Via Vogue: It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I am in the large gothic home of Real Housewife Carlton Gebbia in Beverly Hills, the setting for Rihanna’s Vogue shoot. The 28-year-old singer appears in the doorway, fresh off a plane from Toronto, where the night before she and Drake wrapped the video for their hit single “Work.” She is wearing a vintage Guess leather biker jacket, a gray Star Wars T-shirt, and green Vetements sweatpants, her sleek black hair chopped into a blunt nineties bob. Even such a Netflix-and-chill look cannot conceal the singular proportions of her body. She hugs me hello and then floats upstairs, where hair and makeup stylists await.
I settle into a chair outside and pass the time by—what else?—checking my phone. Thanks to the demands of the 24-hour news cycle, every Instagram post by a pop star has become a source of intrigue, every teased video clip fodder for frenzied speculation. On this particular afternoon, the RiRi chatter, robust on any day, is reaching peak hysteria.
Ten days earlier, Rihanna dropped Anti, her first album since 2012. For seven years, she had released a new pop confection every year, like clockwork. Then, suddenly, nothing. It wasn’t just the timing. Anti immediately announced itself as something different. A defiant, idiosyncratic mix of dance hall, doo-wop, and soul, it did not deliver her usual instantly gratifying, reliable pop formula. Stoking the fire were rumors that Anti was leaked through Tidal, the streaming service run by Jay Z and co-owned by Rihanna. Next were the reports of impossibly low sales figures. Then, the day before, out of nowhere, came the surprise release of Beyoncé’s pointedly political video for “Formation.” The Internet is ablaze: Did Bey just try to steal RiRi’s thunder? And, most breathlessly: Is Rihanna going to make a surprise appearance at the Super Bowl?!
Rihanna, meanwhile, is reclining on a chaise on a veranda in the sun, taking pulls from a joint and sending wisps of smoke into the cloudless California sky. She’s listening to a remix of Sia’s “Chandelier,” occasionally belting out a lyric in that inimitable Bajan tone: “I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist! Like it doesn’t exist!”
We are living in a golden age of pop divas. Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Adele: Rarely have the top ranks been so ruled by women. We feel vulnerable with Adele, empowered by Taylor. We want to watch Beyoncé. Watch her dance, watch her dominate the marketplace, watch her slay. In this gloriously crowded arena, Rihanna transmits something unique. Not afraid to show us her flaws, Rihanna inspires us to, as her friend Cara Delevingne puts it, “go with your instinct and go with your gut, and if people don’t like you, fuck ’em.”
This take-it-or-leave-it realness is what draws young women into the ranks of Rihanna’s fiercely loyal fan base, known as her Navy, after a lyric from her song “G4L.” And in 2016, the Navy is going to get a lot of Rihanna.
Over the next few weeks alone, her plan is to fly to New York to debut a collection she designed for Puma at New York Fashion Week; return to L.A. for the Grammys; then head to London to perform at the Brit Awards (she will grind with Drake in white-hot fringed pants); and, two days after that, go back to California to begin a 63-city world tour. Her looks on tour are “inspired by neutral earth tones,” she says, “and evolve from one extreme to the other as the show progresses.” Joining her will be Big Sean and the Weeknd in Europe, as well as Travis Scott, whom she’s been seen out with in the last few months. “I like to bring people who can get the crowd excited,” she says.
“I probably am going to have like four days of tour rehearsal in total, which is Freaking. Me. Out,” Rihanna says. It’s after 9:00 p.m., the shoot is over, and we’re sitting cross-legged in red leather recliners in the home theater of the Beverly Hills house, sipping Pinot Grigio from Dixie cups. “My schedule is so crazy right now.” It’s why, she says, she’s single: “It’s definitely going to be a challenge when I do decide to pursue a relationship . . . but I have hope!” Exercise is also hard to find time for. “I don’t work out as much as I’d like to,” she says, “but my trainer Jamie is a beast and she makes me pay for it.”
Watch celebrities pay tribute to Rihanna’s “Work”
After her last tour, in 2013, for Unapologetic, Rihanna vowed to take a break from recording. “I wanted to have a year to just do whatever I want artistically, creatively,” she says. “I lasted a week.” The paparazzi got a picture of her going into the studio, “and my fans were like, ‘Oh, yes! We’s droppin’ a single.’ ” From that moment, she says, the Navy was expecting an album. It would be another two years.
Turns out it takes a while to reinvent your sound. As Delevingne says, “Anti’s got its own genre, and that genre is her.” Had Rihanna gotten bored with the pop formula? “Very much,” the singer says. “I just gravitated toward the songs that were honest to where I’m at right now.” From the first song, “Consideration,” a trip-hop collaboration with SZA, the message is clear. The chorus has Rihanna singing, “I got to do things my own way, darling.” It’s “like a PSA,” she tells me. She recognizes the risks: “It might not be some automatic record that will be Top 40. But I felt like I earned the right to do that now.”
Avoiding the bravado and easy hooks of past hits, another song, “Higher,” reveals a woman who’s been burned by love. Rihanna compares it to “a drunk voice mail.” She explains, “You know he’s wrong, and then you get drunk and you’re like, ‘I could forgive him. I could call him. I could make up with him.’ Just, desperate.” The candor is heightened by a husky, soul-inflected warmth. “We just said, ‘You know what? Let’s just drink some whiskey and record this song.’ ”
Then there’s “Work,” on which she repeats the word work until it is no longer recognizable, a flourish one critic called “post-language.” While it evokes a technofuture, it’s actually a nod to her home culture in Barbados. (Though Rihanna now splits her time between New York and L.A., her ties to the island remain strong. She is close with her mother, Monica Braithwaite, who owns a clothing boutique there, and with her maternal grandfather, Lionel Braithwaite, a frequent star of her Instagram feed.) “You get what I’m saying, but it’s not all the way perfect,” she says. “Because that’s how we speak in the Caribbean.” In the accompanying video she made with Drake—“Everything he does is so amazing”—Rihanna grinds and jerks in a knitted Rasta-colored Tommy Hilfiger dress at a raucous dance-hall party, the kind “we would go to in the Caribbean and just dance and drink and smoke and flirt,” with her real-life best friends, Melissa Forde and Jennifer Rosales.
There have been a few singles dropped along the way, including “FourFiveSeconds,” an acoustic collaboration with Kanye West and Paul McCartney. “It’s almost like no one ever told him about his success,” Rihanna says of McCartney, whom she found to be endearingly humble. “It’s like, Aren’t you busy being a Beatle?” Last spring brought “Bitch Better Have My Money,” an over-the-top revenge fantasy whose video walked the line between empowerment and misogyny. “It’s just a way to describe a situation,” she says. “It’s a way to be in charge, to let people know that you’re all about your business.”
Over the past two years, Rihanna has definitely been all about her business. After fulfilling her contract with Def Jam, she created her own imprint, Westbury Road Entertainment, on Universal’s Roc Nation label. In a bold move, she then acquired the masters of all her previous albums and made a reported $25 million promotional deal with Samsung. Robyn Rihanna Fenty, the island girl plucked from obscurity at sixteen by a posse of music moguls, is becoming one herself. It’s because she’s so attuned to the seismic changes in her industry that she also bought a share of Tidal. “Streaming counts now,” she says. Like any savvy businesswoman, Rihanna knows it’s important to diversify. Last fall, she announced a new venture, Fr8me, an agency representing stylists and hair and makeup artists. She has a passionate interest in beauty and often scouts her own talent on Instagram.
In the midst of all this, she somehow found time to take a role in Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film based on a French comic series. Directed by Luc Besson, it costars Dane DeHaan and Delevingne and is due out in 2017. Speaking by phone, Besson is reluctant to give too much away about her character, except to say that her personality changes “every fifteen seconds.” “As you can imagine, because she’s number one in her business, she has a protection, like a crocodile,” the director says of Rihanna. “But she really let herself go. I was so touched by her.”
Earlier at the house, two men in suits arrived from the Recording Industry Association of America to present Rihanna with two plaques: one certifying Anti’s platinum status, the other commemorating a benchmark she reached last July, when she became the first artist in history to reach 100 million downloads online. (In another sign of the turbulent state of the music industry, reports will later cast doubt on Anti’s platinum status, pointing out that the RIAA took into account one million giveaways that were part of the Samsung deal.) Rihanna seems genuinely surprised by the accolades. “In flats and sweats!” she says, stretching out a leg. “If only I knew they were coming, I would’ve at least put on a cute little thing.”
With the sudden release of “Formation” during Anti’s week of ascendance up the charts, it’s no wonder the Internet is pitting Beyoncé and Rihanna against each other. But that’s not how Rihanna thinks. “Here’s the deal,” she says. “They just get so excited to feast on something that’s negative. Something that’s competitive. Something that’s, you know, a rivalry. And that’s just not what I wake up to. Because I can only do me. And nobody else is going to be able to do that.”
On an icy February night in New York, a line gathers outside 23 Wall Street, once the headquarters of J.P. Morgan’s banking empire and tonight the venue for the Fashion Week debut of Fenty, the new Puma collection by Rihanna, who was named women’s creative director of the sportswear company in late 2014. Inside, Naomi Campbell, Chris Rock, and the rapper Wale are finding their seats.
Rihanna isn’t the first music celebrity to try her hand at fashion design. But how involved was she in the process? “Very dedicated,” the CEO of Puma, Björn Gulden, says backstage. “She picked every single fabric,” says Melissa Battifarano, the design director behind the collection, motioning to a table of high-end do-rags, nineties chokers (a signature Rihanna accessory), and faux-fur fanny packs. (This echoes what many on Rihanna’s team have said. “There isn’t an image, a font, a piece of clothing that she does not approve,” her longtime manager, Jay Brown, says.)
It’s a natural move: Rihanna loves fashion, and fashion designers love her. Tom Ford describes her style as “daring, fearless, and constantly evolving.” (Rihanna, in turn, says of Ford admiringly that he “knows how to make a woman a bad bitch.”) Olivier Rousteing of Balmain likens her to Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Prince: “Whether masculine or feminine, she makes it sexy. She has this strength and modernity.”
She seems very comfortable in the role. Just consider the dress she wore to accept the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2014, a sheer, Swarovski-encrusted fishnet number by Adam Selman that left little to the imagination. “I just liked it better without the lines underneath. Could you imagine the CFDA dress with a bra? I would slice my throat. I already wanted to, for wearing a thong that wasn’t bedazzled. That’s the only regret I have in my life.” Wearing a thong that wasn’t bedazzled is your greatest regret in life? “To the CFDA Awards. Yes.”
Nearly a year later, on the Met Gala’s 2015 red carpet, so-called naked dresses were rocked by Jennifer Lopez (Atelier Versace), Kim Kardashian West (Roberto Cavalli), and Beyoncé (Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci). And what was Rihanna in? A magnificently regal, nearly ten-foot, 55-pound canary-yellow cape that took the Chinese couturier Guo Pei two years to make, and which Rihanna sourced herself, on the Internet. “She really loves to experiment with silhouettes and texture and styles, but when something works, she is ready to run in the other direction,” says her head stylist, Mel Ottenberg, who appears in many of the photographs of Rihanna that night, carrying the cape’s massive embroidered train. “My tux was covered in yellow feathers,” he says.
Back on Wall Street, Rihanna’s mom, Monica, told a reporter that her daughter has long been a chameleon. “You never knew what she would want,” said Braithwaite, herself sporting a short platinum chop. “One time she wanted to have pants, another time she wanted to have a lot of frills. Always changing. Always switching it up. She’s always been like that.” Braithwaite is sitting with Rihanna’s younger brothers, Rajad and Rorrey, and her grandfather, who is wearing a Roc Nation hoodie and hat.
The room darkens. Models appear through a haze of smoke and bound down the runway, through an “arctic urban forest,” as hairstylist Yusef Williams describes it, in gothic streetwear with samurai flourishes. Luxe and futuristic, the collection references Hood by Air as well as Rihanna’s own nonchalantly glamorous, globe-trotting lifestyle. “Like if the Addams Family was wearing gymwear,” she’ll tell me later. The final piece, a black oversize faux-fur hoodie, is worn by Gigi Hadid, who closes the show as a gorgeous frostbitten witch, with matte black lips and streaks of white paint in her hair. Not one for understatement, Kanye, whose own new album and fashion show were presented the day before at Madison Square Garden, will review the show on Twitter: “Wow the paradigm has shifted. . . . Lil Sis kiiiiiiiilled this shit!!!!!!!”
Backstage, Rihanna and her team—a tight-knit group with whom she travels everywhere, including Forde, Rosales, and Ciarra Pardo, her creative director of ten years and the head of her production company, also called Fenty—are celebrating. Rihanna leaps from a couch and envelops me in a warm hug. Champagne is flowing. Pardo crosses the room to embrace Rihanna. “You killed it!” she says. “Didn’t they kill it?” Rihanna says, deflecting credit to the models. “How do you feel?” I ask. “I feel like I’m floating right now,” she says. “I feel elated.”
I ask her about her inspirations for the show, which include Japanese street culture (“Every time I go to Japan, it’s like, ‘Wow’ ”) and nineties music and fashion. “All my favorite artists and fashion icons and models are from the nineties,” she says, citing fellow glamazons Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, as well as Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Gwen Stefani, Jean Paul Gaultier, and John Galliano. “Everybody was just so fearless.” The room grows loud, and Rihanna shushes a group that happens to include Campbell. (Who else can shush Naomi Campbell?)
Puma has already seen its fourth-quarter sales rise from Rihanna’s involvement with the brand, which bodes well for her other collaborations this spring—with Manolo Blahnik on a shoe collection and with Christian Dior on a line of sunglasses. Last year, Rihanna also became the first black face of Dior, a distinction that was initially lost on her, so caught up was she with “the Dior aspect.” “I was already proud to be a Dior woman, but to be a black Dior woman and the first: It did something else for me.”
In her quest for world domination, Rihanna will no doubt keep upending outdated norms. It’s not a coincidence that so many of her Puma designs are unisex. “I always wanted to do what my brothers were doing,” she says. “I always wanted to play the games they played and play rough and wear pants and go outside.” She still wants to. “Women feel empowered when they can do the things that are supposed to be only for men, you know?” she says. “It breaks boundaries, it’s liberating, and it’s empowering when you feel like, Well, I can do that, too.”
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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