By: Autumn Johnson

Thesis

Rihanna is one of the most iconic, influential, and female empowering artists today. Rihanna has ventured off and explored many different things during her career making it more interesting than your regular artists. She is known for her distinctive and versatile voice. Rihanna cannot be defined by one word, and even her music has different multitudes to it. I’ve always found Rihanna to be authentic to herself, which inspires many women today.

Barbadian Beginnings

Robyn Rihanna Fenty was born in Saint Michael, Barbados, on February 20, 1988. She grew up in Barbados with a Barbadian father and a Guyanese mother. She has two brothers, two half-sisters, and one half-brother. Her father was an alcoholic and addicted to crack cocaine, which impacted her childhood, her parent’s relationship, and even her health. As a child she listened to multiple types of music, such as Caribbean, reggae, hip-hop, and R&B. She was influenced by Madonna, Bob Marley, and Janet Jackson. She was also influenced by Mariah Carey, so it came to no surprise when she won a high school talent show with a rendition of a Mariah Carey song. Around this time, she started a girl group with two of her friends and attracted the attention of an American record producer. The producer helped Rihanna record a demo that led to an audition with the rapper Jay-Z, who then proceeded to sign her. Rihanna was inspired by the music she listened to when she was younger and her Barbados culture to create Caribbean music mixed with more tempo dance-pop tracks like, “Pon de Replay”.

Rihanna's Career

After signing with Jay-Z to Def Jam Recordings at the age of 16, Robyn Rihanna Fenty used her middle name, Rihanna, as her stage name for her professional career. In the early stages of her career, she captured an international audience because she was able to showcase her Caribbean roots along with R&B ballads within the dance-pop genre with her debut studio album, “Music of the Sun”. She continued this phase with her next album, “A Girl like Me”. Rihanna then started to change her youthful image and upbeat dance music to venture off into R&B music that defined her as an independent and rebellious woman. She did this through her next album “Good Girl Gone Bad”. She accomplished her new persona, and won her first Grammy award for the song “Umbrella” off of the album, featuring Jay-Z.

During her career, Rihanna has dealt with physical abuse and violence from her then boyfriend, Chris Brown, also popular R&B artist. The incident was widely covered in the news regarding celebrities. The pain inflicted on her inspired her next album, “Rated R”. She maintained her rebel, hard, seductive persona on her next couple of albums, “Talk that Talk” and “Unapologetic”. Rihanna’s cutting-edge style and fashion can be seen on her album covers, music videos, and magazine covers. Her latest album “ANTI” was unlike any of her previous albums because she merges R&B, rock, and hip-hop. She purposely names the album “ANTI” because it is the opposite of what people are used to seeing from her.

 Over her professional career, Rihanna has achieved many great things before she hit the age of 30, which is not something typically done by a regular artist. She has had 7 certified platinum albums. Out of her 71 singles, 14 of them hit number one on the Billboard chart, making her the youngest and fastest solo artist to do this. Before she had control of her distribution schedule, Rihanna worked extremely hard to release an album every year. She has set many trends to date, such as female vocalists working with DJ Calvin Harris, island vibes to mainstream music, and unapologetic carefreeness. Rihanna doesn’t stick to the stereotypical gender roles that Black women artists are given, and therefore inspires others to follow behind her and be authentic to them.

Major Influences

Rihanna’s primary genre is pop, but she blends and doesn’t stay within this one genre. She explores hip hop, R&B, EDM, reggae, and more as well. Rihanna embraces her body, sexuality, and womanhood in her music. She wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the many musical styles across the globe that have influenced her. Artists that have influenced Rihanna include, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Bob Marley, Mariah Carey, and more. Madonna is known as the “Queen of Pop”, and Rihanna has stated in the past that she wants to be the Black Madonna. Janet Jackson was a prominent figure for Black female empowerment and known for her socially conscious and sexually provocative music and style and Rihanna related to her. Bob Marley is one of Rihanna’s favorite artists of all time because he paved the way for artists from the Caribbean. Rihanna was inspired by different elements from these artists and others to shape the artist and person she is. Others that have influenced her include, Whitney Houston, Brandy, Celine Dion, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, and Alicia Keys. 

Awards

  • 9 Grammys
  • NAACP – president’s award in recognition of special achievement and distinguished public service.
  • 13 American Music Awards
  • 25+ MTV
  • 9 BET Awards
  • 13 Billboard Awards
  • 17 BMI Awards
  • 1 Glamour Magazine Women of the Year
  • 6 Guinness World Records
  • 8 iHeartRadio Music
  • +many more

Social Involvement

Rihanna is a philanthropist who is big on giving back to her community and people in need. The cosmetic brand, MAC, named Rihanna the face of their 2014 Viva Glam lipstick/lip gloss campaign. All of the proceeds from the campaign benefited women and children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Rihanna uses her influence and popularity to help her charitable efforts. She created her own foundation, named after her grandparents Clara and Lionel, to improve the quality of life for communities globally in the areas of health, education, arts & culture. Each year, the foundation hosts a charity fundraiser event called the Diamond Ball, where many different celebrities purchase expensive entrance tickets and participate in live auctions, raising millions of dollars.

In addition to her music career, Rihanna is an actress, fashion designer, and businesswoman. She has acted in many movies, including Battleship, This Is the End, Ocean’s 8, and Guava Island. She also voiced a main character in the movie Home and provided music for the movie’s soundtrack. Rihanna became her own entrepreneur when she launched her own line of cosmetics called, Fenty Beauty. Her brand was commended for embracing women of all different colors by offering 40 different shades of foundation, allowing women to find the perfect color for them without feeling left out or not taken into consideration. She continues to expand her Fenty Beauty brand by dropping new products daily, and recently coming out with skin care products. Rihanna created a fashion line titled, Fenty, where she became the first woman of color to head a fashion house at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, the largest luxury-products company in the world. Rihanna also launched a lingerie brand called, Savage X Fenty, where these products also come in a variety of shades and a range of sizes, so all women can enjoy.

 

Conclusion

Rihanna empowers women all across the world through her music, fashion, business, and philanthropic efforts. She is a symbol for body positivity and inspires other women to embrace who they are, unfiltered. Rihanna had struggles growing up in Barbados and has a past history with domestic violence, whether that be seeing her father abuse her mom or being abused by her previous boyfriend. The battles she has overcome in her life is displayed through her music as she uplifts women. She also finds it essential to give back to her communities, so other people have the opportunity and access to things their communities have not been able to give them. Rihanna defies the concept of being defined by one word, by consistently being herself and mixing different elements within her music to make her sound unique to her and her personality.

Discography

  • Music of the Sun – 2005
  • A Girl Like Me – 2006
  • Good Girl Gone Bad – 2007
  • Rated R – 209
  • Loud – 2010
  • Talk That Talk – 2011
  • Unapologetic – 2012
  • ANTI – 2016

Bibliography

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  •  Edwards, Kamylle. “How Rihanna Is an Example of Women’s Empowerment.” REVOLT, REVOLT, 6 Mar. 2018, www.revolt.tv/2018/3/6/20824402/how-rihanna-is-an-example-of-women-s-empowerment.
  •  Gathright, Jenny. “Rihanna Is The 21st Century’s Most Influential Musician.” NPR, NPR, 15 Aug. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/08/15/638551793/rihanna-is-the-21st-centurys-most-influential-musician.
  •  “Rihanna.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 16 Feb. 2021, www.britannica.com/biography/Rihanna.
  •  Smith, Da’Shan. “Music Of The Sun: How Rihanna Basked In Her Influences To Find Her Voice.” UDiscover Music, 19 Aug. 2019, www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/rihanna-music-of-the-sun/.
  •  Wallace, Alicia, and Written by Alicia Wallace View all posts by Alicia Wallace. “The Feminism of: Rihanna.” Ladyclever, 13 Jan. 2017, ladyclever.com/culture/the-feminism-of-rihanna/.
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