Rihanna
Photo: Lester Cohen/BBMA2016/Getty Images for dcp

Rihanna Biography

(1988–)
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International popstar Rihanna released her first album in 2005 and is known for such No. 1 hits as "Umbrella," "SOS," "Diamonds," and "Work."

Who Is Rihanna?

Popstar Rihanna signed with Def Jam records at age 16 and in 2005 released her first album Music of the Sun, which sold more than two million copies worldwide. She went on to release more albums and an array of hit songs, including "Unfaithful," "Umbrella," "Disturbia," "Take a Bow," "Diamonds" and "We Found Love." A global pop star with an unrelentingly edgy image, Rihanna has also won multiple industry accolades, including Grammys and MTV awards.

Early Life

Singer Robyn Rihanna Fenty was born on February 20, 1988, in St. Michael Parish on the Caribbean island of Barbados. She is the eldest of three children born to Monica Fenty, an accountant, and Ronald Fenty, a warehouse supervisor. Rihanna's childhood was marred by her father's struggles with addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine and her parents' marital problems — they divorced when she was 14 years old.

Rihanna also struggled with crippling headaches for several years during her childhood, a condition she attempted to hide from her friends and classmates so that they would not think she was abnormal. "I never expressed how I felt," she remembered. "I always kept it in. I would go to school ... you would never know there was something wrong with me."

Move to the United States

As a teenager, Rihanna turned to singing as a release from her troubles at home. She formed a girl group with two classmates; when they were 15 years old, they scored an audition with music producer Evan Rodgers, who was visiting the island with his Barbadian wife. Rogers was awed by the precociously beautiful and talented Rihanna, to the unfortunate detriment of her two friends. "The minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the other two girls didn't exist," he admitted.

Less than a year later, when Rihanna was only 16 years old, she left Barbados to move in with Rogers and his wife in Connecticut and work on recording a demo album. "When I left Barbados, I didn't look back," Rihanna recalled. "I wanted to do what I had to do, even if it meant moving to America."

Songs

In January 2005, Rogers landed Rihanna an audition for Def Jam Records and its newly minted president, the legendary rapper Jay-Z. "I was in the lobby just shaking," she recalled. However, once Rihanna opened her voice to sing she regained her composure. "I remember staring into everybody's eyes in the room while I was singing, and at that point, I was fearless," she said. "But the minute I stopped singing, I was like, 'Oh my God, Jay-Z is sitting right in front of me.'" The hip-hop icon was every bit as wowed by Rihanna's commanding presence as Rogers had been two years earlier, and he signed her on the spot. 

"Pon de Replay," "Unfaithful" and "SOS"

Only eight months later, in August 2005, she released her first single, "Pon de Replay," a reggae-influenced club track that reached No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart and announced Rihanna as the next up-and-coming pop star. Her first album, Music of the Sun, released later that month, reached No. 10 on the Billboard albums chart and also featured the single "If It's Lovin' That You Want." Rihanna released her second album, A Girl Like Me, the next year, spawning two major hits in "Unfaithful" and "SOS," Rihanna's first No. 1 single.

"Umbrella"

In 2007, Rihanna effected a transformation from cute teen pop princess to superstar and sex symbol with her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, fueled by its smash hit lead single "Umbrella," featuring Jay-Z. "It shows such growth for her as an artist," Jay-Z said about the track. "If you listen to the lyrics to that song, you know the depth and how far she's come."

"Don't Stop the Music," "Disturbia" and "Hate That I Love You"

"Umbrella" topped the Billboard singles chart and earned Rihanna her first Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The album reached No. 2 on the charts and also featured the singles "Shut Up and Drive" and "Don't Stop the Music," the latter featuring a sample of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded, released the following year, scored further hits in "Disturbia," "Take a Bow" and "Hate That I Love You."

"Only Girl (In the World)" and "S&M"

Continuing her onslaught of hit albums, Rihanna released Rated R in 2009 with the singles "Hard" and "Rude Boy." Her 2010 album, Loud, was once again a commercial success behind the songs "What's My Name," "Only Girl (In the World)" and "S&M." 

Besides her own laundry list of hit songs, Rihanna collaborated on a host of popular songs by other artists from around this time, including Jay-Z's "Run this Town," Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie," Maroon 5's "If I Never See Your Face Again" and Kanye West's "All of the Lights."

"We Found Love"

In 2011, Rihanna released her sixth studio album: Talk That Talk. The album included "We Found Love," a track with DJ Calvin Harris that won the 2013 Grammy Award for best short-form music video.

"Diamonds" and "Stay"

On her Grammy-winning 2012 album Unapologetic, Rihanna turned out such hits as the No. 1 Sia Furler tune "Diamonds" and "Stay," featuring Mikky Ekko. (Interestingly, Unapologetic was the first Rihanna album to hit No. 1 on the pop charts.) She also worked with Coldplay on the track "Princess of China" and, the following year, reached No. 1 again with another Eminem collaboration, "The Monster."

Known for her sexually provocative imagery and wild style, Rihanna made headlines for the sheer dress she wore to the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards ceremony in June 2014. She was there to receive the CFDA's Fashion Icon Award and told the crowd that "Fashion has always been my defense mechanism," according to an Associated Press report. Rihanna acknowledged that there were some rules to fashion, but explained that "rules are meant to be broken." Around this time, the singer made a bold professional move as well: She switched from the Def Jam label to Jay-Z's Roc Nation.

"FourFiveSeconds"

In August 2015, NBC announced that Rihanna would be the key adviser on The Voice's ninth season. That same year she contributed vocals to the single "FourFiveSeconds," a collaboration with West and famed Beatle Paul McCartney, as well as releasing "B**** Better Have My Money," a tune allegedly inspired by court wranglings with her former manager that also featured a highly controversial, violent music video. In 2015 Rihanna also became the first artist in history to have 100 million singles digitally downloaded and streamed.

"Work"

In late January 2016, Rihanna released the album Anti, allowing Jay-Z's online streaming site Tidal to exclusively feature the collection of tracks for a week. The gambit paid off for the struggling service, with one million trial subscribers joining Tidal in less than a day to partake in a download promotion for Anti. The album's lead single, "Work," featuring rapper Drake, earned two Grammy nominations. In 2017, Rihanna scored another No. 1 hit as a featured artist on DJ Khaled's "Wild Thoughts."

Movies

Branching out to screen work, Rihanna co-starred in the sci-fi flick Battleship (2012) and later voiced the lead character in the animated blockbuster Home (2015).

In 2017, Rihanna made recurring appearances in season 5 of Bates Motel, and earned a prominent role in the science fiction flick Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. That year, fans also got their first glimpse of the pop superstar alongside Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway in trailers for Ocean's 8, a female-led spinoff of the popular Ocean's Trilogy which hit theaters in June 2018.

The following spring, Rihanna co-starred with Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, in the Amazon musical Guava Island

Philanthropy and Personal Life

In 2012, Rihanna launched the nonprofit Clara Lionel Foundation, named after her grandmother, which supports and funds education and early response programs around the world. For her philanthropic efforts, she was honored with the President's Award at the 2020 NAACP Image Awards.

Rihanna has also made headlines in her personal life, although often for circumstances beyond her control. She first made gossip column headlines in 2006 when rumors swirled that she was having an affair with her mentor, Jay-Z, though she and Jay-Z dismissed such allegations as ridiculous. Later, she was romantically linked to billionaire Saudi businessman Hassan Jameel, before their split was reported in early 2020.

Chris Brown 

In 2009, Rihanna was the center of a media firestorm after a domestic violence incident in which her then-boyfriend Chris Brown assaulted her before an awards show. The incident sparked a huge public outpouring of support for Rihanna, and she became a spokesperson against domestic violence. "This happened to me," she said in an interview with Diane Sawyer. "It can happen to anyone."

"I put my guard up so hard," she said in a separate interview with Rolling Stone. "I didn't want people to see me cry. I didn't want people to feel bad for me. It was a very vulnerable time in my life, and I refused to let that be the image. I wanted them to see me as, 'I'm fine, I'm tough.' I put that up until it felt real."

In 2012, Rihanna appeared to be reconnecting with Brown. The pair worked together on the song "Birthday Cake" released that year. Rihanna also spoke very candidly with Oprah Winfrey about her relationship with Brown that August. She told Winfrey that Brown may have been the love of her life and she has developed "a very close friendship" with him. The two officially dated again for a time, with Rihanna maintaining in a Rolling Stone interview that Brown had changed and that any form of abuse would be unacceptable. 

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