How Rihanna became the most stylish pop star of her generation


[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Rebecca Bengal (Pitchfork) reviews Rihanna’s style and love of fashion and performance, stating that, “From crystal-encrusted haute couture to pantsless casual looks, Rihanna’s incomparable eye for fashion is an essential part of her art.” She also quotes Miranda July and agrees that “Witnessing Rihanna’s profound enjoyment of fashion is one of the great vicarious pleasures of this era,” but the most interesting aspect of the article is that it underlines that, along with her sense of fashion and style, there is a subversive, irreverent intent, and expression of defiant anticolonialism. Here are excerpts:

[. . .] Growing up in Barbados, Robyn Rihanna Fenty had a seemingly inborn sense of style. She recalled to Paris Vogue an early childhood memory, when she snuck upstairs during a friend’s birthday party in a pink and yellow swimsuit she’d paired with an African print jacket. There’s a video of what happens next, she swears: “You can hear everyone calling, ‘Robyn, where’s Robyn?’ Then you see these four fingers sliding down the banister as I come downstairs.” She was only 3 or 4 at the time, but she had an instinct for the relationship between fashion and performance; she knew how to make an entrance.

Plenty of divergent style phases would ensue. Young Robyn practiced singing to Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys. She found a major early influence in Madonna, whose music and style transformations Rihanna watched closely, particularly attuned to how she “remained a real force in entertainment in the world.” For a while she was into hats and mens’ clothes, sharing jeans and T-shirts with her brother. She got sent home a few times for breaking her school’s dress code, adding piercings or brightly dyed hairstyles to liven up the khaki uniform. (Her Fall 2017 Fenty x Puma collection, with its riffs on deconstructed plaid, would harken back to those years in a mashup of Bad Gal school girl looks.) [. . . ]

“I got to do things my own way,” she asserts on ANTI, her most unclassifiable album to date. On tour she wore custom-made cutout white chaps and droid-druid hooded looks, which the New York Times dubbed the “hottest club in Tattooine.” On her hit single, “Work,” subversively and irreverently catchy, Rihanna switches into Jamaican patois. Elsewhere the R&B slow burner “Needed Me” doubles as a defiant anticolonialism creed for the British Commonwealth nation of Barbados: “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?/Fuck ya white horse and ya carriage.” Wrote NPR: “ANTI is actively telling you, song after song, that it’s not trying to fit.” It’s all emblematic of the multitude of musical and cultural influences in play throughout ANTI: in genre, in language, Rihanna remains powerfully and irreverently on her own terms.

The downside of becoming a fashion force of course is that it can occasionally interrupt the music. Or maybe Rihanna is deliberately keeping the world in suspense. Aside from appearing on “Wild Thoughts” with DJ Khaled and a handful of singles with Future, Calvin Harris, and Drake, she released no new music of her own in 2017. Granted, she’s had plenty else to occupy her too—Ocean’s 8, in which she plays a dreadlocked hacker from the Caribbean, opens this week. But the anticipation for a follow-up to ANTI notches ever upward—in her June Vogue cover story, Rihanna hinted at a reggae album in the making. Till then the Navy has nicknamed the highly anticipated record R9 and its rumored follow-up, R10—terms that, when you think about it, sound an awful lot like the names astronomers use to describe the stars.

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