re going to think, What?? Are you crazy? —Jay Z
I honestly think how much fun it would be to live my reputation. People have this image of how wild and crazy I am, and I’m not everything they think of me. The reality is that the fame, the rumors—this picture means this, another picture means that—it really freaks me out. It made me back away from even wanting to attempt to date. It’s become second nature for me to just close that door and just be O.K. with that. I’m always concerned about whether people have good or bad intentions. —Rihanna
Rihanna sits across the table from me in the private room at Giorgio Baldi, her favorite restaurant in L.A. Her hair is reddish, wavy; her face seems free of makeup. She’s even more beautiful in person than she is in her photos. She’s wearing a white crop top, denim cutoff shorts, Puma sneakers, and a flowing Chinese-patterned robe. When she orders three half-portions of pasta dishes (spaghetti pomodoro with basil, gnocchi, and ravioli), I ask how she maintains her curvy but slim figure. She says, “Legit, I have been in the gym every day this week because I am not willing to give up my food. But I will sacrifice an hour for the gym.” The 27-year-old woman in front of me is not the provocative, wild hip-hop prom queen, the sexy girl allegedly at the center of a jealous, bottle-throwing brawl in a nightclub, nor the habitué of L.A. and New York hot spots 1Oak and Up & Down. Nor is she the woman who has been described as badass, shocking, naughty, tough—pictured in tabloids and online with various rumored rapper/actor/athlete boyfriends. She is elegant, funny, straightforward, and downright horrified (and laughs hysterically) at all of the rumors I toss at her. And while people may assume that her life is just one big, long, sexy night out on the town, she insists it’s not true. I ask about her bad-girl reputation. “Honestly, I’ve been thinking lately about how boring I am,” she says. “When I do get time to myself, I watch TV.” Now we’re off and running, both of us mourning the end of Breaking Bad. She loves Bates Motel and forensics shows. What about NCIS and CSI? “I used to watch them,” she says, “until I found The First 48 [homicide detectives, cold-blooded murders at convenience stores] and Snapped [true stories of women who lost control and committed murder]. Those are things that actually happened in real life,” she says. “I’m stuck on the fact that these things actually happened. All those other things are just made-up stories.”
When it comes to made-up stories, Rihanna knows whereof she speaks. Despite all those rumors of sexual liaisons, Rihanna says her last real, official boyfriend was Chris Brown—when they briefly got back together three years after his arrest for assaulting her in 2009 (more about that later)—and, prior to that, then Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who she says she was just getting to know when the paparazzi got a picture of them together. “We were still dating … we were just three months in and I liked his vibe, he was a good guy, and then paparazzi got us on vacation in Mexico. He handled it well; I didn’t. I got so uncomfortable because now what? He’s not even able to be seen with [another] girl, because I’m dragged back into headlines that say he’s cheating on me, and I don’t even [really] know this guy. Some guys … I don’t even have their number. You would not even believe it,” she says with a laugh. “I’m serious, hand to God.” Given that she’s supposed to be so freewheeling, can’t she just have sex for fun? “If I wanted to I would completely do that,” she says. “I am going to do what makes me feel happy, what I feel like doing. But that would be empty for me; that to me is a hollow move. I would wake up the next day feeling like shit.
‘When you love somebody, that’s different,” she continues. “Even if you don’t love them per se, when you care enough about somebody and you know that they care about you, then you know they don’t disrespect you. And it’s about my own respect for myself. A hundred percent. Sometimes it’s the first time I’m meeting this person—and then all of a sudden I’m ‘with them.’ It freaks me out. This industry creates stories and environments that can make you uncomfortable even being friends with someone. If you see me sitting next to someone, or standing next to someone, what, I’m not allowed to do that? I’m like, are you serious? Do you think it’s going to stop me from having a friend?” But, she adds, “I’m the worst. I see a rumor and I’m not calling [them] back. I’ve had to be so conscious about people—what they say and why people want to be with me, why people want to sleep with me…. It makes me very guarded and protective. I learned the hard way.
“I always see the best in people,” she says. “I hope for the best, and I always look for that little bit of good, that potential, and I wait for it to blossom. You want them to feel good being a man, but now men are afraid to be men. They think being a real man is actually being a pussy, that if you take a chair out for a lady, or you’re nice or even affectionate to your girl in front of your boys, you’re less of a man. It’s so sick. They won’t be a gentleman because that makes them appear soft. That’s what we’re dealing with now, a hundred percent, and girls are settling for that, but I won’t. I will wait forever if I have to … but that’s O.K. You have to be screwed over enough times to know, but now I’m hoping for more than these guys can actually give.
“That’s why I haven’t been having sex or even really seeing anybody,” she says, “because I don’t want to wake up the next day feeling guilty. I mean I get horny, I’m human, I’m a woman, I want to have sex. But what am I going to do—just find the first random cute dude that I think is going to be a great ride for the night and then tomorrow I wake up feeling empty and hollow? He has a great story and I’m like … what am I doing? I can’t do it to myself. I cannot. It has a little bit to do with fame and a lot to do with the woman that I am. And that saves me.”
Is she lonely? “It is lonely,” she says, “but I have so much work to do that I get distracted. I don’t have time to be lonely. And I get fearful of relationships because I feel guilty about wanting someone to be completely faithful and loyal, when I can’t even give them 10 percent of the attention that they need. It’s just the reality of my time, my life, my schedule.”
Rihanna, born Robyn Rihanna Fenty 27 years ago in Bridgetown, Barbados, grew up in a family so close-knit that her report card had to be taken around to every aunt and uncle, and if she didn’t take it to them, they came over to her house to see it. She says that everybody knew what everyone else did and how well every child did in school—you couldn’t hide your failures; you had to face them. She memorized textbooks (her mother was very strict about grades) and played sports with her two younger brothers, Rorrey and Rajad. But from an early age she was obsessed with music: first reggae artists Barrington Levy and Beres Hammond, then Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston. Rihanna’s career began in 2004 when two American record producers, Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken—both of whom were married to Bajan women and vacationed in Barbados—heard her sing at a local audition, made demos with her, and eventually brought her to the U.S., where she lived in Stamford, Connecticut, with Rogers and his family. They made more demos and tried to get her a record deal. In 2005, at age 16, she auditioned for Def Jam Records’ then group chairman, L. A. Reid, president and C.E.O. Jay Z, and executives Jay Brown and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith. Jay Brown, now part of the Roc Nation team that manages her, remembers her wearing all white, with her hair pulled back off her face. Rihanna says she wore white jeans, white boots, and a turquoise tube top from Forever 21. She remembers that her hair was wavy, parted to one side, and “I had just gotten my first weave.” She recalls sitting in the hallway when she saw Jay Z walk by, and she was so freaked out she made sure he didn’t see her. According to Ty Ty, “When she walked in the room and started singing, what got my attention was how she looked at you and the tone of her voice. She was very serious.” Jay Z recalls, “You see someone who comes in and you know if they have that look about them, that star quality—you can’t deny it.” Jay Brown says she had a fire in her eyes. But Rihanna says she had no idea she had any fire in her eyes: “These are people who worked with the most talented people in the music industry, and I’m a little seed, from an island far away; to even have the opportunity to audition for them seemed so out of reach. I was terrified; my knees were shaking.” She’d already been turned down by another label, but Def Jam wanted her, and she—along with her lawyer—stayed in the building for 12 hours, until three A.M., when she signed what she still refers to as a “great deal.” (Jay Brown laughs and says Ty Ty jokingly told the lawyer that the only way they were getting out of the building without signing was through the window.)
Rihanna’s rise happened fast. “Pon de Replay,” an island-inspired dancehall tune, became a hit, followed by “SOS,” “Umbrella,” “Rude Boy,” “Only Girl (in the World),” “We Found Love,” “Diamonds,” and many others. She worked nonstop, releasing seven albums in eight years, and today, 10 years after her debut, she’s accumulated 54 million album sales, 13 No. 1 singles, and 210 million downloaded tracks. She’s toured and performed live concerts for millions of people around the world. She’s got 7 billion video views on YouTube, 50.7 million followers on Twitter, 25.4 million on Instagram, and 81.7 million Facebook fans. Even before her acting stint in the 2012 action movie Battleship, her fans called themselves her “navy.” She’s a singer, songwriter, producer, actress (most recently she voiced a character in the animated movie Home), a mentor on this season of The Voice, fashion designer, style setter (she was the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s 2014 Fashion Icon, was named to the International Best-Dressed List for the first time this year, is the creative director for Puma and the face of Dior’s Secret Garden campaign), entrepreneur (seven fragrances, a creative director for the Stance sock company), philanthropist (her foundation helps build cancer-treatment centers in Barbados, among other charitable activities), and eight-time Grammy winner.
But on February 7, 2009—the night before the Grammys—following Clive Davis’s party, an episode occurred that would change her life and probably forever be linked to her. Rihanna’s then boyfriend, her first love, R&B singer Chris Brown, assaulted her in his rented Lamborghini and left her bloodied and battered on the side of a street. Photos of her bruised and swollen face were leaked to TMZ by, says Rihanna, “a very nasty woman who thought a check was more important than morals. That shocks you? A check trumps morals by miles.” And in 2014, nearly six years after that attack, Rihanna was dragged into the Ray Rice domestic-abuse scandal when the N.F.L. and CBS chose not to play “Run This Town”—her hit with Jay Z and Kanye West—during an opening-week broadcast of the N.F.L. season. She reacted with anger on Twitter, and, says Jay Z, “Her response was appropriate. The N.F.L. felt it was a distraction, and she was like, ‘You’re punishing me for what happened with Ray Rice?’ ” I ask Rihanna if she thinks she’s always going to be a poster child for victims of domestic abuse. “Well, I just never understood that,” she says, “like how the victim gets punished over and over. It’s in the past, and I don’t want to say ‘Get over it,’ because it’s a very serious thing that is still relevant; it’s still real. A lot of women, a lot of young girls, are still going through it. A lot of young boys too. It’s not a subject to sweep under the rug, so I can’t just dismiss it like it wasn’t anything, or I don’t take it seriously. But, for me, and anyone who’s been a victim of domestic abuse, nobody wants to even remember it. Nobody even wants to admit it. So to talk about it and say it once, much less 200 times, is like … I have to be punished for it? It didn’t sit well with me.”
Rihanna is quiet and thoughtful when she talks about getting back with Brown for the second time and asking the court to lift the restraining order against him. “I was that girl,” she says, “that girl who felt that as much pain as this relationship is, maybe some people are built stronger than others. Maybe I’m one of those people built to handle shit like this. Maybe I’m the person who’s almost the guardian angel to this person, to be there when they’re not strong enough, when they’re not understanding the world, when they just need someone to encourage them in a positive way and say the right thing.” So, she thought she could change him? “A hundred percent. I was very protective of him. I felt that people didn’t understand him. Even after … But you know, you realize after a while that in that situation you’re the enemy. You want the best for them, but if you remind them of their failures, or if you remind them of bad moments in their life, or even if you say I’m willing to put up with something, they think less of you—because they know you don’t deserve what they’re going to give. And if you put up with it, maybe you are agreeing that you [deserve] this, and that’s when I finally had to say, ‘Uh-oh, I was stupid thinking I was built for this.’ Sometimes you just have to walk away.” Now, she says, “I don’t hate him. I will care about him until the day I die. We’re not friends, but it’s not like we’re enemies. We don’t have much of a relationship now.”
While Rihanna and Brown did a duet on a song in 2012 with a telling title (“Nobody’s Business”), her bigger collaborations have been with Jay Z and Kanye West—as well as two huge hits with Eminem, “Love the Way You Lie” and “The Monster.” According to Eminem, “I would definitely consider Rihanna a friend. She’s always been there for me, and I really enjoy working with her. As an artist, we have similar work ethics, so I’ve always been able to relate to her in that sense.” As for Rihanna’s take on him: “He’s one of my favorite people. He’s got so many layers and he’s such a good person—focused, disciplined. I mean you can’t tell me that you have to be in the club when Eminem is legit at home and being a good father and is still one of the most prestigious rappers of our generation. He’s one of the most talented poets of our time. It was such a brilliant moment to have him ask me to be part of a record; I felt … anointed, because he thought I was cool enough to be on [“Love the Way You Lie”]. But also, the lyrics [about a dysfunctional relationship] were just so true to what I felt and couldn’t say to the world at that time.”
Talk That Talk
As our conversation continues into what technically is the next day, Giorgio’s keeps the restaurant open for her and we discuss a variety of topics: how little she sleeps (three to four hours), the tight team of friends she works with (her childhood friend Melissa Forde, right-hand woman Jennifer Rosales, and creative director Ciarra Pardo), how we’re both basketball fans in general and fans of LeBron James in particular. (“I woke up at seven A.M. in Japan to watch the last game of the finals,” she says. “I felt so bad when he lost.”) And she talks about Rachel Dolezal, the white N.A.A.C.P. executive who pretended to be black, saying, “I think she was a bit of a hero, because she kind of flipped on society a little bit. Is it such a horrible thing that she pretended to be black? Black is a great thing, and I think she legit changed people’s perspective a bit and woke people up.”
Rihanna lives in downtown New York City, which she says she loves, and L.A., where she had to find a house with enough bedrooms to turn into closets for her ever expanding wardrobe. Some of the most photographed garments from that wardrobe include a blue fur jacket, a green fur coat, a coat with the Rolling Stones tongue logo on the back, a tuxedo jacket worn with nothing else, fluffy bedroom slippers worn in public, the gorgeous red Azzedine Alaïa dress she wore to the 2013 Grammys, the pink strapless Giambattista Valli gown she wore to the 2015 Grammys, the chic lavender Dior suit worn to the launch of the Tidal streaming service, and, of course, the embroidered, fur-trimmed, yellow satin Guo Pei-designed extravaganza at this past spring’s Met Ball—where she stole the show and appeared above the fold on the front page of the next day’s New York Times. It was typical of how Rihanna likes to mix things up; she accepted her C.F.D.A. award wearing a semi-nude, sheer gown covered with sparkly Swarovski crystals. “I wanted to wear something that looked like it was floating on me,” she recalls. “But after that, I thought, O.K., we can’t do this again for a while. No nipples, no sexy shit, or it’s going to be like a gimmick. That night [at the C.F.D.A. awards] was like a last hurrah; I decided to take a little break from that and wear clothes.”
The same attitude extends to her music. She has recorded everything from the beautiful ballad “Stay” to the reggae/rock-inspired anthem “Rude Boy.” Her new, much-anticipated album—her first in more than three years (which, as we spoke, she was still working on)—has taken a while because, says Jay Z, “she wants it to be perfect.” One of the songs on it, the hypnotic “American Oxygen,” was released accompanied by a moving video with images of Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, J.F.K. Jr. saluting his father’s coffin, Muhammad Ali, immigrants, ghettos, rocket launches, and more. Then there’s the 180-degree turn that was the single—the vengeful and humorous “Bitch Better Have My Money”—in which, Rihanna says, she plays a character but which is also a song about female empowerment. In the music business, Rihanna is a powerful woman; she recently made a deal to own all of her past and future master recordings, and from now on she’ll release her music through her company, Westbury Road. Says Jay Z, “What took me 15 or 20 years to get has taken her 10, and will take the next person 5 years. It’s great to be able to help fight that fight.”
While many people describe Rihanna as “fearless,” Jay Z says he sees her more as “fiery.” What Rihanna herself fears—aside from “haunted shit” and childbirth (even though she says she wants a child “so bad … eventually”)—is the pedestal that comes with fame. “It all looks very glittery and blinged out,” she says, “but it’s way too scary and unrealistic. There’s a long way to fall when you pretend that you’re so far away from the earth, far away from reality, floating in a bubble that’s protected by fame or success. It’s scary, and it’s the thing I fear the most: to be swallowed up by that bubble. It can be poison to you, fame.”
So, even though she is more accessible—and polite—to her fans than some stars who pretend to be, she says her everyday conversations with her friends center on: how normal a life can she actually have? I mention that Eminem once told me he would trade a lot of his fame just to be able to go to the mall, and she exclaims, “Dude! Oh my God—this is scary and sad all at the same time. I literally dream about buying my own groceries.” Come on, I say. “Swear to God. Because it is something that is real and normal. Something that can keep you a little bit uncomfortable.” Uncomfortable? “A hundred percent. Because life is not perfect, and the minute you feel it’s perfect, it’s not real. Artists sign a deal to make music; we didn’t sign to be perfect, or to be role models. We’re all flawed human beings who are learning and growing and evolving and going through the same bullshit as everybody else. The fact that people expect the day we sign we’re supposed to be perfect does not make any fucking sense to me. Even tragedy, every trial in your life, is a test. It’s like a class—you take an exam, and if you pass, you move on to the next. You still have to take another test and prove yourself again.”
And, having been through drama, dysfunctional relationships, and all those tests, when it comes to her personal life, Rihanna says that for now “I’m fine being with myself. I don’t want to really let anybody in. I’ve got too much on my plate, and I’m not even worried about it.” I say it will take a very special person to share her life. “A hundred percent,” she says. “A very extraordinary gentleman, with a lot of patience, will come along when I least expect it. And I don’t want it right now. I can’t really be everything for someone. This is my reality right now.” So one day, I say, someone will come in on a white horse … “No,” she says, laughing. “Not on a white horse. Probably on a black motorcycle.”
Rihanna on June’s Vogue cover
Rihanna graces the cover of the latest Vogue magazine June 2018 issue. The singer opened up about her life and career in an interview with the magazine published Thursday.
Rihanna on Body Image, Turning 30, and Staying Real—No Matter What
It’s a foggy spring night in Paris, and Rihanna has just wrapped up a meeting with her accountant in the penthouse suite of the Four Seasons hotel, a place that will serve as her makeshift office for the next few days. The evening panorama from the terrace is about as picture-postcard pretty as Paris gets, though at this late hour the lights on the Eiffel Tower have long since gone out. Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty is a night owl. Her most intense bouts of creativity often come after midnight, a rhythm she picked up early in her music career. In the dark, soundproofed environment of a recording studio, time is elastic. And when you’re Rihanna, and the world is your oyster, then time is really elastic. It’s perhaps why she doesn’t seem particularly bothered that today’s to-do list is far from done. There is a stack of Fenty Beauty campaign printouts piled high on her desk awaiting her approval; a flood of unanswered emails from Fenty team members in various time zones, all happily waiting on her too. Right now, though, there is a more pressing issue on the agenda, one that demands her full attention: Rihanna has decided that it’s time to fix my love life.
“So wait, you’re on a dating app? You don’t seem like the dating-app type,” she says as her almond-shaped green eyes peer into my iPhone. “Come sit here; you gotta teach me how to do this swipe thing.” Rihanna is all curled up in a cozy hotel bathrobe and has a pair of comfy Fenty Puma slides on her feet, and yet she radiates flawless glamour—hair tousled in loose waves, skin luminous. Though I have taken great pains to put together what I think is a Rihanna-worthy look—Jacquemus blouse, vintage Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo pants—it’s hard not to feel like a tarnished penny next to a freshly minted gold coin as I sidle up to her on the sofa. Rihanna asks if she can take a look through the photos on my app, and I oblige. “What is that dress? Is that vintage Jean Paul Gaultier?” she asks, pausing on my profile picture, a bathroom selfie taken in a swanky Hollywood hotel. “You better werk, girl; you look gorgeous!” I do my best to play it cool, but the little fangirl inside me is freaking out. Hanging out with Rihanna is every bit as fun as her costars in the upcoming Ocean’s 8 movie make it sound: You know you’re in the presence of a superstar, but it’s like you’re chatting with an old friend. “It’s a combination of being starstruck and being immediately put at ease,” explains Sandra Bullock. “She also has this warmth, and when she shines it on you, it makes you feel pretty damn amazing!”
Watch Rihanna’s Epic 10-Minute Guide to Going Out Makeup:
Before long, we’re on the hunt for potential suitors. “This guy is too pretty—if you’re pretty, you at least gotta have wrinkles,” Rihanna says, sizing up a male-model type who’s posing bare-chested on a surfboard. And so we’re on to the next. “OK, and this one is giving me Charlie Manson. No?” I nod in agreement; psychopaths are not an option. After swiping through a dozen profiles or more, she lands on a good one. “Now, this is your type!” she says. She’s not wrong: This man is scruffy but handsome, age appropriate (36), and appears to be gainfully employed (an actor, not my first choice, but hey, nobody’s perfect). “He looks smart, he’s British, and he’s got edges!” (Translation: He’s got all his own hair.) She swipes right, and a message pops up almost instantaneously on the screen: It’s a match! We both throw our heads back and start screaming with laughter.
But don’t be fooled: The giddy highs and lows of singledom are fast becoming a distant memory for Rihanna. Right now, she’s in a relationship. “I used to feel guilty about taking personal time,” she says, “but I also think I never met someone who was worth it before.” Though she’s reluctant to talk about her partner by name, rumors have been swirling around her connection to Hassan Jameel, a young Saudi businessman, since paparazzi photos of her vacationing with a handsome stranger in Spain made the rounds last summer. These recent romantic developments are, however, part of a much bigger sea change for Rihanna, who turned 30 this year. For the first time in her life, she’s fully committed to a healthy work-life balance. “Even mentally, just to be away from my phone, to be in the moment, that has been key for my growth,” she says. “Now, when I come to work, I’m all in. Because before you know it, the years will go by. I’m glad I’m taking the time. I’m happy.”
Still, making those kinds of pivotal lifestyle adjustments isn’t always easy—especially if, like Rihanna, you’ve been on the celebrity treadmill since you were a teenager. It’s even tougher now that she’s not only the face of her personal brand but also the CEO of a burgeoning global beauty-and-fashion empire. Pulling double duty as both badass rock star and savvy businesswoman across a working orbit that spans California (home base for her new lingerie collaborators) and Europe can take a physical toll on even the most intergalactic of superstars. Since giving up her apartment in SoHo, New York, last fall, Rihanna spends most of her time in either London or Los Angeles, though to hear her tell it, she basically lives on a plane. I witnessed her pushed up against her limits just a few days earlier, when, hours before the cover shoot for this issue, she was suddenly taken ill. The setting couldn’t have been more breathtaking—a villa overlooking Es Vedrà, the mythically charged, rocky island off the southwestern coast of Ibiza that’s said to be the third-most-magnetic place on the planet. But not even adamantine willpower could overcome the exhaustion that Rihanna was feeling in that moment. “I don’t know if it was too much magnetic energy for me, but it sure knocked me on my ass,” she says in Paris, explaining that she often experiences the same symptoms around this time of the year, usually between touring and awards-show season. “It was like my immune system had just had it with me.” The next day she appeared to be back to her old self, cracking jokes with photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott and pulling goofy faces between shots when she thought they were not looking, though it was clear her energy levels had taken a beating. She headed to Paris on a private jet a day early and rescheduled our interview, so I followed her flight path.
Rihanna might be a force of nature, but she’s not superhuman. She’s been thinking more seriously about taking care of herself since she celebrated her birthday in New York this past February. That night she was tucked up in bed well before 4:00 a.m. (believe it or not, this is early for Rihanna) and woke up the next morning without any trace of a hangover in time to see her closest friends and family off to the airport—hardly the kind of behavior we expect from the woman we’ve come to know as @badgalriri on Instagram. These days she shares the same anxieties about her well-being as many young women her age: “OK, so now that I’m 30, are there things I’m supposed to do? Should I be worried? Should I be freezing my eggs? What do you do at 30?!”
But if you think that means she’s slowing down, think again: Judging by the list of her upcoming and ongoing projects, Rihanna is gearing up for what is poised to be one of the most productive periods of her career. There’s the much-anticipated release this month of Ocean’s 8, in which she plays Nine Ball, a street-smart hacker with waist-length dreadlocks in an all-female crew of bandits (Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, and Helena Bonham Carter) plotting a heist at the Met ball. (The real-life plot twist here is that Rihanna is cohosting this year’s gala, alongside Donatella Versace and Amal Clooney.) Ocean’s 8 director Gary Ross remembers first spitballing ideas for the film with Rihanna backstage after a concert she played in Malmö, Sweden, in 2016. It was during that late-night brainstorming session that they decided to tie Rihanna’s island roots into her character profile and make Nine Ball Bajan. “Rihanna is so bravely authentic. She doesn’t care what people think of her; she’s fully invested in being herself,” says Ross. “She also has a seriousness of purpose and focus that not a lot of people have. It’s all about the work, and it doesn’t come with any excess personal baggage.”
On the heels of the insanity of making a blockbuster movie, Rihanna somehow managed to launch Fenty Beauty in collaboration with Kendo, LVMH’s incubator for cool new makeup brands, last September. Leading with a range of foundations that cover a full spectrum of skin tones (there are 40 different shades), the brand shook up the beauty industry in ways few currently within it could have predicted, prompting a broader conversation about inclusivity that had long been ignored. The success of her cosmetics line was unprecedented, reportedly racking up a staggering $100 million in sales within 40 days. The wait lists at certain makeup counters continued for months. (I was among hundreds of women who lined up outside Harvey Nichols in London last fall, only to find that my shade had already sold out.)
Rihanna was initially taken aback by the response. She had grown up watching her mother apply makeup, so thinking about foundations for darker skin tones came naturally. “As a black woman, I could not live with myself if I didn’t do that,” she says. “But what I didn’t anticipate was the way people would get emotional about finding their complexion on the shelf, that this would be a groundbreaking moment.” She’s taken the same approach with Savage X Fenty, her direct-to-consumer lingerie line in partnership with online retail giant TechStyle launching May 11th, offering a range of nude underwear that goes far beyond the bog-standard beige T-shirt bra. She’s not alone in questioning the limited notion of “nude”: Kanye West’s debut fall 2015 Yeezy collection featured a diverse cast of models in flesh-toned looks that encompassed a wide range of colors, from palest white to richest brown. Now Rihanna is pushing that idea one step further, shedding light on the frustrations that many black women face in dressing their bodies at the most intimate level. She has said in the past that her biggest regret about the sheer Adam Selman dress she wore to the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awardswas that she didn’t throw on a bedazzled thong, mostly because the nude undies she ended up in weren’t the right match—“not my nude,” as she points out.
It should go without saying that the new line will carry a body-positive message, too. Rihanna’s lingerie models come in all shapes and sizes; they are real women with real bodies who stand as a refreshing counterpoint to the impossible supermodel dimensions that have defined the look of lingerie for decades. Like Gigi Hadid and Serena Williams, Rihanna has been the target of body-shaming internet trolls. Her public responses have been rare, but when she does brush off the haters it’s usually done with a razor-sharp dose of wit: Last summer she posted a hilarious before-and-after weight-loss meme of the rapper Gucci Mane, a tongue-in-cheek nod to her own fluctuations on the scale. Because what could be more sexy than a sense of humor? “You’ve just got to laugh at yourself, honestly. I mean, I know when I’m having a fat day and when I’ve lost weight. I accept all of the bodies,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m not built like a Victoria’s Secret girl, and I still feel very beautiful and confident in my lingerie.”
And yet Rihanna’s most impressive body of work begins and ends with her music. While it’s been more than two years since she released Anti, she continues to dominate the pop charts, and she set yet another benchmark this March as the first female artist ever to surpass two billion streams on Apple Music. With her next record—her ninth—Rihanna is moving the needle on her creative output all over again: She plans to make a reggae album. Though it’s too soon to name a full list of collaborators, one early influence may be Supa Dups, the Jamaican-born record producer who has worked with such dancehall greats as Beenie Man, Sean Paul, and Elephant Man. If Rihanna had to name her favorite reggae artist of all time, though, it would have to be Bob Marley. (Descriptions of the Bob shrine she once built in her home are all over the internet.) “I’m gonna sound like a real tourist when I tell you my top Bob songs,” she says, pausing to scroll through a playlist on her iPhone before rattling off many of his most beloved hits: “Three Little Birds,” “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Redemption Song,” a Marley classic she has covered on tour. It may surprise you to learn that of all the tunes in the reggae icon’s catalog, “Buffalo Soldier” is the one that resonates with Rihanna on a deeply personal level. The song’s theme of upheaval and displacement is a familiar refrain for the singer, who was whisked away from Barbados to New York within months of being discovered by record producer Evan Rogers at the tender age of sixteen. Her risk-taking instincts and taste for danger have often earned her comparisons to Madonna, though in fact the similarities between Bob Marley and Rihanna ring truer, even beyond the obvious island connection. Like Marley, Rihanna is possessed of an unstudied yet wholly electrifying sense of cool. Her ability to continually recalibrate the mood of a generation in the way she sounds, looks, and moves through the world has unwittingly positioned her, just as it did him, at the global axis of popular culture.
Rihanna is well acquainted with the pressures that come with being thrust onto the world stage at a young age. She has been obliged to play out many of life’s messiest rites of passage in the public eye. It’s why she has always been reluctant to embrace the idea of being a role model. “That title was put on me when I was just finding my way, making mistakes in front of the world. I didn’t think it was fair,” she says. “Now I understand the concept, but at that time I was the same age as the girls who were looking up to me. And that’s a really hard place to be in as a teenager.” Though she’s certainly older and wiser now, the role-model tag still doesn’t quite fit. It implies a conventional mind-set that is at odds with her fiercely independent spirit. Rihanna’s vibe is more mutable, her instincts more counterintuitive, her energy almost impossible to contain. And her willingness to be vulnerable and bare her soul only amplifies her mystique.
Even Hollywood’s most polished veterans seem hopelessly spellbound by Rihanna’s preternatural self-assuredness. Cate Blanchett describes her as “like the Sphinx. She is ancient, mysterious, unique, wicked.” Mel Ottenberg, the stylist who has helped orchestrate the singer’s most audacious fashion moments, lovingly likens her to “a cat that can jump out of a window wearing stiletto heels and still land on her feet.” She’s not afraid to indulge her primal impulses, either. Her favorite bedroom is painted black, and she has fitted out one of her homes with a man cave–style den—she calls it her “kitty cave.”
As it happens, the name Rihanna gave her lingerie line perfectly encapsulates her state of being right now—and it’s spelled out in gold letters on a chain hanging around her neck: s-a-v-a-g-e. “Savage is really about taking complete ownership of how you feel and the choices you make. Basically making sure everybody knows the ball is in your court,” she says, twisting the nameplate between her purple-lacquered fingernails. “As women, we’re looked at as the needy ones, the naggy ones, the ones who are going to be heartbroken in a relationship. Savage is just the reverse. And you know, guys don’t like getting the cards flipped on them—ever.”
Fans will recognize a version of this mission statement from the lyrics of “Needed Me,” the hit single from Anti that has gone platinum five times over. In the video, Rihanna is a woman on a revenge mission who assassinates her former lover in the smoky back room of a Miami strip club. The singer has been criticized for glamorizing violence, though her defenders say that this subversive imaging speaks to the culture’s shifting power dynamics. It’s funny to think that Anti dropped long before the dawning of Trump, or #MeToo, when you consider the spirit of resistance that quietly pulses through the record. Even the apocalyptic set design and wardrobe for the tour—somewhere between Mad Max and Blade Runner—seemed to foreshadow darker days. The album received a lukewarm reception at the time of its release. Some critics wrote it off as scattershot and uneven, laden with pop songs that were anything but sweet. Others called it self-indulgent, made to please herself. In the end Anti defied all expectations, landing more number-one hits on Billboard’s dance-club-songs chart than any other album in its history. And though it was famously snubbed at the Grammys, Rihanna would end up scooping the prestigious Vanguard award (MTV’s equivalent to a lifetime-achievement award) at the VMAs.
It was one of the most memorable appearances of her career, with a medley of songs performed throughout the night and a string of jaw-dropping wardrobe transformations. And yet the whole event was overshadowed by a more titillating chapter in pop-culture history: After taking out a billboard in Los Angeles a couple of days earlier congratulating Rihanna, Drake presented her with the award while professing his undying love for her on live TV. Suddenly what should have been her big moment became all about him.
Rihanna winces slightly at the mention of the rapper’s name before her eyes glaze over with cool indifference. “The VMAs is such a fan-focused awards show, so having that energy around me, and knowing the people who had received the award in the past, made it feel like a big deal,” she says. “Waiting through that speech was probably the most uncomfortable part. I don’t like too many compliments; I don’t like to be put on blast.” When I ask about the current state of their friendship, her attitude is sanguine. “We don’t have a friendship now, but we’re not enemies either. It is what it is.”
The next afternoon Rihanna invites me over to her hotel suite to try out the new makeup from her Fenty Beauty line. I’m hoping that I might pick up a few tips to up my selfie game, too—that profile picture on my dating app is almost a year old, after all. When I arrive, she’s dressed in an airport look: camo pants, a cozy black hoodie, and clear Manolo Blahnik mules. She’s busy applying a light foundation base to Jahleel Weaver, a member of her creative team. There are pots of brightly colored powder neatly lined up on the dresser, including one called Sangria Sunset, the hot-pink shade I recognize as Rihanna’s avant-garde beauty look from last year’s Rei Kawakubo–themed Met ball. I’m already wearing her best-selling Pro Filt’r foundation #360, which I’d finally scored at Sephora a couple of months after the launch. To add to that, I’m instantly drawn to the lipsticks, including one in a deep shade of plum called PMS, and another in zingy violet called One of the Boyz that pops with intense pigment when I test it on the back of my hand. “All the guys in Hollywood wear makeup on the red carpet, even if they won’t admit it,” she says, turning her attention to me. “You know that, right, Chi Chi?” It seems that, after last night’s rendezvous, I’ve become part of the family. In fact, Rihanna treats her mostly female circle of young employees with the teasing affection of an older sister. Loyalty, she explains, is her number-one priority. When new people are initiated into the Fenty camp, they usually have to learn the ropes as her assistant first, so she can watch them.
That said, it’s hard to rival the deep bonds she’s formed with her extended family in Barbados. Binge-watching clips of Majesty, her precocious three-year-old niece, might be Rihanna’s favorite pastime. The adorable video messages she has archived on her phone offer comfort on the days when she misses Barbados. She has vivid memories of the first time she ever felt homesick, two years after moving to the States, an intense longing that prompted her to get on the phone to her younger brother Rorrey, and tell him just how much she loved him. “I basically grew up in paradise. I mean, people save for their whole lives to go on vacation there, and it’s easy to take that for granted,” she says.
But even paradise hasn’t been immune to the gun epidemic: On Boxing Day of last year, Tavon Kaiseen Alleyne, Rihanna’s 21-year-old cousin, lost his life in a shooting. Rihanna has spoken out against gun violence in the past, though her approach to activism is more subtle than that of many of her celebrity peers. She quietly founded a nonprofit—the Clara Lionel Foundation, named after her grandparents—that focuses on education and health care in impoverished communities. (She recently partnered with French president Emmanuel Macron on a global education initiative.) Yet despite these philanthropic efforts and the influence she wields on social media—lest we forget, when she called out Snapchat for making light of domestic violence in an ad they ran about her, the media company lost an estimated $800 million in market value overnight—she feels the same sense of powerlessness that many of us do in the endless scroll of the current news cycle. She prefers to issue her goodwill via more private channels, communicating with fans who direct-message her on Instagram whenever she gets a spare moment. For Rihanna, raising public awareness with an Instagram post is one thing, but at what point is it just lip service? How can we effect change in a bigger way?
Rihanna doesn’t pretend to hold all the answers, but she understands that her greatest strength right now is her unflinching realness. In that sense, any political stance she takes will always be tethered to her personal experiences. “I really hugged my cousin the night before he died; I didn’t know why. Now each time I hug somebody lately, I hug them like it’s the last time. That may be my biggest life lesson, not to wait on anything, not even tomorrow,” she says, pausing to gather her thoughts. “Tomorrow is too late in my opinion.”
The star’s maternal instinct is obvious. I ask her what kind of mother she thinks she’ll be one day, though it’s abundantly clear that she’ll be the kind who loves hard. “I’m not gonna be able to take my eyes off my kid. I know that already about myself,” she says. “They’re going to have to force me to hire a nanny.” Even her taste for reality TV tends toward feisty matriarchs. Lisa Vanderpump, the 57-year-old star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, might be Rihanna’s biggest girl crush. “Tell me who is a badder bitch than Lisa Vanderpump! She’s goals AF!” she says, cracking open a gold highlighter called Trophy Wife. “She’s chic but still funny. She likes to be at home with her husband and then goes and handles her business. Maybe there’s a couple of thousand Birkins in her closet, but she’s still focused. I love that about her.”
I try to imagine what Rihanna’s life will look like 25 years from now. Will she be living the quietly opulent and überglamorous life in the Hills like Lisa Vanderpump, a man at her side and a pack of yapping Pomeranian puppies at her feet? Maybe yes—but probably no. The truth is, trying to anticipate the superstar’s next move is virtually impossible, and that’s what makes her all the more thrilling to watch. Her Spidey sense takes her to places that most of us wouldn’t dare to go. Ask yourself “What would Rihanna do?” in any given situation, and the answer is guaranteed to be outside your comfort zone.
“So did you message the actor guy? You know, on your dating app?” she asks. Admittedly I haven’t reached out to him yet, but really I should. This weird rule I have about not making the first move suddenly feels horribly old-fashioned. Rihanna is right. Life is too short.
Rihanna for Vogue Paris (December 2017)
Check out all the scans from the latest edition of Vogue Paris!
Rihanna is December’s special guest editor and she graces not one but three 3 covers. The three photoshoots were shot by 3 different photographers (Juergen Teller, Inez and Vinoodh, and Jean-Paul Goude) with 3 editorials. The magazine is out on newsstands now! Don’t miss it and view all the photos at RihannaVault.com
So we got to ask…
— RihannaDaily.com (@RihannaDaily) December 1, 2017
5 Rihanna quotes to read before the release of the Vogue Paris Christmas 2017 edition
Via Vogue Paris: As well as posing for three of Vogue’s strongest photographers – Jean-Paul Goude, Inez & Vinoodh and Juergen Teller – Vogue Paris’ guest of honor for the December 2017/January 2018 edition Rihanna also opens up her family photo album exclusively for the magazine. From her memories in pictures, to her favorite things, her fears and break-ups, Vogue Paris picks out a few Rihanna highlights before the issue’s December 1 release.
Emmanuelle Alt, editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris in the December 2017/January 2018 issue, on Rihanna: “She’s one of the most emblematic artists of the early 21st century. She’s moved more than 200 million records of her hybrid R&B, dance, rock and reggae-flavored music, provided sartorial surprises from glammed-up streetwear to reworked classics and is driven by an unparalleled desire to succeed. Stamped with her trademark bold body art, Rihanna cuts an unusual figure in the celebrity Hall of Fame.”
“My first bomb. All of my friends were jumping into the water, and so did I. My photographer friend Dennis was in the water and took this picture. You can see the splash mark on the lens. It was my day off before I was due to perform in the Dominican Republic on the next day for the Diamonds World Tour. Normally on days off when I’m on tour, instead of sleeping or lazing around in the sun like I’m doing here, I try to visit the cities where I’m stopping over in and play tourist for the day, getting lost in the museums, on the streets and exploring the surroundings as much as possible. I have a lot of trouble switching off. Even when I get home early, which means before 1 a.m., I start binge-watching shows or documentaries, which I love. I can’t go straight to bed. Actually, I only sleep three or four hours a night.”
“Greatest Love of All means Whitney Houston to me! The innocence on her face in the music video moves me. It’s a love song, but not of a classic love story or heartache. It’s tackles self-love. We don’t know where the pain starts, where it finishes, and fame can help to heal our deep-seated wounds and weaknesses. But there is a moment of grace in life where hope finds its niche, where trust lies. This is what I read on Whitney’s face when I watch this video. I would’ve loved for her to keep that forever.”
“Every time a man cheats on you or treats you badly, you need a revenge dress. Every woman knows that. But whether her choice of this knockdown dress was conscious or not, I am touched by the idea that even Princess Diana could suffer like any ordinary woman. This Diana Bad Bitch moment blew me away.”
“Bob Marley paved the way for Caribbean artists like myself. Thanks to him, to his journey, I learnt that there were no limits, that we were all equally capable of living our dreams, that I had a purpose, that I could be seen and heard. Every time my mother comes across a video of him, she tells his story for the umpteenth time. She’s a fan.”
“I’ve never been totally comfortable in front of the camera. Even today, I find the camera terrifying. It embodies the millions of eyes that will look at you. I try not to take it to heart. As long as I’m in my element on stage, in front of my audience, I know that they’re emotionally connecting with me, that they love my music and aren’t judging me, feeling vulnerable behind the camera is ok.”
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