Since she popped on the scene in 2005 with her debut album, Music of the Sun, which spawned chart-topping hits like “Pon de Replay” and “If It’s Lovin’ that You Want,” Robyn Rihanna Fenty has cemented herself as one of the most influential artists of the last two decades.
The Grammy Award-winning hitmaker continued to gain momentum as she dropped hit albums Good Girl Gone Bad, Rated R, and Loud, with hits like “Rude Boy,” “Only Girl (In the World),” and “What’s My Name?” served as the soundtrack to the 2010s. As of January 2023, the Barbadian-bred mogul is the highest-certified female singles artist in Recording Industry Association of America history.
“People will always gravitate to her for one reason: she’s Rihanna,” says Culture reporter DeAsia Paige. “At this point in her career, the singer has become her own brand and could be considered one of the ‘OG Influencers.'”
The Roc Nation artist has collaborated with everyone from mentor and label owner Jay-Z to Drake, Eminem, Shakira, and more. But it wasn’t until her eighth album, 2016’s Anti, that she showcased a sense of creative control, experimenting with different sounds and genres, such as R&B, pop, and dancehall. The album offered a sensual and soulful departure from her radio-friendly singles in the past. Songs like “Work,” “Needed Me,” and “Love on the Brain showcased the singer’s maturity as an artist beyond her pop star status. The project became her second number-one album in the US and the first album by a Black woman to spend at least 300 weeks on the Billboard 200. She earned herself six nominations at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
Aside from her musical career, she’s established herself as a style icon and become known for her humanitarian efforts and entrepreneurial ventures, i.e., her various fashion brands like her Savage X Fenty lingerie company and Fenty Beauty company. The pop songstress has even graced the big screen in films like Battleship and Ocean’s 8.
At 34, she entered a new stage in her life, becoming a mother after having her first child with boyfriend A$AP Rocky in May 2022. Just one year prior, she became the youngest self-made billionaire. Whether it’s motherhood, music, or a new business venture, she juggles it all.
Recently, she released a track for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s soundtrack, titled “Lift me up” — her first in seven years– earning herself an Academy Award nomination. Now she’s expected to perform at the upcoming Halftime show, which could be a move to help set the stage for a comeback like no other.
“She has sex appeal and just exudes confidence with everything that she does. I think that translates into all of her different projects, whether that be her beauty empire, music, or anything else that she wants to step into,” explains Paige.”
Fashion and costume historian Shelby Ivey Christie agrees, especially regarding her work in the fashion space. In 2014, the singer was honored with the Style Icon award at the CFDA Awards.
Christie believes Rihanna’s “commitment to individuality” helps her stand out. “She’s not trying to look like anyone else or follow any trends,” she says. “She’s working with her team to curate looks that say something about who she is, her perspective as an artist, and the brands and art she loves.”
That team includes Mel Ottenberg, Nini Nguyen, and Jaleel Weaver, each of whom Christie says brought their unique POV to Rihanna’s style and “helped her carve out a lane for herself.” Her focus on inclusion has worked as the perfect business model and helped set her apart from her contemporaries, she adds.
“Rihanna lit a fire in the beauty industry when she rolled out an extensive shade range of her FENTY beauty foundations. By doing so, she proved that there was massive demand in the market for a broader shade range. Sure, this was something that many beauty industry professionals and influencers had been flagging for years, but to have a global superstar back it, do it, and prove it with sold-out quantities…That does a lot to persuade the rest of the market.”
Christie notes that the diversity represented in Rihanna’s fashion shows has also set an example in the industry at large, which she notes is “primarily heritage and legacy driven.” She’s also offered a blueprint for Black women looking to dominate in multiple avenues.
“Women have 9 to 5s and other streams of income now. And to see a global superstar, a Black woman, step out and do the same. I think it was affirming for many Black women,” says Christie.
Cat Johnson, who handles Business Development & Talent Relations at Billboard, poins out how Rihanna’s eclectic, high-fashion style has been continually aligned with her music. Another significant factor is her confidence, which has helped her maintain her longevity and prowess as an entertainer despite not releasing music in several years, Johnson said.
“When she walks in the room, the way she speaks, the things she speaks about, it’s just so captivating,” she says. “It makes you want to get on her level.
The music industry expert believes that now is the best time for Rihanna to stage a comeback because she has gained more creative control of her music and has nothing more to prove as an artist or entrepreneur.
“I think it’s going to be extraordinary and something Black people can relate to,” she says of her upcoming performance during Sunday’s big game. “I think now she’s able to have more fun with it. Now she can do what she really wants to do without caring about what anyone else thinks or says.”