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RIHANNA: Rockstar 101

We’re not just closeted fans; we all have a no-shame-in-my-game love for Rihanna. But why?

Words: Nicole Hardesty
Images: PRN/PR Photos; Pixplanete/PR Photos; Image of Sport/PR Photos; Paul Froggatt/PR Photos; and Andrew Evans/PR Photos.

While we all love RiRi, she certainly doesn’t fall into the formula of an R&B singer or a typical pop star. She doesn’t have the lungs of Whitney Houston, nor has she crossed over into starring in Hollywood films. But Rihanna is considered an icon across all boards of popular culture, who never seems to fall off of our radar, not even for a minute.

Perhaps it is her style, her constantly evolving genre of music or her gorgeous body, that keep our eyes glued to the screen, magazine pages and blogs. Perhaps it is her unique blend of all of the above or her irresistible presence as a new millennium darling. Either way, we’ve fallen in love with her and we didn’t see this coming when she first stepped onto the scene back in 2005.

As a studio artist, as some like to call her, Rihanna’s voice may not reach the highest and desirable of notes, but it resonates with the average non-pop star singer like you or me— all of us who star in our own shows when in the shower, in transit or working out.

I read a few years ago that Jessica Simpson once had trouble in the studio when her producers said she was singing too well; that her fans wouldn’t be able to sing along with her without feeling inferior to her music. She was asked to tame her vocals on certain songs to assure their success. Rihanna’s voice, however monotonous in range, may just be the secret to her hit-making abilities. I, for one, love how I sound singing along with RiRi as opposed to trying to keep up with Beyoncé or Mariah Carey’s notes.

Now add her ever-growing musical style. She’s heavily influenced by Caribbean and reggae riddims on one record, pop on the next, then a little emo and goth, and then she completely rocks out. It’s a formula that only Rihanna seems to be able to pull off. The hook to her blend, some say, is consistency. We have come to welcome it and anticipate how she will take her formula to the next level on her next go around.

Since her debut in 2005, Rihanna has managed to release a new album every year with at least two or more hit singles. While she went album-less in 2008, she was still featured on T.I.’s “Live Your Life,” Maroon 5’s “If I Never See Your Face Again” and she won her first Grammy that year. She’s stayed on our music radar since (in 2010 alone, Rihanna’s features included chart-topping hits with Eminem, Nicki Minaj and Kanye West) and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down anytime.

Stylistically, Rihanna evolves just the same. Naturally gorgeous with an insane body, she and her stylist Mariel Haenn manage to pull off the most outrageous, forward-thinking and sexiest outfits for RiRi, just when we need her to shake things up. (I can think of a million times when I’ve seen a picture of her and began plotting as to how to emulate her wardrobe on a budget.) Rihanna is a style maven. But unlike Lady GaGa, Rihanna’s red carpet looks aren’t extensions of her tracks. Rihanna knows how to keep her stage and street looks separate, which is something I can appreciate.

What about her hair? As soon as her first chop took its breath in 2008 (during the album-less year), photos of her new coif hit media outlets worldwide and just like that, Rihanna was at the center of discussion again. While Victoria Beckham may have inspired it, the way Rihanna rocked the cut made it a never-ending trend. (Honestly, if I see one more girl walking around with “The Rihanna—” [inset threat here].) But then RiRi went blonde, then cherry apple Koolaid red; we just can’t keep up.

No stranger to media attention, Rihanna is totally accessible. She’s not really known for misbehaving like some other bad girls. She’s not in and out of rehab, no (real) sex tapes and she’s definitely not throwing cell phones at anyone that we know of. Her good-but-bad-girl image remains intact, something not even the media can destroy it seems.

But let’s face it, the biggest Rihanna story outside of her career was her run-in with Chris Brown, a situation that sent the then dating pair flying solo and Chris on a tumultuous descend (campaigns against him and his music, the restraining order she placed against him, the community service and mandatory anger-management courses he had to fulfill as ordered by the judge as result of their trial, etc) and the just as aggravating reinvention since.

While the situation is very unfortunate (and something that will mar their public and private records for life), the media hoopla revolving the lovers’ quarrel actually gave Rihanna’s career a boost (She was interviewed by Diane Sawyer for ABC’s 20/20 for the first time as a result of the public brawl) and made her a household name. Rated R, her album that followed, although very dark and goth, something no one would ever expect from the Bajan beauty, reached certified platinum.

Marketing genius? Who knows…We can’t tell if she is relevant because of who she is or because of the great team backing her. And that’s the beauty of it. While Nicki Minaj is a marketing genius, her marketing ploys are obvious. We eat it up knowing that we are being sold into an illusion. Meanwhile, Rihanna is effortlessly fly and our confusion as to whether it’s real or not means someone is doing something right.

Images by PRN/PR Photos; Pixplanete/PR Photos; Image of Sport/PR Photos; Paul Froggatt/PR Photos; and Andrew Evans/PR Photos.

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