Women In Focus: Rihanna

women in focus rihanna life story

Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a Barbadian singer, actress and fashion designer. She signed her first album with Def Jam Records at age 16 and has won multiple awards including Grammys, MTV Video Music Awards and Billboard awards.

Troubled Childhood

Rihanna was born on February 20,1988 at Saint Michael Parish in Caribbean island of Barbados. She is the eldest daughter of Monica Fenty, an accountant and Ronald Fenty, a warehouse supervisor. She has two brothers, Rorrey and Rajad Fenty and two half-sisters and a half-brother each born to different mothers from her father’s previous relationships. As a child, Rihanna grew up in a three-bedroom apartment in Bridgetown and used to sell clothes with her father at a stall on the street. Rihanna had a troubled childhood and her parents got divorced when she was 14 due to her father’s alcohol and cocaine addiction.

However, her father has now managed to work on his addictions and they are now very close. “Now my dad is like the coolest person on the planet,” Rihanna says. “He doesn’t smother me. He lets me live my life. And he’s been like that a lot, even when I was younger. He would watch me making a mistake and he wouldn’t stop me. My dad, he lets me make it and then I learn.”

Seeking release from her troubled childhood, Rihanna started singing at the age of seven. She had grown up listening to reggae music.

The Launch

She formed a girl’s group with two of her classmates to audition for music producer, Evan Rogers. Rogers was visiting the island with his wife who was also a native. The two met through mutual friends who had told Roger’s wife about the aspiring singer. Evan was in awe of Rihanna “The minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the other two girls didn’t exist,” he admitted. After the first meeting, Evan asked Rihanna to perform renditions of Destiny Child’s Emotion and Mariah Carey’s Hero. Rogers was smitten by her talent and asked her to record some demo tapes to be sent to record labels. The recording could only be done intermittently during her school holidays.

Moved to NYC

Less than a year later, Rihanna, 16, left Barbados and moved in with Rogers and his wife in Connecticut to work on recording a demo album. “When I left Barbados, I didn’t look back,” Rihanna recalled. “I wanted to do what I had to do, even if it meant moving to America.”

In Jan 2005, Rogers got Rihanna an opportunity to audition for Dem Jam Records before the legendary rapper Jay-Z. “I was in the lobby just shaking,” she recalled. “I remember staring into everybody’s eyes in the room while I was singing, and at that point, I was fearless,” she said. “But the minute I stopped singing, I was like, ‘oh my God, Jay-Z is sitting right in front of me.'”

Her talent equally smote Jay Z as Rogers had been two years back. He signed her on the spot for a six-album record deal. “We made a little Godfather joke,” Jay-Z remembered. “We said the only way she could leave was through the window.”

Eight months later, Rihanna released her first single, ‘Pon de Replay’ in August 2005. The reggae-influenced club track skyrocketed to No.2 on the Billboard singles chart, peaking in the top five in fifteen countries. She was soon announced as the next big and upcoming pop star. Later that month, her first album, ‘Music of the Sun’ was released which reached No. 10 on the Billboard albums also featuring ‘If It’s Lovin’ That You Want’. The album sold over two million copies worldwide. The following year, Rihanna released her second album, ‘A Girl Like Me’ featuring two major hits, ‘Unfaithful’ and ‘SOS’. Soon after the release, Rihanna embarked on her first Rihanna: Live in Concert Tour.

The Sexy Pop Star

By 2007, Rihanna had transformed herself from a teen pop princess to a sexy pop star with her third album ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ with her smash hit ‘Umbrella’ featuring Jay Z. “If you listen to the lyrics to that song, you know the depth and how far she’s come”, Jay Z had said. The album has sold over seven million copies worldwide of which over 2.8 million were sold in the United States alone. Entertainment Weekly named her as ‘Diva of the Year’ in 2008.

Rihanna received her first Grammy award for Best Rap/ Sung Collaboration for Umbrella. While the track, ‘Umbrella’ topped on Billboard singles chart, the album was on No.2 with hits like ‘Don’t stop the Music’ and ‘Shut Up and Drive’.

Rihanna continued her success story, and released Rated R in 2009 with ‘Hard’ and ‘Rude Boy’. Her album ‘Loud’ was critically acclaimed in 2010 for the songs ‘What’s my Name’ ‘Only Girl’ and “S&M’. The video was about sadomasochism, rape and domestic violence and was banned in eleven countries for its sexual content.

Apart from her singles, Rihanna also featured in mega hits like Jay Z’s ‘Run this Town’ and Kayne West’s ‘All of the Lights.’ ‘Run This Town’ won Best Rap Song and Best Rap/ Sung Collaboration at the 52nd Grammy Awards. Rihanna won the Grammy Award again in 2013 for the song ‘We found Love’ featuring DJ Calvin Harris of her album ‘Talk That Talk’. She is also the first women to cross two billion views on the music video website, VEVO. In 2014, she also took a bold move in her career and signed Jay Z’s Roc Nation over Def Jam label.

Black Madonna

Rihanna has named Madonna to be her idol and biggest influence. She wants to be the ‘Black Madonna’. “I think that Madonna was a great inspiration for me, especially on my earlier work. If I had to examine her evolution through time, I think she reinvented her clothing style and music with success every single time. And at the same time remained a real force in entertainment in the whole world.”

Rihanna’s songs have a strong influence of Caribbean music, including reggae and dancehall. She is highly influenced by Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley and has even built a shrine in her home for him.

Personal Life

Speculations about her personal life started often beyond her control. In 2006, gossip column headlines reported rumors that she was having an affair with Jay-Z. Both Jay-Z and Rihanna have always dismissed such rumors as being totally ridiculous. “At first I was like, ‘Ha ha, it’s funny,'” Rihanna said. “Now I just ignore it and I’m numb to it. You cannot stop people from saying what they want to say.”

In 2009, Rihanna hit headlines when her then boyfriend Chris Brown, assaulted her before an awards show. The incident caused massive public outpouring in support of Rihanna who has since become a spokesperson against domestic violence. “This happened to me,” she said in an interview with Diane Sawyer. “It can happen to anyone.”

She was also involved with Los Angeles outfielder Matt Kemp, but the couple has since part ways.

After her domestic violence incident with Chris Brown in 2009, Rihanna said, ‘I put my guard up so hard. I didn’t want people to see me cry. I didn’t want people to feel bad for me. It was a very vulnerable time in my life, and I refused to let that be the image. I wanted them to see me as, ‘I’m fine, I’m tough.’ I put that up until it felt real.”

By 2012, things had grown better between Rihanna and Brown. The pair worked together on ‘Birthday Cake’. She also spoke openly about her relationship with Oprah Winfrey saying that Brown may have been the love of her life and that she shares a very close friendship with him.

Recent Times

She released her hit album ‘Unapologetic’ in 2012 with hits such as ‘Diamonds’ and ‘Stay’. She also worked with Coldplay on ‘Princess of China’ and with Eminem on ‘Love the Way You Lie’. She reached top of the charts again next year with ‘The Monster’, another collaboration with Eminem. The song won them a Grammy Award in 2014. On February 25, 2015 ‘Towards the Sun’ was released as the first single for ‘Home’, an upcoming animated 3D film. Rihanna stars in the movie alongside Jim Parsons, Steve Martin and Jennifer Lopez. The movie is scheduled to release on March 27, 2015.

Fashion Statement

Rihanna has been known for reinventing her style and she made headlines when she wore a sheer dress to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards in June’14. She was there to receive, CFDA’s Fashion Icon Award. She told the crowd there that ‘Fashion has always been my defense mechanism’ and that while there were some rules to fashion, ‘rules are meant to be broken’. Miranda Lambert admires Rihanna’s fashion and style and says “I don’t necessarily get inspired by the whole no-bra thing, but I love that you never know what she’s going to wear. It always keeps you guessing, which makes her sassy and interesting.”

In 2013, Rihanna released her first spring fashion collection for British Fashion brand, River Island at the London Fashion week. They produced together three more collections in 2013.The singer also collaborated with MAC Cosmetics to release her own lines of makeup called ‘RIRI hearts MAC’.

Forbes ranked Rihanna as the fourth most powerful celebrity of the year in 2012 and in the same year TIME named her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world. Since her debut album in 2005, Rihanna has always been amongst the top music artists. It was nearly impossible to miss her song on the radio or in a club. She may have had a constant stream of hits, but Rihanna admits that she is still just a vulnerable girl who has experienced much adversity in recent years and often struggles to keep it together.