#tbt: it's early 2010, rude boy is about to drop and rihanna fronts i-D for the first time
Early this morning, Riri dropped her long long long-awaited eighth album ANTI via a free download that she casually shared on twitter as a “gift to my Navy”. Featuring a collaboration with Drake, a Tame Impala cover, and an apparent new direction, she...
Wears ring and earrings model's own.
The baddest bitch in the heels is right here, right now. One of the fiercest, most fabulous, most ferocious, Rihanna is young, free, and very f*cking single. From ripping out her regulation record-label weave to ditching H&M for Hussein Chalayan, she's had us all throwing up our Umbrella's and begging her, Please, Ri Ri, Please Don't Stop The Music. Returning to public life last November after that Chris Brown incident, Rihanna took it triple-X with her fourth album, Rated R. She yearned for Rude Boys, admitted she was Stupid In Love, and played Russian Roulette; but through it all she stayed Hard with her blacked-out shades and blacked-out Mayyyyyybach. Whether drinking whiskey at the Spotted Pig with Jigga Man, gracing the front row of Galliano and Gareth Pugh or doing confessionals with Diane Sawyer, Rihanna is more than amazing. She's beyond...It's 3pm on a blustery and gloomy winter's afternoon; thankfully, on the fifth floor of Hyde Park's Metropolitan Hotel, dressed head to toe in gunmetal grey Rodarte and fur wrap, a bright streak of purple under each eye, there stands a most magnificent figure. She's 5'8 without her Rodarte heels, heading over 6' with. Rihanna radiates rock 'n' roll.
From the top; her hair is bleached, shaved and raised to within an inch of its life; she turns a little to the right, revealing an inner-ear star tattoo on her helix. Twist a little left and below the other ear is the Pisces symbol, her birth sign. From the nape of the neck and down her back are more stars. To the front and across her left shoulder is the birthdate of her best friend, Melissa, in Roman Numerals. On her arm, what appears to be a devil's fork (it's actually a guitar). Her fingers, each one covered in huge, cranium-crushing rings are inscribed with the word 'love', while musical notes are etched on her left foot. It might not be visible today, but on her right hand rib cage, is a tatt of a gun.
When I was younger I just always loved looking at magazines and tearing out pictures. My best friend and me would say 'Hey, look, she wore it like that, lets try to do it!' It became a necessity when I realised I could combine my interest for fashion with my love for music, then it went off.
She's beautiful, bold and brilliant. From a baggy-jean wearing teen singing Pon De Replay to a black barely-there catsuit in the precipitation preventing Umbrella, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has transformed into a towering tour de force whose musical magnitude is only overshadowed by her sartorial stupendousness. As soon as those cymbals and Hov's 'Ah Ha Ha' sounded from speakers, it was on. Whether the fag-stained walls of London's George and Dragon, on the catwalk, at art happenings or played during the greasy opulence of footballer-filled West End clubs, Umbrella became, without doubt, the song of the decade. And it wasn't the only excellence that Ri Ri had up her Balmain-clad sleeve; the two million selling album Good Girl Gone Bad spawned an incredible eight singles, three of which went to No.1. Disturbia, Don't Stop The Music, Rehab, Shut Up And Drive, Take A Bow, Hate That I Love You and If I Never See Your Face Again established Rihanna as more than a mere pop princess; she was Queen of the dancefloor, 2007. "Good Girl Gone Bad is when I really rebelled and said 'Fuck you'," says the 21 year-old of turning wide-eyed Bajan with a bob, to fabulous on the front row. "Before, I was getting my feet wet and I didn't have the image that I wanted, the image that I felt inside. It was confusing for me and it was also very uncomfortable and very annoying that I wasn't being true to who I was as an artist because I was being stifled by my label," she continues. "I had cut my hair before, and they made me put hair [weave] back in. I cut it and dyed it black. I was so far left that it was too far to bring me back to where they wanted me to be," remembers the Kings of Leon, Brandy and Jay-Z fan with a gleeful laugh. "And it worked because people saw the authenticity and the sincerity. I was able to push my music and speak about it, perform it the way I really feel." The Jigga Man's appearance on Umbrella, the song that sent her international, was a total surprise. "I didn't know he was doing it. They played it to me and I almost passed out. I called my entire country, the whole of Barbados." Jay-Z may have since left Def Jam, the label that he signed his then 16 year-old protégé to, but they remain close. "We're brother and sister," she decides. "Now I've grown up a lot so we have adult conversations and I can relate to what he's saying and I can understand it. He doesn't feel like he has to edit anything when he talks to me because I'm grown. He can be completely real, whether it's harsh or not, he just says it and it's great." Following her musical heart ensured that we got to see the real Ri Ri, from top to toe. "Having this new sound definitely helped me to express myself in my fashion sense; I wore what I wanted to wear." What she wants to wear is everything from: "Givenchy; Riccardo Tisci is just amazing. Jean Paul Gaultier is great, I love him. I love Hussein Chalayan. Alexander Voltaire, he is the next big thing. Definitely. Absolutely. His work is so amazing, so amazing. Alexander McQueen is my favourite British designer, hands down, and I love Preen." As a pre-teen, years before she considered a career in the Disturbia world of music, Rihanna was obsessed by fashion. "When I was younger I just always loved looking at magazines and tearing out pictures. My best friend and me would say 'Hey, look, she wore it like that, lets try to do it!' It became a necessity when I realised I could combine my interest for fashion with my love for music, then it went off. I did a lot more research, I did a lot more shopping," she grins coyly. "And a lot of dressing up. I love playing with different looks. To me, an outfit is a picture; when I see it, I see it as a visual, so I love playing with that and making different pictures. Putting it together is the best part for me." As with the rest of her life, Rihanna is in total control when it comes to clothes. "About 90%," she decides. "I say 90% because I can't take all the credit. My stylist, Mariel [Haenn], she has a great eye so we do a lot of work together. We sit at the computer together, we go through all the shows, we put outfits together, or we sit and design." It won't be a surprise to anyone when Ri Ri releases her own clothing line in the future. But she'll want to make sure it's perfect. "Perfect."
It takes about four seconds to realise Rihanna isn't your average, bland, media- trained pop puppet. Granted, there's a polite request that Chris Brown isn't discussed, but it seems like nothing else is off subject. She says her first 'Fuck' within three minutes, and after that she's off. She declares of the song Rude Boy: "Wow, I must have been horny that day." Of the track Te Amo she refutes it suggests it's an admission of any lady-loving tendencies. "If you listen to the track it says the opposite. I love women - love them - but I'm not gay." Another conversation about her working with British D&B beatmakers Chase & Status reveals a side to Rihanna rarely seen before now.
So, Slash? Amazing. A. Mazing.
Love. Love. Love. LOVE SLASH. We'd been trying to work together for a year now. It was the last song we did, we literally finished it as the album went to print. I was having dinner with LA Reid and he said 'We have a surprise for you. 'He called up Slash that morning and said 'We have a song called Rockstar: 101. We want you on it.' It was 9am and we had to hand in the album at midday. He got up out of his bed, went to the studio, played that shit and killed it.
Have you met him before?
Yeah. We've been trying to work together for ages. I want him to teach me how to smoke a cigarette like that. How does that not fall out of your mouth? How does that ash not fall? Slash is a legend.
And then on the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, you worked with Chase & Status. Did you know about dubstep before?
I'd heard the sound, but I didn't know what it was. I couldn't specify and say 'that's dubstep', but I knew the sound. Finally Jay Brown [Jay-Z's business partner and Rihanna's A&R] bought these two guys to me and it was magic. We went in the studio, clicked and got it done. We came here, to London, twice, and hashed out the album. I called them from LA one night, but it was really early here. [Saul] was laying in bed next to his girlfriend and he hears this female voice coming out of the phone. 'Hey, oh my God, I love you guys, you guys have to work with me, we have to hook up.' His girl's lying there like...[scrunches up face]. I had no idea it was so early.
Have you been to a dupstep night yet?
No, but I want to go to one of the your festivals cos I heard they DJ them. Ohh!
It's late, it's dark, and it's grimy...
That's what I would love!
Can you go to a club and hang in the 'regular' section?
I actually prefer not to do the whole 'VIP' thing. I only do that because the reality is that it would be too chaotic to be in the crowd. I hate when I'm in the spotlight and everybody's in the club staring. I can't even dance or get drunk. I want to get pissed just like you!
What's your tipple?
I like Jameson and ginger. Actually dark liquor is the only one that doesn't give me a hangover. I don't always get a hangover, but if I do get a hangover, it's with vodka.
What's the most drunk you've ever been?
Oh. My. God. (Laughs) The most drunk I've ever been, my friends could probably tell you better because I blacked out... But it was in Mexico, on my 21st birthday. We went off to this island by boat, it's so secluded, like you can't drive on it so there's no cars, no schools, you take a boat to and from. But there's a village on the island and the locals, the natives, they made me moonshine (home distilled alcohol). Straight out of the tub; they made it and bought it to me in an empty water bottle. I'd been hearing about moonshine, 'It's like the worst, it will kill you.' I'm like 'Ok, let me take a shot of this ever-so-tough moonshine.' I took a shot - nothing. I was so disappointed. Took another shot - nothing. Eight shots later - still nothing! An hour later, I got out of the boat, got into my car, got back to my house, got into the pool, played volleyball - in the pool. And then I can't remember getting out of the pool. I woke up in different clothes. Different underwear. Like 'Where am I? Who am I? What am I? And why do I have on different underwear? And how did I get in my bed?'
I still don't want to hear everything. Stories for days.
The worst thing about being that drunk is drunk texting...
[Laughs] Don't ever text when you're drunk! Don't even take your phone out with you. One; because you'll probably lose it and two; because you'll text the most embarrassing shit.
Have you done that recently?
No actually, people drunk texted me crazy pictures which was very embarrassing for them the next day... (laughs). You can't ever have your phone when you're drunk.
For those that might have missed it, Rihanna gave one interview about Chris Brown and it was to the soft-focused face of Diane Sawyer. As has been documented time and time again, Rihanna and the American recording artist and actor Chris Brown - her then-boyfriend of two years, got into a fight the night before the Grammy's, after Rihanna found texts from another woman on his phone. Chris began to hit her, and Rihanna was left battered, bruised and bloodied by the singer. There were bite marks, and he repeatedly put her in a headlock. Though they temporarily got back together, the case went to court and Brown ended up serving six months community labour, while Rihanna took refuge in the studio. To Sawyer of that night she said, "I caught him in a lie and he wouldn't tell the truth so I wouldn't drop it. It escalated in to him being violent towards me and it was ugly... He had no soul in his eyes, just blank. There was no person there when I looked at him. It was almost like he had nothing to lose... I just wanted it to stop." A media circus ensued with Rihanna relentlessly perused by paparazzi, reporters and fans.
"I went to sleep as Rihanna and woke up as Britney, just to give you the level of chaos." They got back together briefly, spending time in Miami but when she went back to LA, she finally ended it. "I felt like I had to protect him. The whole world hates him now?" she said to Sawyer of their temporary reunion. "I wanted to let him know, 'Don't do anything stupid.' I know he's never had to deal with anything like this. I'm not saying this is an excuse to go back with him... But when I realised my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn't be responsible for that... I didn't realise how much of an impact I had on these young girl's lives until that happened. It was a big wake-up call for me." Will they ever get back together? "I can't answer that question right now because you never know what the future will hold. We were best friends and we were in love and love doesn't go away right away... I don't have a desire at all to be with him. I can't see how we would get back together but I'm not God and I can't predict the future. I want him to do well, have a great career and a great life and grow up. I do think it's possible to change; it depends on if you want to..."
While she's reluctant to talk anymore about the relationship, she lets it all out on Rated R. One wonders, Rihanna, what happens when the gun goes off at the end of Russian Roulette? A pause. A grin. Another pause. "Lets put it this way - he gets hurt," she admits, letting loose another huge peal of laughter. Elsewhere on the album she works with Justin Timberlake; having been through a public and bitter break-up with Britney, he was the obvious choice for Ri Ri to work on the ultimate heartbreak song. "Being in the studio with him you definitely have fun but you also always get great results in the end. With Cold Case Love he knew. He put himself in my shoes for a minute and he understood. He went through it before. Like he went through a break-up, he knew what it felt like. Knowing how you felt trying to re-mend a broken relationship and it's a story that should be told." For her fourth album, Rihanna wasn't trying to send a message; she just wanted an album that would reflect her experiences of the last year. "That's the thing with this album. I didn't want it to be like 'Oh people can relate to this, so I'll sing about that.' Or 'I should write a females' anthem' because that shit is always forced to me and it makes it so corny," she shudders. "But when I listen back to the album it's real shit that people can relate to. A lot of the album is very metaphorical. It's very cleverly written, so everything has a double meaning." Two tracks she says were hard to sing - the aforementioned Cold Case Love and Rated R's closer, The Last Song about the break-up of a relationship. "I walked out of the studio several times. I heard it once, I saw the lyrics and I got it. I got it. I felt funny inside and I wanted to cry but I was fighting it back cos there was people in the studio," she remembers. "But everyone in the studio just wants to play that song over and over and over again. So I just walked outside cos I couldn't listen to it. I was just like 'I can't, I can't listen to that song.'" For Rihanna, making Rated R was therapy, a release, a refuge and a chance to express the emotions of the last 12 months. "I let my guard down because before I didn't talk to anybody about anything that I was feeling. If I was mad, if I cried that day and whole night, no one would ever know because I kept this professional face on - game face I call it. So I went into the studio and that's where I got to put my guard down. I was really open-minded and everything came out. When I listen back to it, it really reminds me of the rollercoaster ride I went through to get to this point. You don't notice how you feel at that moment until you reflect, and this whole album is a reflection for me."
30 minutes in the company of the world's most fabulous R&B star has shot by. What has become increasingly apparent through that time is how happy she is. Her skin glows, barely a sentence goes by without a laugh breaking out; she's relaxed, confident, she looks amazing. "I'm great, you know," she concurs when asked to sum up her current state of mind. "I'm super-excited by life, I have so much energy. This [last year] was a whole life-changing experience for me. I appreciate everything so much more."
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Willy Vanderperre
Styling Panos Yiapanis
Hair Ursula Stephen
Make-up Karin Darnell
Antoine Breant and Romain Dubus
Styling assistance Matt Carroll
Stylist's studio Philly Piggott
Digital Operator Christian Horvath
[The Lovers Of Life Issue, no. 305, Pre-Spring 2010]