Despite all the drama, Rihanna continues to take care of business. She has racked up 12 No. 1 singles in the US—the youngest solo artist to do so. “Bigger” is Rihanna’s one-word mission statement. “It’s all about growth.”
Roc Nation president and co-founder Jay Brown vigorously defends her right to be herself. “There’s nothing wrong with being 24,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself. You can’t be upset with someone who’s having fun. Let her have fun.”
When I was making this record I had no intention except the truth. So whatever is there is real. It’s raw. That’s why the album is called Unapologetic.
Last November, Rihanna reached another career milestone when Unapologetic became her first album to debut at No. 1 in the US. “When I was making this record I had no intention except the truth,” she says. “So whatever is there is real. It’s raw. That’s why the album is called Unapologetic.” Not that she was apologetic in the past, but this time she says she dug deeper.
“I held back before. I didn’t show a lot of myself. I was very guarded,” she says. “I needed to be open and free and fearless. Basically say, ‘Fuck it.’ What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll hate me? They’ve done that before.”
When it comes to projecting raw vulnerability in her music, Rihanna knows exactly how to make it work, and who to make it work with. She builds with a team of A-list writers and producers, choosing songs with lyrics that relate to her personal life. It’s enough to provoke interest, but not enough to reveal anything substantial.
Her song “Half of Me” speaks directly to her public image: “Everybody knows that I’m crazy / I’m the type that don’t give a fuck.” But as the song points out, that’s only half the story.
Rihanna considers the album's first single, “Diamonds,” one of her favorite songs since “Umbrella” because of the way it makes her feel. “It was so inspiring and uplifting,” she says. “It was giving me hope, that song. I was tired of angry love songs. Love doesn’t always have to be about breakups, and ‘We’re never going to be together again.’ It could be sweet. It could be, ‘Hell yeah! We’re diamonds!’” Curiously, the video features a heavily tattooed arm that bears a striking resemblance to Chris Brown’s.
But no song got people talking like “Nobody’s Business,” her duet with Brown. Whether the pair likes it or not, when they sing “Always be my boy / I’ll always be your girl” to each other, their words are interpreted as confirmation of their current relationship status.
Yet for all the realness she promises, Rihanna refuses to entertain any such discussion: “It’s nobody’s business,” she says flatly. And all her people, from label bigwigs to loyal fans, are on the same page.
Apparently, her record label and management team had no second thoughts about her making a record with Brown—especially after the success of their “Birthday Cake” remix. Ty Ty is surprised even to be asked about the collab. “We don’t focus on the media, so it was never a question,” he says. “It’s all about the music. Everything else doesn’t even play a part in the studio.” He insists that the record wasn’t made with Brown in mind. “The-Dream didn’t write it for them as a duet. Jay-Z and I were in the car together listening to the song, and we thought it would be a great duet. It sounds dope. It feels good. That’s how Chris ended up on the song.”
Before leaving the restaurant for the airport, Rihanna addresses one last question. It’s the biggest question surrounding the song: If her relationship with Brown is truly nobody’s business, then why make a record about it?
Her voice, usually warm and cut with chuckles, turns cold. “Pardon me?” she replies, her eyebrow slightly raised. Even after the question is repeated, she hesitates to answer. The hands that moved up and down throughout the conversation, suddenly fall flat. “It’s the truth. Remember?” she says, turning toward the other side of the table to gather her belongings. As she gets up to leave, she adds: “It’s a fun record that The-Dream wrote and we loved the lyrics. You’re still asking me questions about it so clearly you don’t know.”
Maybe she doesn’t know either.
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLIST) Mel Ottenberg. (HAIR) Ursula Stephen for Motions/Epiphany Artist Group, INC. (MAKEUP) Mylah Morales. (MANICURIST) Kimmie Kyees. (CLOTHING) OPENING SPREAD: Diamond necklace by Kentshire / Right-hand Rings by Alice Waese / Body Chain by Jacquie Aiche / Bracelet, and additional rings Rihanna's own. FOLLOWING SPREAD: T-shirt by What Goes Around Comes Around / Shorts by Kiki De Montparnasse / Earrings by Jennifer Fisher / Socks by Stance / Sneakers by Converse. PREVIOUS SPREAD: Bodysuit by Cheap Monday / Shorts by Stella McCartney / Earrings by Manon / Diamond Necklace by Kentshire / Right-hand Rings by Alice Waese /Socks by Stance. THIS SPREAD: Bra and panties by Kiki De Montparnasse / Jacket by Rihanna for River Island / Earrings by Manon / Diamond Necklace by Kentshire.