Rihanna: Under her spell

By Scott Kara

Since Rihanna's last visit here in 2008 she has become the world's biggest female pop star. With news of another tour to New Zealand just out, Scott Kara takes an alphabetical look at how RiRi came to be ...

Rihanna has become the world's biggest female pop star. Photo / Supplied
Rihanna has become the world's biggest female pop star. Photo / Supplied

A: A girl like me

Rihanna's second album and when the world got their first glimpse into the sometimes troubled life and loves of this young, talented and saucy new star. So she didn't write many of her songs back then, but you sure believed her on soaring and dark ballad Unfaithful, when she brands herself a "murderer" for being an adulterer. It's dramatic stuff. And it's tracks like that, and the more playful S.O.S., that makes her R&B pop so deliciously gritty and graphic. No wonder the world sat up and listened.

B: Barbados

The country where she was born on February 20, 1988. It's also the place that inspires her love of snappy, arse-shaking beats, and her dancehall-style delivery, which was first heard on debut breakthrough single Pon de Replay, like a double-dutch song done Caribbean-style.

C: Collaborators

In fact, there are a whole fleet of songwriters and producers who help write Rihanna's hit songs. There are the originals, such as Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers, the duo who discovered Rihanna in 2003, produced her debut album, Music of the Sun, and are still involved today. Then there are the famous names she's worked with, from Justin Timberlake (on Rehab) and Eminem (most notably on Love the Way You Lie parts 1 and 2) to dance-boffins Calvin Harris (We Found Love) and David Guetta (most recently on the bombastic Right Now). She's also fiercely loyal to Norwegian producers Stargate, who have worked with her since the start and produce some of her best work, like Drunk On Love with its masterful sample of The xx's Intro.

D: Domestic violence

For people who don't listen to Rihanna's music, the altercation between her and then-boyfriend Chris Brown in early 2009 is perhaps what she is best known for. Brown was charged with assault in March 2009 following the incident, which meant Rihanna had to cancel her performance at the Grammys. The dreaded DV also cropped up in the video for Love the Way You Lie (off Eminem's Recovery album) and most unnervingly in We Found Love, where a drug-addicted Rihanna is in an abusive relationship with a bloke who looks similar to Brown.

E: "Ella, ella, eh, eh, eh"

From the chorus of arguably her best-known song, Umbrella. The lead single from 2007's Good Girl Gone Bad was No1 in 13 countries, including in New Zealand, where it was on top for six consecutive weeks and became the year's biggest-selling song.

F: Forty-eight metres and five years

The distance Chris Brown was ordered to stay away from Rihanna after pleading guilty to assault, and the number of years probation he got for his trouble.

G: Good girl gone bad tour

October, 2008, her first visit to New Zealand when she played two nights at Vector Arena and one in Wellington with support from soon-to-be boyfriend Brown. Wearing a dominatrix-style outfit and thigh-high boots, she opened with Disturbia, played her new single Rehab - written "by a very good friend of mine" - and did a duet with Brown on Umbrella.

H: Highest-selling female artist

Okay, she's seventh-highest selling, behind Madonna, the diva threesome of Celine, Mariah and Whitney, and Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand. And yes, she does have the advantage of coming from the age of digital downloads, but with more than 100 million records sold in total in just eight years, this girl knows what it takes to sell music.

I: Influential

As much as parents of teenage girls probably hate to admit it, there is no denying Rihanna's influence and pulling power as the world's biggest female pop star (see Q for the Queen of Pop battle with Gaga). Because, let's face it, RiRi is not an ideal role model - and not that she wants to be either, telling MTV.com a few years back: "The things I say in my songs, they expect it of me, and [being a role model] became more of my job than I wanted it to be. I just want to make music. That's it."

Last year, Forbes magazine ranked her as the fourth most powerful celebrity, with earnings of $53 million, behind Bieber, Oprah, and J.Lo.

J: Jay-Z

Her mentor, the one who signed her to Def Jam in 2005, and also the man who bought her a Jeep Wrangler and silver Porsche convertible which, Rihanna told Rolling Stone magazine recently, she hasn't even driven yet, because she hasn't got her licence. "Things keep coming up," she said.

K: Kanye West

Though he's not a huge influence on her career, she has teamed up with Uncle Kanye a few key times in recent years, singing alongside him on Jay-Z's Run This Town from The Blueprint 3 (2009).

She appeared on All of the Lights off West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), and his song Can't Tell Me Nothing is sampled on Numb, her loping and exotic-sounding duet with Eminem on her latest album Unapologetic.

L: Love

Or should that be love-hate? Whatever the combination, love is a difficult emotion if you are Rihanna.

M: Movies

Safe to say she's got a bit of work to do on her acting career. She made her Hollywood debut as herself in cheerleading movie Bring It On: All or Nothing in 2006, and starred as weapons specialist and crew mate Cora Raikes in last year's colossal flop Battleship. That film starred Kiwi actor John Tui as Lieutenant Walter "The Beast" Lynch, who told TimeOut Rihanna was "awesome, a constant professional". This year she is in new Seth Rogen action comedy This Is the End and next year she is the voice of a stubborn and belligerent teenage girl in animated feature Happy Smekday!.

N: Nude

That's the name of her latest line of perfume, just one of the many other business ventures she's got her fingers in. But it could also refer to nudity, something Rihanna is utterly at ease with, if her latest album cover and constant barrage of nudey-rudey Instagram photos are anything to go by.

O: Oonst

This is a musical ingredient that she - and producers such as Harris and Guetta - have used to great effect. Somehow that unique pop voice of hers (see V below) makes these banging anthems palatable rather than obnoxious.

P: Princess of China

was an unlikely but inspired collaboration between British chart toppers Coldplay and Rihanna for the band's album Mylo Xyloto. The worrying and creepy thing though, especially for poor old Gwyneth Paltrow, one imagines, was the seductive onscreen nose-to-nose chemistry between Chris Martin and Rihanna.

Q: Queen of Pop

It's a close race between RiRi and Gaga, and both have equal claims to the throne. Bottom line is, Rihanna takes the current crown for the simple fact she just never goes away.

R: Rated R

The name of her unforgiving and stroppy break-up album, which includes the controversial, Ne-Yo-penned single Russian Roulette. Dealing with domestic abuse (once again) the song's video featured Rihanna playing a game of Russian roulette, standing in a gas chamber and writhing in a padded cell.

S: Style

Let's be blunt. She's hot and looks good in anything, which makes it hard to nail down Rihanna's style. Her latest fashion line for British retailer River Island is very much indicative of her own personal style, with everything from stripey zebra bra-tops and luminous neon dresses to tummy-revealing mesh crop-tops. Whether it's for everyone is another story.

T: Twitter

Not many people make headlines for deciding to un-follow, and then follow someone again, as when Rihanna and Chris Brown made the big decision to become Twitter pals once more in late 2011. But that's what happens when you've got 26.5 million followers.

U: Unapologetic

The title of her seventh and latest album from last year (surprisingly her first to reach No1 in the US), which contains Nobody's Business, perhaps her most provocative song yet. It's a duet with Brown and on it they "make out in this Lexus" and defend their relationship, declaring: "Always be my boy, I'll always be your girl, Ain't nobody's business."

V: Voice

Love the Way You Lie Pt 2 (the Rihanna version of the Eminem song which appeared on her Loud album) is the perfect example of her mysterious, at times sweet, and unique pop voice. Because although she has that fleet of songwriters behind her, it's her voice and that distinctive sensual and sultry style, that makes the songs what they are.

W: Work ethic

Forget the tabloid fodder and her seemingly undying love for Brown, because there is no denying Rihanna is a workhorse. Seven albums in seven years is almost unheard of these days in pop music, even if some of them are hit and miss. But it's quite something in Rihanna's case, given the consistently chart-topping nature of the records and the stream of singles that come from them. All this and she still finds time to Instagram herself, tweet her every whim, and Facebook her 62.5 million fans.

X: X-rated

Sample lyric from that catchy little number, S&M: "Sex in the air ... I love the smell of it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me."

Y: Yo

As in Ne-Yo, one of her Def Jam label mates who in early 2007 spent a week giving her vocal lessons. Out of those sessions came the track, Hate That I Love You (off Good Girl Gone Bad). It's a very Rihanna-like love song with an equal dose of disdain and romance, to lyrics such as: "That's how much I need you, And I can't stand you."

Z: Zillion

A rough estimate of the number of Givenchy-designed outfits she wore during the opening show of the Diamonds World Tour in the US this week, which ranged from an elegant cape and thigh-high black studded boots to a miniskirt with trainers and a glam red frock and high heels. Still, no amount of outfit changes will cover up the fact you've lost your voice. Let's hope there are no more bouts of laryngitis in the lead-up to her New Zealand show(s) in October.

Who: Rihanna
Born: Robyn Rihanna Fenty, February 20, 1988
Where and when: Vector Arena, Auckland, October 6
Tickets: Visa presale 9am, tomorrow, to 5pm, March 18 (visaentertainment.co.nz); Live Nation presale, 12pm, March 19, to 10am, March 20 (see livenation.com.au for details); Ticketmaster presale 2pm, March 20, to 5pm, March 21; General sales, 9am, March 22.
Essential listening: A Girl like Me (2006); Good Girl Gone Bad (2007); Rated R (2009); Loud (2010); Talk That Talk (2011); Unapologetic (2012)

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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