Why Rihanna Matters

Rihanna turns 29 today. 2-9. Remember that bare-bellied girl who arrived out of nowhere with “Pon De Replay” way back in… 2005. She’s grown now… barely! She still showing up at awards just for the kiki, as she did last Sunday at the 59th Grammys, with a diamond-encrusted flask no less.

More like the Jammies!

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Rihanna is my exact same age. Well, I’m two months older, being born on the butt-end of 1987, but we grew up together. Sure, I’m not as sexy, stylish, poised, or in the same galaxy when it comes to wealth and fame, but I feel a kinship with her.

Rihanna is special, and I think she would be special even if she had stayed in Barbados and never become Intergalactic Hitmaking Sensation Rihanna™. She is electric without trying, and doesn’t take the fame game as deathly serious as some of her peers. She’ll often drop music, skip the promotion thing, and still go top 10. Instead, you’ll find her on Instagram, posting charming selfies (oxymoron? She may be the only person on Earth who makes them work) and other snapshots from her lavish life. To be young, black, beautiful, and loaded…

How did Rihanna, a little girl from the island of Barbados, make it this far? Why have we allowed her to? She’s the one pop icon the public hasn’t built up just to tear down. There’s a certain confidence we have in her, a certain level of calm with her. Is this due to her authenticity and earthy charisma? Perhaps she’s just less threatening, more inspirational than aspirational, as most American cultural figures tend to inflame or gnaw at our insecurities.

She may also just be more likable: she’s completely disarming and genuine in a way that is antithetical to modern celebrity. Remember when she got on a random London train and chatted with fans, or ran and jumped into an adoring sea of them? She (literally) isn’t untouchable.

Sure, Beyonce gets all the glory (and she is a force to be reckoned with), but Rihanna doesn’t want it anyway.  She is self-possessed in a way that perhaps Beyonce and others aren’t: she doesn’t demand you worship her, only that you have a good time when with her. Tellingly, her music is more eclectic and purely enjoyable than many of her peers’. She traverses sounds, often within the same cultural moment. In 2013, she released the gorgeous piano ballad “Stay”, followed by a trap record, “Pour It Up”, proving that she is one of the few music stars with clout on pop and urban radios. On her eighth and best album Anti, she gives us a grungy opener like “Consideration”, followed by the majestic “James Joint/Kiss It Better”, and her #1 hit “Work”, which blurs the lines between dancehall and electronica. The Motown-inflected ballad “Love On the Brain”, might just hit the top 10 on the Billboard chart this week, a nice birthday gift indeed.

Rihanna is gold in an era of trash: a celebrity worth celebrating, and maybe even deifying, even if she doesn’t want the pedestal – just the money, clothes, endless weed re-up, and following that comes with it. Rihanna matters for many reasons, but perhaps most because she reminds us to live life as if no one is watching, pay our haters dust, and keep it moving.

Live your life, girl, as fearlessly and fiercely as we all should.

 

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