Originally published in
Touch
,
July 2006
1988 was a big year for music. Michael Jackson bought Neverland. Madonna divorced Sean Penn. Roy Orbison died. Public Enemy released It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. U2 stepped up with Rattle And Hum. Salt N Pepa ground to Push It. Kylie sung I Should Be So Lucky in a foamy bath. Acid house was born. And so was Robyn Rihanna Fenty.
Everything has happened so quickly that I'm forced to think like a woman

Eighteen years later and the Barbados super star is in London to meet TOUCH. I arrive at her hotel clutching a large black plastic raven (it’s a long story - don’t ask) and as its beaky form is too big to fit in my bag, I’m forced to carry it under my arm like a gothic take on the celebrity rat dog. I dash into the lift. Ground floor, going up!

Forth floor. The doors open and Rihanna gets in with her extensive entourage. It’s a tight squeeze. Rihanna and her people look at me.

Then they look at the raven (I’m calling him Ronnie) and then they exchange quizzical glances with each other. Going up!

Sixth floor. We’ve arrived at the penthouse suites. Ding dong! I follow them down the long corridor. At this stage I point out I’m not a crazed stalker with a bird fetish, but Rihanna’s interviewer. There are audible sighs of relief as we enter her hotel room.

She is looking ravishing today in full make up, figure hungry denims and high heels. More ravishing in fact than any teenager should be legally allowed to look. I put Ronnie down in the corner and we’re ready to run down how this honeylicious R’n’B singer has reached such giddy heights in two short years. “I grew up listening to a lot of reggae and I still do love reggae,” Rihanna recalls of her childhood in St Michael, Barbados. “I would sing in the shower and my brother would try and shut me up. I always wanted to play music and he always wanted to play Xbox.”

She won her school beauty pageant and talent contest and aged just 15 was introduced to producer Evan Rogers (Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson) while he was holidaying on the island. Instantly struck by her potential he took her to New York - with Rihanna’s mother in tow.

“We worked for a year and finally sent my demo to a few labels. Def Jam was the first to call back.” Sean Carter signed Rihanna up on the spot and her debut single Pon De Replay blew the charts away in 2005.

“I didn’t know how long it took a song to come out. I didn’t know what made a song successful or not successful. But Pon de Replay did so well that everyone at the label said ‘This is not normal. Don’t get comfortable because this doesn’t happen all the time.’”

Yet so far for it has happened all the time. Her debut album Music Of The Sun and sophomore offering A Girl Like Me have together reached four million sales worldwide, the latter going platinum. The Soft Cell-sampling single SOS and Ne-Yo-penned ballad Unfaithful both went to No 2 in the UK charts. And she took home the Best R’n’B Award at MTV’s EMA Awards in November. Oh yes, there’s a new bonafide diva in town.

It was Unfaithful that officially established her as a more mature artist. “People knew me as the girl who brings the club record so I wanted my fans to see this other side of me, which made Unfaithful a brave move. Luckily the girls loved it and the guys appreciated it.”

As a song about stepping out your man, was it based on personal experience? “Kind of but not really, not to that extent. When I was 14 I had my first boyfriend and I eventually grew out of him. It wasn’t anything physical but me and Ne-Yo played it up a bit!”

Her last single We Ride put the blame firmly back in the boys’ court where it belongs though. “It’s about the guy who made all these promises to ride with you ‘til you die and then those promises are broken but I say I remember you saying we’d ride ‘til we die. But whatever, I’m strong, it’s fine.”

By the way gents, Rihanna is currently sans fella and will be in the UK on and off until February for her UK tour with The Pussycat Dolls.

But take note - having made her movie debut, toured with Gwen Stefani, landed an endorsement deal with Nike and travelled the world all before reaching the legal age to vote or drink, a girl like Rihanna is no easy pickings. “Everything has happened so quickly that it has forced me to think like a woman,” she muses. “Not necessarily act like a woman but to make smarter decisions, be more responsible.”

Rihanna wants to make the most of her stay in London and that means one thing to a lady – shopping. “I don’t have much time to shop so when I do, I shop really smartly. I splurge on shoes but they have to be a pair I can wear a lot. Not just a pair I wear once and put down.

"They have to be comfortable as I want to get my money’s worth out of those shoes,” she says kicking her vertiginous platforms in front of me. What no Scholl’s? “And you can never go wrong buying jeans because you can dress them up or down. I always had a problem finding jeans because I have a small waist, big hips and long legs.” We’re weeping for you Rihanna, we really are. “But these Paige jeans,” she cries feeling her slender pins, “are perfect.”

After a much-deserved break with the family over Christmas, Rihanna has her sights set on album number three for 2007. “It’s going to be a sassy album. I’m going to have some fun with my image as well as lyrics. It’s going to be an enjoyable album. I want it to be a classic. I like to take risks as an artist so I’ll try all different types of music. Just recently I recorded an up-tempo song that was influenced highly by the 1980s and techno. People just don’t see Rihanna and techno in the same sentence but I love this song.”

And with that excitable thought, Rihanna gets a sweet, naïve twinkle in her eye and I’m reminded again of her tender years. At 18 she’s half Mariah Carey’s age (it was Rihanna’s rendition of Carey’s Hero that stole the show at that talent contest) yet already she possesses the sophistication of Amerie, the charm of Christina Milian, the acumen of J-Lo and the luck of the devil. Already dubbed the ‘Bajan Beyoncé’, in 2006 she has sold more records than Ms Knowles too, and all because Jay-Z liked her nervous schoolgirl audition just two years ago. Today, this young woman has got the world at her feet.

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