When Rihanna released her debut single, “Pon de Replay,” it looked like she was heading for one-hit-wonder-dom. It was a catchy, island-flavored ditty perfect for the summer. It was a hit, but her album sales weren’t great and her stage presence left a lot to be desired. She wasn’t as strong of a singer as Beyoncé and couldn’t move like Ciara, so did we really need another one-named entertainer? Fast forward five years and Rihanna’s one of the biggest stars in the world.
How did Rihanna go from basic island girl to international superstar? She quickly kept a stream of albums and singles coming and differentiated herself from the pack. These are two very important lessons for new artists. After you release your debut album and gain some momentum, don’t wait another two years to release something else. People will forget about you. One album and handful of it singles is not enough to solidify your spot in pop music. Rihanna released “Music of the Sun” in August 2005, “A Girl Like Me” in April 2006 and “Good Girl Gone Bad” in May 2007. This one-two-three punch helped make Rihanna a star. She kept the hits coming and remained visible in a fast paced market. Lady Gaga did the same thing by releasing “The Fame Monster” EP to hold fans over and remain relevant in-between full-length albums. Even five albums into her career, Rihanna released “Loud” less than a year after “Rated R.” When you’re a new artist, keep the albums and singles coming. Your fans won’t lose interest and you can continue touring and promoting new material. If a debut starts slow or an album underperforms, release a follow-up quickly and don’t give pop music listeners the chance to latch on to the “next big thing,” leaving you in the dust.
Even with her somewhat shaky start, Rihanna always had something different. Hailing from Barbados, the island influence can be heard in a lot of her music and many of her biggest hits. That’s not something other artists (like the aforementioned Beyoncé) can pull off, at least not convincingly. Rihanna’s hair has also been an instrumental force in her career. Yes, her hair. Ten years ago, all it took was long, blonde hair to be a pop star. Now, you have to think outside the box. Katy Perry’s career exploded when she plopped a blue wig on her head and Lady Gaga’s sported every color of the rainbow at one point or another (and sometimes simultaneously). Rihanna’s first bold hair move was chopping it all off for “Good Girl Gone Bad” and setting herself apart from all the weave-wearing pop star pack. It was a little darker and moodier than her counterparts, providing an alternative to glossier female stars. She’s currently sporting a shade of red, once again going for something different, and complimenting Perry’s smurf look quite nicely. In all seriousness, image is important and Rihanna found a definable image along the way that has matched the sound of her music for each era. In addition to developing her look, she also found her stage presence and personality.
Rihanna was not a superstar when she first came out. It took a couple years. There are some stars like Britney and Gaga that have it from the get go. Rihanna’s become a much better singer and performer over the past five years. Continuing to release material and promote allowed her to hone her craft and become more comfortable onstage. Rihanna’s gone through more transformations in five years than most artists do in double that time, constantly releasing new music and changing up her image. This makes it seem like Rihanna’s been around for much longer and has further solidified her status as a superstar. With rumors of either a “Loud” rerelease or entirely new LP this fall, it looks like Rihanna won’t be slowing up anytime soon, and why would she? She’s 23 and on top of the world. I’m just looking forward to seeing how Rihanna will reinvent herself this time around…