Rihanna: “I try to remain true to who I am”

Barbados’s singing sensation Rihanna speaks to Essiba Small about her rise to fame, her changing image, and rumours of romance between her and Def Jam

Rihanna. Photograph courtesy Roberto D’Este

I was in Barbados, living a normal life, going to school [at Combermere Secondary School], when I was discovered.

A record producer from New York [Evan Rogers] was in Barbados and a friend took me to meet him. I did some songs for him and he suggested that I come to New York to do a demo.

When I got there I met with Jay-Z [President of Def Jam Records] and I auditioned for him. I think that he liked the image I brought forward and how serious I was about the artistry. So he signed me as an artist to the label.

I couldn’t imagine that my career would blow up like this, though. Out of the six singles I have put out, five of them were in the top ten [“Pon de Replay”, “Unfaithful”, “We Ride”, “Break it Off”, “SOS”].

I have performed at several places and I still get nervous before every performance. My [most] memorable performance would have to be at [MTV’s] Fashion Rocks show, which is a huge event in New York. Elton John was also there.

I also can never forget last year’s Billboard Awards, in which I was nominated for several. The first time they called out my name as a nominee I was so nervous. And when they announced that I was the Female Artist of the Year (a category in which Beyoncé Knowles was also nominated), I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is really happening?” It was an absolutely great feeling.

[Rihanna also copped the Pop 100 Artist of the Year, Hot 100 Artist of the Year and Hot Dance Airplay song of the year.]

Good Girl Gone Bad is the title of my current album. It was released on June 5. “Umbrella” is the album’s first release, featuring Jay-Z. I think the song surprised a lot of people in several ways, especially because Jay-Z is on it.

I think because of the rumour [which suggests that Jay-Z’s relationship with his girlfriend Beyoncé is on the rocks because of an alleged romantic tie with Rihanna], people didn’t expect that we would come together to record. They thought I would try to stay away from the collaboration because of what they were saying.

When I first heard the rumour I thought it was funny. But it has got more intense, so I just ignore it now. It really blows my mind how people come up with things like that.

When [Jay-Z] first heard “Umbrella” he liked it and wanted to be on it. Like me, he likes making good music.
On Good Girl Gone Bad my fans will notice a change in my music. It is edgier, bigger and more mature. The things I sing about are sexy and I also deal with serious issues. I am very pleased with the outcome of the album. I didn’t write the songs on it, but I got some good songwriters like Neo, Dream, Justin Timberlake and Makeba [Riddick]. I can’t wait to start touring so that people can hear me really perform the album.

My image has also changed a bit with this new album [from long, brown, curly locks to a black, sleek, layered bob]. It was my decision to change my look, to differentiate me from every artist around. This look is also closer to my own personal style, so I am able to be me with it.

It’s been four years since I have been out and I am still excited and happy about my growth as an artiste. In the future I see myself getting into movies. I’d like to do an action movie, or maybe a drama.

I believe that fame is what you make of it. I try to remain true to who I am.

When I am not on stage I try to watch a movie or eat out. I go bowling with my friends sometimes and just hang out.

People will be surprised to know that I have a crazy personality around my friends. I get delirious, I laugh and have fun. Some of my friends will also tell you I am a prankster too.

One of the challenges of being a recording artiste is that you barely have a private life. Everyone has an opinion of what you should be doing, but you have to remember that your opinion matters too.

Romantically I am not involved with anyone right now, but it doesn’t have anything to do with my hectic schedule as an artist. I could bet you that if I met someone I will make time for a relationship.

Whenever I get the chance I fly home to Barbados, ‘cause my parents [Ronald and Monica Fenty] still live there. They are very supportive of my career. We talk almost every day. I don’t get to travel to Barbados as often as I would like, but I love it when I go back.