No Stopping, No Regrets
Rihanna brings her world tour to Brooklyn to show how far she's come as a hitmaker, businesswoman and role model.
It’s the rare person who can say, “I’m living the life of my dreams.” But R&B princess Rihanna is one of those fortunate few. At just 25 years old, the Barbadian beauty is one of the most successful female artists of the last 10 years—and New York City is catching her at her peak as she highlights the North American leg of her Diamonds World Tour with two concerts at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on May 4-5.
“I love performing here,” declares Rihanna, who in March was declared the world’s most streamed artist by Spotify, a major digital music service. That joy of performing is evident on her edgy new album Unapologetic, which has sold over 2.3 million copies worldwide on its way to becoming the eighth best-selling album of 2012. The singer also boasts 10 No. 1 singles, more than 26 million albums and downloads sold, over 29 million followers on Twitter and 68 million Facebook fans.
To be sure, Pacific Palisades, Calif., where she lives, is a long way from Saint Michael, Barbados, where Robyn Rihanna Fenty was born Feb. 20, 1988, the first of three children of Ronald and Monica Fenty, who divorced when Rihanna was 14. As a girl, singing for a living never crossed her mind. “I used to sing at home, in the shower and in front of the mirror,” she recalls. “I did one talent show at my high school, and I won it by singing Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero.’”
In 2003, she and two girlfriends landed an audition with New York-based producer Evan Rogers, who was vacationing in Barbados. Rogers, who had produced Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson, arranged for Rihanna and her mother to come to New York to cut demo tapes. At 16, she moved to live with him and his wife in Connecticut and secured a deal with Def Jam Records. “When I left Barbados, I didn’t look back,” Rihanna insists. “I wanted to do what I had to do, even it meant moving to America.”
She quickly proved she made the right move. Early hits “Umbrella” (2007) and “Take a Bow” (2008) presented an innocent persona, but soon a harder, decidedly sultry edge crept into kinetic dance tracks, such as 2008’s “Disturbia” and 2009’s “Rude Boy.” “Sometimes I like to be dark, other times I like to be really light and ladylike,” she reflects.
It’s those ladylike moments—and her eye-catching, cutting-edge style—that have made the 5-foot-9-inch beauty the darling of fashion designers. Gucci and Cavalli have draped her in their creations, and, in February, she (and her personal stylist, Adam Selman) unveiled her own line of women’s clothing for British street-fashion brand River Island. Beyond the fashion houses of Seventh Avenue, girls around the world still stroll into hair salons and ask for the angular haircut known as “The Rihanna.”
If that’s not enough, she has branched out into movies (last year’s Battleship) and has created three fragrances: Reb’l Fleur in 2011, Rebelle early last year and Nude this past November.
Rihanna sees no limits on her career. “The biggest example that I want to set for people is to dare to be different,” she says. “I want to make music that’s uplifting,” she continues. “Nothing corny or super-sentimental. I want it to be real, authentic and raw.”
That confidence has made it easy for Rihanna to involve herself with charities such as UNICEF and Feeding America. She started the Believe Foundation for underprivileged children, and has raised funds for leukemia treatments and bone marrow transplants.
And yet, to some, her achievements have been obscured by her turbulent relationship with R&B star Chris Brown. The two had a violent breakup in 2009, but they’ve since reconciled and are moving forward together, both personally and professionally. Many were shocked when she released a remix of their duet “Birthday Cake” in 2012.
Typically, Rihanna refuses to play the victim. “The amount of negative attention … caught me a little off-guard,” she says. “I thought people would be surprised that we finally did a record together, but I didn’t see how people could think it was a bad thing. It was just music.”
Similarly, she describes her new single, “Stay,” as “a story about having love that’s close and wanting it to last forever. I would definitely say that he [Chris] is the one I have that kind of relationship with.”
Which leads naturally to the topic of future plans. “I will probably have a kid,” she says, “and I’ll have set some things up so I don’t have to tour for the rest of my life, even though I love touring.”
She’s still busy conquering the world of entertainment, which includes hitting the hot spots not just in California, but in New York. She’s been seen having dinner at The Spotted Pig and at Da Silvano, hanging out at clubs like Griffin or the 40/40 Club and shopping at Barneys New York and Louis Vuitton. She’s also been known to jump onstage at Karaoke Cave to belt out Paramore’s “Misery Business” and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.” “I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been in my life,” she says.
Yet despite her happiness, Rihanna can’t seem to rest easy. “I’m still in denial,” she says, “so I have to continue. I will not lose.”