Transformation Tuesday: Rihanna

January 8, 2014
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On February 20th, 1988, a girl who would soon grow up to be one of the biggest and most enduring pop stars of our time arrived in the world. Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, the soon-to-be-starlet we know and love as simply Rihanna found a home in the tropical oasis of Saint Michael, Barbados to a retired Afro-Guyanese accountant and a warehouse supervisor. She spent her childhood selling clothes out of a street-side stall with her father and listening to reggae, which perhaps led to her discovery of a love for singing at just 7 years old. Her father suffered from an addiction to crack cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol, which led to a divorce between him and Rihanna’s mother when Rihanna was just 14. This hardship undoubtedly affected how Rihanna developed as both an individual and an artist, and its impact can be seen in some of the lyrics of her music.

Her career began in December 2003, when she was introduced to an American record producer named Evan Rogers while Rogers was staying in Barbados. Impressed by her talent, he asked Rihanna to fly to New York City with him, where she was signed to Syndicated Rhythm Productions, a production company run by Rogers and his partner Carl Sturken. Syndicated Rhythm Productions released her demo tape in 2004, where it was then noticed by an executive at the world-renowned Def Jam Recordings. One thing led to another and Rihanna found herself back in New York City in 2005 to audition for Def Jam CEO Jay-Z and industry exec L.A. Reid.

Later that day, she signed a record deal with Def Jam – and the rest, they say, is history.

Remember that really old Rihanna hit, “Pon de Replay”? As her first single, the track charted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and successfully introduced Rihanna to the world as a contender in the music game. The album it was drawn from, Music of the Sun, reached number 10 on the Billboard 200 and went gold, selling over two million copies worldwide – not bad for a debut from a virtually unknown artist.

Cue April 2006, when Rihanna’s sophomore album A Girl Like Me was released. She began work on the record a month after Music of the Sun dropped, and collaborated with the likes of Ne-Yo for production and writing credits. Charting at number 5 in the US, this album gave the world a proper introduction to Rihanna with her smash hits “SOS” and “Unfaithful”.

The real change in the game came in May 2007, when Ri’s third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad, dropped and suddenly the world went Rihanna-crazy. Teaming up with the likes of Timbaland, Sean Garrett, and will.i.am, Good Girl Gone Bad was Rihanna’s dive into uptempo mainstream dance music. In addition to topping the charts in places like Japan, the UK, Brazil,and Canada, the album reached number two on the US charts, and blessed the music world with seemingly nonstop hits: “Umbrella”, anyone? “Shut Up and Drive”? How about “Hate That I Love You” with Ne-Yo? Or “Don’t Stop the Music”? This album marked Rihanna’s explosive ascent to the top of the music hierarchy – and concrete evidence for her to stay there for a long time.

The success of the album led Rihanna to embark on an 80-show tour, in addition to landing her several Grammy nods in 2008 – even securing her a win for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration with Jay-Z for “Umbrella”. Good Girl Gone Bad has since been certified two-times-platinum, remaining her best-selling album in the United States.

In June 2008, Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded was released, which treated the world to three new smash hits: “Disturbia”, “Take a Bow”, and “If I Never See Your Face Again” (feat. Maroon 5). Later that same year, her collaboration with T.I. for “Live Your Life” was dropped.

Between 2009 and 2011, Rihanna continued riding her high wave of success, working harder than many artists in the game today to release not one, but three more albums: Rated R, Loud, and Talk That Talk. To support the albums, she set out on several tours, including the Last Girl on Earth Tour for Rated R and the Loud Tour for Loud (which marked her as the best-selling female artist in the history of the famous O2 Arena in London, where she sold out ten nights). From these albums and side ventures, we were treated to some of pop music’s best and most memorable hits, including: “Russian Roulette”, “Rude Boy”, “Love the Way You Lie”, “All of the Lights”, “Only Girl (In the World)”, “What’s My Name?”, “S&M”, “Cheers (Drink to That)”, “Fly”, We Found Love”, “You Da One”, and “Where Have You Been”, among others – essentially making 2009-2011 the Years of Rihanna.

But if anyone thought her career would slow from there, they were far from the truth. In November 2012 she released her seventh studio album, Unapologetic (which gave us “Diamonds” and “Stay”), in addition to making her acting debut as Petty Officer Cora Raikes in the film Battleship, followed by an appearance in the comedy This Is the End. In March of 2013, Ri began her Diamonds World Tour. Her latest feat is the smash hit single “The Monster” alongside Eminem off his album The Marshall Mathers LP 2.

Rihanna has won 6 Grammys in addition to tying Michael Jackson as having the thirst most number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 (both she and Jackson have 13). She is one of only three artists to have enjoyed a number one single every year in the span of seven years, and is the fastest soloist to snag 13 number ones.

This month, it was revealed that Rihanna has begun work on her 8th album – confirming the speculation that she really doesn’t rest at all.

With a combination of hard work, natural talent, and insatiable ambition, Rihanna has proven just how far one can go and how successful one can be when they set their minds to something and go for it. Over the years, she has risen against incredible odds to make a name for herself, establish her legacy in the music industry, and start living a dream she’s nurtured since 7 years old. As one of the most talented and determined artists of our generation, there is no doubt that Rihanna is here to (as her single tells it) stay.

-Shelley DeHekker

@shelleydehekker

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