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MARCH 2009


GOOD GIRL GONE GREAT

The serial hit-maker and fashion’s new icon on her unstoppable rise! By Candice Rainey


T

here are those hits that climb to the top of the music charts, live in our iPods for a couple months, morph into ring tones, do a cameo on Grey’s Anatomy, and eventually reach their shelf life and disappear into the pop-music ether. And then there are hits, addictive sonic pleasures that burrow deep inside our brains. Songs that seduce not only the Sidekick-packing teens but also the snobby music critics: Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”; George Michael’s “Freedom 90”… Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” Rihanna, the Barbados-born singer who landed on our shores only three years ago, launched her career by perfecting the formula for the first kind. There was “Pon de Replay,” a reggae-tinged dance-hall theme from her inaugural album, Music of the Sun, which stormed the radio in summer 2005. Then came her second record, A Girl Like Me, with “SOS,” a hook-driven club phenomenon that heavily sampled the ‘80s cover of “Tainted Love” by new-wavers Soft Cell, and “Unfaithful” a darkish ballad mostly memorable for its video, featuring the barely legal, emerald-eyed heartbreaker writhing atop a grand piano. They were all decent songs, just not unforgettable. But last year, just as some critics were about to write off Rihanna as another freshfaced R&B flirt with, you know, stuffing where her soul should be, she unleashed a monster. Over futuristic drums and a shimmering bass line, the 20-year-old gave us “Umbrella,” a synthesized love poem that Jay-Z, then president of Def Jam Records and Rihanna’s mentor and boss, anointed when he rapped a few tightly written rhymes for the intro. It was a benevolent gesture that only amped up the song’s It Factor. We have met in L.A. at the Grove, an open-air restaurant Rihanna chose because she spends a lot of time here. “At least I used to,” she says. Her schedule has been especially manic for the past few weeks, starting with her drop-in at New York Fashion Week. “The Proenza Schouler show was just phenomenal,” she says. “Everything is edgy and cool.” Dressed in superskinny acid-washed jeans and tucked into a second-skin leather motorcycle jacket, Rihanna looks the part of rock goddess, even bringing an entourage along: an enormous bodyguard sipping tea at a nearby table; Christa, her comanager (Rihanna has two); Jen, her assistant; and Melissa and Leandra, two of her longtime friends from Barbados who have been traveling with her for

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the past couple of weeks. “When I go out on a big long tour, I always take a friend with me,” Rihanna says, nodding toward the pair. “Sometimes I don’t want to even go on dates without them. But we do it for each other. I’m her third party sometimes,” Rihanna says, pointing to Melissa. Who in her right mind would enlist Rihanna as a wing woman? Her lean, coltlike legs alone, named 2007 Venus Breeze “Celebrity Legs of a Goddess” by Gillette and insured for $1 million, would make her impossible to compete with. “What about me?” Leandra asks. “You don’t need a third party. You’re wild,” Rihanna shouts, and laughs.

A

t 16, an age when most teens are begging their parents to let them take the sedan out on a Friday night, Rihanna persuaded her mother to allow her to leave Barbados and stay with Rogers and his wife at their Connecticut home so that she could finish her four-song demo. “I think her mother was very nervous at first,” Rogers says. “But the Barbados connection with my wife, that helped.” After wrapping up production in January 2005, Rihanna headed back to the island and Rogers sent the demo out to a handful of labels, including Def Jam. No sooner had she returned home when Jay-Z requested a meeting with her and Rogers, stat, and Rihanna flew up to New York. “I remember staring into everybody’s eyes in the room while I was singing, and at that point, I was fearless,” she says about the

I kept telling my manager cutting my hair. I’m cuttin

Does she miss home? “Hell, yeah. So much. Barbados is just—it’s so beautiful. It’s a part of me. Sometimes it’s hard to fit in over here. So I keep these familiar faces around to keep comfortable.” Clearly, Rihanna prefers importing friends from the old neighborhood to rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s Red Bull-soaked masses. Despite the name of her platinumselling record, she insists she’s more a cleanliving kind of girl, not all that interested in getting bombed at the clubs—“It’s not fun when you can’t stand—or in the L.A. scene in general. “There’s nothing to do here, I swear,” she says, dipping some bread in a pool of olive oil. “There’s only so much shopping and partying you can do. I’m not even 21.”

audition. “But the minute I stopped singing, I was like, Oh my God, Jay-Z is sitting right in front of me.” The Def Jam family was interested, so much so that Jay-Z literally locked the doors of his office and wouldn’t let them leave the building until they signed a contract, which they did 12 hours later. “We made a little Godfather joke,” Jay-Z says. “We said the only way she could leave was through the window.” Music of the Sun was released seven months later, in August 2005, boasting the reggaeesque foot stomper “Pon de Replay” that pumped out of topless Jeeps everywhere and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hoping to keep the momentum flowing, Rihanna churned out A Girl Like Me just eight months later (lightning speed in the

MARCH 2009


music business), a somewhat uneven album melding ’90s-style R&B with dance-hall-lite confections. She caught critical flak for her lack of technical skill and range, as well as the subpar quality of her material, which was largely provided by Rogers and a clutch of producers and lyricists at Def Jam. It’s true that Rihanna hadn’t offered up a window into her soul through her music, but let’s put this in perspective. She was only 18 when A Girl Like Me hit the radio. Whether she was taking a page out of her journal or singing what she was told to, teenage artistry by definition is generally going to be about being a teenager— boys, cheating on boys, hanging out at the mall scoping for boys. To expect poetry from someone barely old enough to buy cigarettes seems a bit of a stretch. Rihanna herself considers both Music of

standout that sounds like it’s backed by a marching band. In “Don’t Stop the Music,” Rihanna makes us want to turn on the black light and party, asking, “Do you know what you started?” In May, Def Jam re-released the album with a new single, “Take a Bow,” a breakup ballad penned by label mate Ne-Yo and sung with enough attitude to become the unofficial anthem for wronged women everywhere. “Grab your clothes and get gone/ You better hurry up/ Before the sprinklers come on,” Rihanna wails. And yet for all its strengths, this isn’t the album where we get to know Rihanna any better. There’s nothing resembling “Cry Me a River” here (JT’s supposed Dear John letter to Britney) or even Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” a song she didn’t write herself but the meaning of which she tapped into extremely

rs, I’m ng my hair!

the Sun and A Girl Like Me to be “live and learn” experiences. With Good Girl Gone Bad, however, “I talked to my management, whom I’m very, very close with. And I just told them, ‘On this album, I don’t want it to be only girly, only fun, you know. I want it to be edgy. I want it to be one of those records that you never forget.’ I knew exactly who I was, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to sound like, look like, dress like, act like, and that’s exactly what I did.”

G

ood Girl has sold 4 million copies worldwide, a bona fide knockout by industry standards. Rather than filling in around one or two radio giants, its songs are all satisfyingly catchy. “I got a house but I need new furniture,” she snaps on “Lemme Get That,” a Timbaland-produced

MARCH 2009

effectively. Jay-Z, who has banked his career by opening his veins over verses, realizes that at some point Rihanna will have to go a little deeper. “Her last hurdle, as an artist, is to make people feel her, whatever her story is, and her struggle, and let people relate to her, which is a very difficult thing unless you’re Mary J. Blige. But there will come a day where she’s gonna have to do that. ’Cause after you’ve hit somebody in the head seven times, after a while they’re gonna see the punches coming, and the big records, they’re less effective. So now they have to buy into her as a human being.”

T

here might be a clothing line on the horizon, “maybe underwear,” she says, and like any icon-in-the-making preparing herself for the quantum leap, Rihanna is thumbing through movie scripts:

“I don’t know how good I’ll be at it, but it’s something that I want to try.” She is aware that if she can’t take control of her own career now, it will likely be beyond her grasp to do so later. It’s why she’s determined to find what we all call, for lack of a better term, balance. “I already told everyone in my camp, ‘This year, I’m not going to work like a horse,’” she says. “In 2007, I didn’t really get to enjoy anything that I achieved because I was moving, moving, moving. Even at the Grammys, Jay was asking me, ‘How does it feel? How does it feel?’ I was like, ‘When I get home and I lock my room and there’s silence, I’ll tell you how I feel then.’” “That song is very, very magical,” says the singer, nodding her heart-shape face. “Because even when I travel, I can’t believe the kind of people that know that record. Their age, their nationality, they don’t speak English, but they all know that song.” It also served as the soundtrack for unveiling Rihanna 2.0. With the release of 2007’s Good Girl Gone Bad, her third record, the bubble-gum island teen dream, whose formerly sun-streaked hair fell at a safe shouldersweeping length, was indeed gone. In her place we found a leather-pants-clad badass, a sex symbol with a café au lait complexion, rocking her black punkish cockatoo crop and studded Louboutins. She reminded us of effortlessly cool front women from the past—Janet Jackson at her “Pleasure Principle” best, Madonna under the Danceteria strobe lights. Well here was an interesting turn of events. “I kept telling my managers, I’m cutting my hair. I’m cutting my hair. And they’re like, ‘How short? Not too short. Cut it how short?’ And I’m like, ‘Up to here,’” Rihanna says, raising her hand up to her ear. “They never believed me. So when it was time to do the album cover [for Good Girl], the night before I cut it, I dyed it black. We went straight to the photo shoot, and no one at the record label knew what I looked like. When we sent the pictures over, they saw the hair and they all loved it. They loved it.” Perhaps every young artist transforms stylewise when her music changes. Like Christina Aguilera did when she went a bit raunchy for Stripped. “I felt like that was a phase for her, you know?” Rihanna says. Is this a phase for Rihanna? “It might be a phase, but I won’t know until I come out of it. Or I might be like this forever.”

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MARCH 2009

ON THE COVER

97 your personal style issue From clothes to hair and make-up, ELLE’s exclusive celebration of individual style starts here 100 love your look: everyday ELLE helps three women rework their existing wardrobes to define their style 108 100 rules of great style The fashion expert’s commandments 115 Hire a high street stylist for free ELLE puts fashion’s new breed of style advisors to the test - with surprising results 119 20% off uniqlo for everyone Sharp basics to snap up! 122 Good Girl Gone Great Rhianna shares her opinions on fashion, relationships, and music 156 hair: the cut and colour to suit you How to make sure you get just what you want from your next salon visit

COVER LOOK

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RIHANNA REIGNS! GOOD GIRL GONE GREAT

MARCH 2009

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