Of all the pop stars in the world, there’s nobody who does it quite like Rihanna. With an indescribable catalogue of hits and defining pop culture moments, it’s time to celebrate her 35th birthday by remembering the highlights of her career.
10. The 2023 Superbowl Half-Time Show
Rihanna’s Superbowl half-time show is the ultimate celebration of her legacy. From the opening close-up on her unwaveringly confident face, zooming out to reveal an astounding set of floating platforms, Rihanna made her iconic status clear. An impressive medley showcasing her range of hits, from ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ and ‘Pour It Up’ to ‘We Found Love’ and ‘Diamonds’, had the crowd singing every word. The performance highlighted the value of simplicity, as even surrounded by waves of dancers and stadium lights, Rihanna’s sheer presence always kept her the focus. To top it all off, she announced her second pregnancy to the world, revealing her baby bump in a stunning red outfit amidst a showcase cementing her place in musical history.
9. The Dark Musical Project Rated R
Early in her career, Rihanna may have been easily dismissed as simply a singles machine who could sing any track and make it work. But Rated R proved she was a one-of-a-kind artist with something important to say. Coming out of a highly publicised controversial relationship, the “good girl gone bad” returned transformed. She was finally unafraid to share her darkest truths on this moody album, from the brutal lead single ‘Russian Roulette’ to the bizarrity of ‘Madhouse’ and the queer romance of ‘Te Amo’. “There’s so much power in my name, if you pop off and you say it, stadium gon’ do the wave”, she asserts, fully stepping into her celebrity status for what feels like the first time. Rated R is an utterly haunting record metaphorically representing a tumultuous period in this star’s life, made all the better for its unwavering, unflinching honesty.
8. The Britney Spears ‘S&M’ Remix
Much like Rihanna, musical legend Britney Spears is no stranger to controversy. The drama surrounding both artists made their team-up for the ‘S&M’ remix all the more exciting. The scandalous track features breathy vocals and sultry lyrics from Britney and Rihanna, asserting their dominance and celebrating sexuality. Even better, they took to the stage of the 2011 Billboard Music Awards to perform the hit, complete with matching BDSM-inspired get-ups, prop whips and chains, and an outrageous choreographed routine destined for the front page news.
7. Drake and Rihanna’s Collaborative Relationship
Many of both Rihanna and Drake’s greatest hits were born from the duo’s long-time partnership. Their connection began in 2009 with the flirty track ‘What’s My Name’, a glossy pop project flecked with touches of reggae, most notable for Drake’s iconic goofy lyric “The square root of 69 is eight something, right?” It’s a song that showcased such incredible chemistry between the two, chart toppers like the bustling ‘Work’ or the more mysterious, experimental ‘Take Care’ followed suit. Both fantastic performers in their own right, the Drake and Rihanna pairing consistently brings out both artists’ best.
6. Loud’s Era-Defining Style
If it’s the oldest trick in the pop princess book to start a new musical era with a new hairstyle, Rihanna wrote that book for 2010’s Loud. As she exploded across the airwaves, her unmistakable fashion also ushered in the age of “swag”, from studded rainbow bra tops and snapback caps, to torn denim shorts and dramatic hoop earrings. But it’s that swooping bright red haircut that really changed the culture. Looking fiery and fierce at every event, it only takes a glance at the Loud album cover to realise its stylistic impact.
5. The Chadwick Boseman Tribute ‘Lift Me Up’
After a notorious six-year hiatus from music, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman’s passing moved Rihanna to return last year with the heartfelt single ‘Lift Me Up’. Unlike her usual upbeat tracks, the ballad hones in on Rihanna’s most delicate, expressive vocals. Her gentle melodies over fluttering harps and layered harmonies make for a stunning tribute to the late, great actor.
4. The Annual Fenty Fashion Show
Launched in 2017, Rihanna’s move into the beauty world with her company Fenty now seems her main focus. Fenty’s emphasis on quality products that promote diversity and inclusivity has taken the brand far. But its most exciting endeavour is the annual Fenty television special, where an assortment of celebrities take the stage to model all things Fenty, including its expansion into clothing and lingerie. With the likes of Paris Hilton, Jaida Essence Hall, the Hadid sisters and more backing the brand, it’s impossible to deny Rihanna’s success far beyond the music industry.
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3. The Musical Videography
Rising to fame in the prime age of the music video, Rihanna is a certified screen queen. Her exceptional videography features a nearly-naked rain dance for ‘Umbrella’, a murky bathtub duet with Mikky Ekko for ‘Stay’, nostalgic romances in skateparks and firework shows for ‘We Found Love’, and even a creepy crawly spider setpiece for Halloween hit ‘Disturbia’. With such an extraordinary music video catalogue, it’s hard to pick a favourite.
2. The Red Carpet Fashion
Always one to stand out from the crowd, Rihanna knows how to own a red carpet. Looks like her bright yellow train gown for the Met Gala, or her frilled hot pink Grammys dress, immediately spring to mind when thinking of her top fashion moments. But it’s hard to beat 2014’s hotly discussed sheer Swarvoski gown. Practically naked and adorned in nothing but crystals from head to toe, it’s a jaw-dropping look that ties Rihanna’s tendency to push the boundaries perfectly to her sense of timeless Hollywood glamour.
1. The Artistic Definition of Anti
There’s no doubt Rihanna knows how to make a hit. Any song she sends to radio seems to become an instant earworm. But Anti is the full-length project where Rihanna defined herself as an artist beyond her commercial success. Anti is an expansive R&B effort focused on experimentation and reinvention. It has everything on offer, with heart wrenching soul ballads like ‘Love on the Brain’, cheeky slow burners like ‘James Joint’, smoky electric guitar numbers like ‘Kiss It Better’ and even dance numbers for the club like ‘Work’ and ‘B*tch Better Have My Money’. Frequently revered as Rihanna’s greatest work, Anti is the album that tells her story the best, showing off her unbelievable thematic and sonic versatility. Rihanna makes no apologies for going against the grain on Anti, perhaps speaking to your life, but most importantly, her own.