Rihanna, Every Girl for our Generation

When Enigma decided to throw one of the biggest parties of the decade, in one of the most iconic spots on earth, to celebrate 10 fabulous years at the top, we needed a star of a very special kind to rock the night for us.  Someone with that extra something; that certain je ne sais quois that embodies the spirit and image of Enigma. Someone fierce and feisty, fun and fabulous, fresh and modern, with their finger firmly on the pulse. One of our top choices, of course, was RIHANNA.  So will this fabulous star be the one to rock the Pyramids with us, or do we have something else in store? Stay tuned readers!

If Chaka Khan was every woman, Rihanna is every girl for our generation. She’s been called everything from a teen-queen to a rhythm and blues diva, from Beyoncé-lite to a bubble gum pop princess. The truth is she’s all of those and so much more – all at the same time. That’s the secret of her success – she cuts through the labels. Enigma’s Hassan Hassan takes a closer look at the phenomenon that this R&B diva has become…

Very few artists have captured the world’s imagination as brilliantly as Rihanna. She burst on to the music scene just over four years ago, but her chameleon-like powers have already become legendary. Transforming herself from fresh Barbadian beauty to raucous R’n’B princess, to survivor and, most recently, hip hop queen, it’s impossible to even compare Rihanna at the start of her career and Rihanna now. It’s a far stretch – and a very different person – singing Pon De Replay from the one that sings Disturbia. Every single time you see her, her look is fresher and just that little bit edgier.  Much like Madonna, she’s a chameleon, with her style, music and personality.
Here’s the thing about this pop princess: it’s not just the platinum albums, the huge number of downloads or the fact she’s one of the biggest selling female artists of the decade. She’s already managed to rise above it all – good and bad – at the ripe old age of 22. And best of all, she still retains a certain rawness. Her image isn’t as calculated as Britney Spears’, as fierce as Beyoncé’s or as formulaic as Christina Aguilera’s. She has all of those elements, but there’s an element to her that is 100 per cent her, which makes her music and performances that much more edgy and authentic.

It wasn’t always easy for this true survivor. Growing up in Barbados, with her two younger brothers, she had to deal with her parents’ rocky marriage. Rihanna Fenty began singing at age seven and by 15 she decided music was her destiny. She formed a group with two classmates and managed to snag an audition with Evan Rogers – the big time producer who’s worked with the likes of Christina Aguilera and Wild Orchid. He famously claimed that “the minute Rihanna walked into the room it was like the other two girls didn’t exist.” Rogers quickly helped her record four songs for a demo, which landed on the desk of the president of Def Jam records. That president happened to be hip hop mogul Jay-Z, who personally took Rihanna under his wing and propelled her to super stardom.

The budding diva, still only 17, then released Pon De Replay as her debut single. The catchy riffs and addictive reggae beat made it an instant club hit. Her debut album Music of the Sun was very Caribbean, very reggae and made waves for all the right reasons. Under Jay-Z’s guidance, she was slowly and steadily making a name for herself. By the time her second album, A Girl Like Me, came out and spawned hits like SOS and Unfaithful (which stayed at the top of the charts for well over a year and became one of her biggest selling singles) she was well on her way to becoming one of the world’s most sought-after divas.

Two short years after her debut, at age 19, Rihanna released Good Girl Gone Bad and with it the lead single Umbrella.  With a killer rap intro from her mentor Jay-Z, eclectic vocals and the catchiest hook of recent years, the song and album cemented Rihanna’s standing in pop music. The song, album and ensuing videos catapulted her from young starlet to full-on pop princess; spawning five consecutive number one hit singles with club classics including Please Don’t Stop The Music and powerful ballads like Hate That I Love You. She won her first Grammy award for Umbrella and left the other young female artists of her generation gasping in her wake. Her music had become poppier, her beats had just the right touch of  hip hop and she had finally found her place.

And her capacity for switching up her styles also made waves in the fashion world. In the video for Umbrella – her biggest hit to date – she was no longer sporting a long weave or that typical diva-in-the-making styling. She ditched the baggy pants and cropped tops, cut her hair into a dramatic jet black bob (that everyone soon tried to emulate) and suddenly had a body that made you sit up and take notice. Appearing in the video stark naked except for silver body paint, she unleashed the legs that would become her trademark. She was no longer the fresh-faced babe from Barbados – here was someone fierce and ready to take over the charts and become a pivotal force in pop culture. She had become a fully fledged diva.

Somewhere along the way, she also developed into a stellar performer. Her shows have become instant sell outs, complete with smash hit after smash hit, over-the-top outfits and an instinctive ability to get any crowd pumped. The Good Girl Gone Bad tour was a spectacle, with leather outfits, huge screens, dazzling pyrotechnics and everything in between. Her latest tour, Last Girl on Earth, has already become one of the biggest tours of the year.
Flanked by adoring fans and celebrity friends like Jay-Z, Kanye West and the hip hop cognoscenti, she’s become a powerhouse in both the music and the fashion worlds. She’s been the face of Cover Girl and the spokesperson for Gucci, as well as a cultural ambassador for her homeland, Barbados. Once again, she’s channeled her success and is riding the wave, focusing on her career and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the game. From Neyo to Justin Timberlake, Rihanna has joined the A-List and is comfortably at the top of her game.
Of course, there was that incident along the way, but it only served to reinforce just how far she’s come. Everyone knows the details:  Rihanna and Chris Brown had been a much-talked-about secret couple ever since they toured together in 2007. And then everything exploded out into the open last year when Brown allegedly beat Rihanna after Clive Davis’ Grammy pre-party. But this was one diva who didn’t do the round of talk-shows or allow herself to become a victim. Instead, she emerged from the drama with a brand new perspective, a slew of new tattoos and an agenda: she let her music do the talking. Which is how her latest album Rated R was born.

While the world may have been waiting for the good girl gone crazy to emerge, what they got was good girl gone tough. She didn’t hide; instead she started to party. She appeared in Kanye West’s video for Paranoid, became the selling force behind Jay-Z’s hit single Run This Town and released her highly anticipated album in the fall of that year. It was a whole new side to Rihanna’s style. In the wake of the furore that emerged, she was taking risks – trying her best to be both a role model and herself. The album is an obvious testament to ‘the incident’ – a combination of heartfelt ballads like Russian Roulette, survivor anthems like Hard and party starters like Rude Boy. In Russian Roulette she was being shot underwater, in Hard she was fierce and fabulous in a war zone and in Rude Boy she rode a zebra. This was someone with a lot to say, finding different ways of expressing herself.

Since then, she’s emerged with a new outlook on life. One that’s raunchy, racy and decidedly sexy. Gone are the simple gowns; today Rihanna rocks the boat in avant-garde couture. It’s no longer sex kitten meets girl next door, but fearless full-blown fashionista.  She’s rocking Adidas with Alexander McQueen, barb wire and Betsey Johnson. Her casual look has taken on a life of its own with edgy jackets and neon patterned leggings. Her red carpet style is glamorous and cutting edge, complete with green cat suits, studded gold dresses and over-the-top couture. Designers like Zac Posen, Elie Saab and DSquared are lining up to dress her for the red carpet. She’s become a genuine fashion icon, putting designers on the map with her punk rock meets ghetto fabulous style.

With her new album, sold out tour and repeated critical and commercial successes, Rihanna’s making sure that her star soars to new heights. And with a budding relationship with Matt Kemp, the outfielder for the LA Dodgers, she’s also getting her personal life back on track.

In a world where new stars emerge every day, Rihanna has accomplished the almost impossible. She has managed to stay relevant. As hit song after hit song become classics, as each outfit becomes racier and more iconic and each hairstyle becomes more adventurous, there is little doubt that Rihanna is a good girl here to stay. And with arena after arena selling out, this last girl on earth is definately here to stay!