Rihanna: How a teen from the islands became a global phenomenon

Rihanna sings during The Concert for Valor in Washington, D.C. Nov. 11, 2014. DoD News photo by EJ Hersom

On the island of Barbados in 2004, at just sixteen years old, Rihanna was discovered by American producer Evan Rodgers. She came to America and recorded a four-track demo that was later sent to Def Jam Recordings. At the time, Jay-Z was the head of Def Jam, and after first meeting her, Jay-Z told Rolling Stone “I knew she was a star.” During the meeting they joked that she couldn’t leave until she signed a record deal. 

“I had butterflies. I’m sitting across from Jay-Z. Like, Jay-Z. I was starstruck,” Rihanna told The Guardian

At seventeen, Rihanna released her debut album Music Of The Sun. The stand-out track of the album, “Pon de Replay,” pays homage to her Caribbean home as a pop track infused with elements of reggae. It ended up reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2005 and selling two million copies.

Over the course of the next ten years, Rihanna put out groundbreaking work. Her iconic 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad marked a turning point in her career. This was when she finally started taking control of her music and moved away from the teen popstar image. 

If someone didn’t know who Rihanna was before hearing “Umbrella,” they would surely know who she was afterwards. She released the smash hit featuring Jay-Z, which won the MTV music video of the year. At the Grammy’s that year, it also won the best Rap/Sung collaboration award while it was nominated for Song and Record of the Year. In addition to “Umbrella,” Good Girl Gone Bad features hits such as “Don’t Stop The Music,” “Shut up and Drive,” “Disturbia,” and “Take a Bow.” 

Commanding the audience with her 2015 single “B**** Better Have My Money,” Rihanna opened the Super Bowl LVII Show atop a pyramid of floating platforms.

This album led her fans to give her the nickname “Bad Girl Riri.” Her following two albums, Rated R and Loud, spawned multiple hits and established Rihanna’s discography as essential nightclub music that would carry the clubbing scene through the 2010s. Hits such as “Rude Boy,” “Te Amo,” “S&M,” “Only Girl In The World,” and the single “Love the Way You Lie” dominated the dancefloors. During this time, Rihanna created her trademark “R” that could be found on the covers of singles and her albums. This was most likely a push from her lable’s branding or marketing team as a way to turn her into a living logo, one of the double-edged swords musicians face in the industry.

As Rihanna’s career carried out into the 2010s, she released multiple Billboard top-10 hits such as “We Found Love,” the ballad “Stay” with Mikky Ekko, “Diamonds,” “Where Have You Been,” “FourFiveSeconds,” “This Is What You Came For,” “Needed Me,” and “Work.” “We Found Love” and “This Is What You Came For” helped boost Scottish DJ Calvin Haris into stardom. “We Found Love” became the longest running No. 1 single of 2011, and “This Is What You Came For” reached No. 3 in 2015. 

Barbadian singer Rihanna at the Met Gala in 2017 – Wikimedia

Rihanna’s eighth studio album ANTI was released in 2016 and has since become a fan favorite. It features the unforgettable and heartfelt ballad “Love On The Brain,” which tells the story of an abusive relationship of love that many people believe is about her former boyfriend Chirs Brown. Additionally, the song “Work” with Drake added to the rising popularity of twerking in mainstream media. Its smooth sound and unfiltered vocals make it one of Rihanna and Drake’s best collaborations. Another standout song from the album is “Needed Me.” At its core, it serves as a female empowerment anthem. It peaked at No. 7 and spent 16 weeks in the top 10. It went on to stay on the Billboard charts for 46 weeks, becoming Rihanna’s longest charting song. At the Grammy Awards, ANTI was also nominated for Album of the Year, but it unfortunately lost. After the release of ANTI, Rihanna went on a musical hiatus to focus on Fenty Beauty, her makeup and fashion line.

While it was incredible to see Rihanna perform again, it felt sub-par.

After being stuck in a drought for six years, Rihanna fans were thrilled to find out that she would be featured on and producing the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. On October 28, Rihanna released “Lift Me Up,” a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. With Black Panther’s many Oscar nominations, Rihanna isrumored to be performing at the Oscars. This would be exactly a month after her highly anticipated Super Bowl LVII Performance.

Commanding the audience with her 2015 single “B**** Better Have My Money,” Rihanna opened the Super Bowl LVII Show atop a pyramid of floating platforms. She wore a red suit matching the platform below her in contrast to the ensemble of suited white dancers. She floated down and transitioned to “Where Have You Been” and “Only Girl In The World,” dancing to the best of her ability in her pregnant state. “We Found Love” transitioned to “Rude Boy” as her dance ensemble moved down a catwalk. Following this, Rihanna strutted down the catwalk followed by her dancers moving in the oddest way possible, which sparked a trend on Tiktok where users recreated this dance. Then, the entire dance ensemble ran out on the field for “All Of The Lights” with spotlights and cameras flashing all over the stage. “Run This Town” followed suit. During the break between that and “Umbrella,” Rihanna paused for product placement while applying Fenty Beauty. For the finale, Rihanna delivered a full performance of her hit song “Diamonds” while suspended above the field. 

While it was incredible to see Rihanna perform again, it felt sub-par. It didn’t feel like she was giving all her energy to the melody of her discography. Her performance was dance intensive, and she managed to deliver the best she could. While building hype for the performance, Rihanna stated that it would be very special and there would be lots of new surprises. Well, she was right. The floating platforms have never been used before in a Super Bowl halftime show, but the special guest she said she was going to bring out never arrived. It is sad because some of Rihanna’s best songs are collabs with other artists. She could have brought out Drake, with whom she has five well-known and well-received songs. 

After her Super Bowl performance, her music began to resurface on the Billboard charts, bringing about a new generation of Rihanna fans. Many fans now speculate she will release new music. 

Family comes first for her. She most likely wants to be there for her kids as a young mother and be able to spend time with them before she has to return to her life in the industry. She hasn’t revealed the name of her unborn son yet. 

Rihanna stated that she intends to release new music in 2023. So until that happens, fans will continue to stream her music and marvel at how a girl from Barbados went from entering a talent competition because her friends dared her to working with Jay-Z, becoming a billionaire fashion and beauty mogul, and being named the most influential Artist of the 21st Century.