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The 30 Defining Moments of Rihanna's Career
It may seem sort of impossible that Rihanna is turning 30 years old today (Feb. 20), as she's already been an essential part of our lives for about half that long. Since breaking through internationally as a 17-year-old pop star in 2005, the Barbadian multi-threat has expanded her dominance from top 40 radio to film, TV, fashion, art, charity and Twitter shade, and enters her thirties as one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. Here are the 30 biggest moments that have defined her singular career along the way.
Signs with Def Jam (2005)
In early 2005, a then-16-year-old Rihanna traveled from Barbados to New York to audition for JAY-Z and Antonio "L.A." Reid at Def Jam's office. She sang a Whitney Houston cover ("For the Love of You") and two originals -- one of which, "Pon de Replay," convinced JAY of the teenage singer's star potential. "There's only two ways out [of the office]," Rihanna later remembered the rap legend telling her while waiting for their lawyers to draw up the contractual paperwork. "Out the door after you sign this deal -- or through this window." Ri opted for the former, and one of the most successful artist-label partnerships of the century was born. -- ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Debuts with "Pon de Replay" and Music of the Sun (2005)
While Rihanna’s debut album Music of the Sun may fade into the back of her larger discography now, breakthrough hit “Pon De Replay” is something no Rihanna fan will soon forget. The music video for the dancehall crossover smash, which now sits with somewhere around 93 million views on YouTube, had Rihanna at her teenage best, wearing low-rise baggy jeans and a sequin top, dancing atop a platform in a hilariously well-lit club. The single, which climbed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, was an easy intro into the decade of island-inspired dance hits that were to follow. -- NATALIE MAHER
Scores first Hot 100 No. 1 with "S.O.S." (2006)
Fittingly released on Valentine’s Day in 2006, the first single off the ingénue’s sophomore LP, A Girl Like Me, quickly hypnotized the world with a slew of chorus “la-la-la’s," flipped over the synth-pop beeps of Soft Cell’s 1981 new wave staple, “Tainted Love.” The song -- expressing an “obsessive” crush -- reached the summit of the Hot 100 in May of that year, staying there for three consecutive weeks. She'd score many subsequent hits to prove herself an international-pop-force to be reckoned with, but “S.O.S.” was the earliest undeniable evidence. -- DA'SHAN SMITH
Goes next-level with "Umbrella" (2007)
When the JAY-Z featuring "Umbrella" (ella-ella, eh-eh-eh) dropped in 2007, Rihanna already had two albums and four top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits under her belt. But for a burgeoning pop icon, she was short just one thing: An instantly iconic pop smash that would prove she was in it for the long game. "Umbrella" was that ubiquitous smash, an inescapable hit that hit No. 1, soundtracked the summer of 2017 and introduced Bad Gal RiRi to your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa…basically, anyone with a set of ears. -- JOE LYNCH
States her "Black Madonna" ambition (2007)
One of the most buzzworthy quotes ever uttered in an interview from the superstar: At the time, it simply read as ambitious chatter for Paper magazine, from a nineteen-year-old enjoying unprecedented international success. Ultimately, throughout the years, the line took on a greater meaning: Not only has Rihanna finessed her career to follow the footsteps of her idol, she shaped it into her own iconicity, while simultaneously projecting her cultural identity front and center, to influence multiple industries. At this point, the facts of the comparison speak for themselves. -- D.S.
Performs "Umbrella" at the VMAs with Chris Brown (2007)
In the late '00s, Rihanna was half of the most exciting young power couple in pop music, a status the two cemented with a show-stopping performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2007. The gig mostly belonged to Chris Brown, demonstrating his triple-threat-dom through a medley performance that included a run through his chart-topping "Kiss Kiss" and a dance breakdown to "Billie Jean," but was stolen by Rih's cameo, showing up to run through the then-already-iconic "Umbrella" first verse and chorus. The couple wouldn't last, obviously, but Rihanna's VMAs dominance would: She's won video of the year twice, and received the Video Vanguard lifetime achievement award in 2016. -- A.U.
Wins her first Grammy (2008)
In 2007, Rihanna scored her first nominations at the Grammy Awards, as well as her first win, for best rap/sung collobration. The significance of winning an award on music's biggest night needs no explanation, but there is something to be said of scoring one alongside now-21-time winner Jay-Z as a first time nominee: It signified Rihanna’s long-term staying power, and marked industry-acceptance, pushing “Umbrella” from a simple radio smash into an enduring pop classic for the ages. -- N.M.
Reloads Good Girl Gone Bad with two more No. 1s (2008)
Rihanna's third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, was unquestionably a blockbuster, spawning four Hot 100 top 20 hits (including the chart-topping "Umbrella"), and ultimately being certified 5x Platinum by the RIAA. But RiRi wasn't done there: In the peak age of deluxe edition reissues, Good Girl was revamped a year later with a Reloaded edition, which added three new songs to the track list -- two of which, the Stargate-produced ballad "Take a Bow" and the storming Chris Brown co-write "Disturbia," followed "Umbrella" to the Hot 100's apex, proving that even Ri's bonus cuts were more potent than any of her pop peers' A material in 2008. -- A.U.
Tops Hot 100 as featured artist on T.I.'s "Live Your Life" (2008)
In 2018, Rihanna as the hook singer on a rap song has become such an exhausted notion that artists like Kendrick and Pharrell have learned to just give her a full verse on songs like "Loyalty" and "Lemon." But a decade earlier, securing a hook on a T.I. song was the stamp of a certified pop star, and "Live Your Life" was the singer's first featured appearance on a big-time smash. T.I. and RiRi sounded like an updated Ja Rule and Ashanti, fusing the best parts of pop and dance with hip-hop and R&B. Its catchy hook, punctuated with the sing-along “ayea, ayea, ayea,” brought "Life" to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart just a week after its debut. -- N.M.
Domestic abuse inspires a Rated R masterpiece (2009)
While promoting her edgy fourth album, 2009’s Rated R, Rihanna relived the traumatic horror of her violent car ride with Chris Brown on the night before the '09 Grammys, in a 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. At its end, she’d dramatically advise “F--k love … love is so blind” -- a sentiment felt throughout the autobiographical template of darker, complex emotions on the album in question.
Rated R intro “Mad House” set the tone on the LP for an explicit love tragedy, before transitioning into RiRi’s signature phrase “I’m such a phuckin’ lady” on “Wait Your Turn.” Top 10 singles “Hard” showcased a cocky rapping persona, while cocked guns and pulse-racing chorus of “Russian Roulette” emphasized the singer’s knack for dramatic balladry. Rated R’s twists and turns also showcased genre fluidity -- particularly in the dubstep of Navy-saluting “G4L” and the latin-pop simmer of “Te Amo” -- but it was her true roots in the dance hall of “Rude Boy” that dutty-whined atop the Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks. -- D.S.
Teams up with Eminem for "Love The Way You Lie" (2010)
Two artists who know a thing or two about toxic relationships, Eminem and Rihanna scored one of the biggest hits of either's career by pairing for "Love the Way You Lie," an amour fou hip-hop ballad with a knockout RiRi chorus. The song spent seven weeks atop the Hot 100, establishing a partnership that would continue throughout the decade -- which resulted in both a second No. 1 collaboration ("The Monster") and an ensuing sellout co-headlining tour -- and ensuring that both stars would enter the '10s still at their commercial peak. -- A.U.
Works with Drake for the first time on "What's My Name?" (2010)
Fans went predictably nuts in 2010 when, mere months after being spotted making out at a Lucky Strike, Rihanna and Drake debuted their first collab -- and a particularly steamy number, no less. The bubbly, dancehall-flavored “What’s My Name,” where Rihanna breezes through confident, euphemism-laced verses and a blushing Drake tries to do math, would go on to top the Billboard Hot 100 and snag a Grammy nomination -- not to mention kicking off a creative relationship that would bring later us smashes like “Take Care” and “Work." -- TATIANA CIRISANO
Plays halftime at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game (2011)
To date, the Super Bowl still hasn't had the good sense (or fortune) to book Rihanna for the most-watched gig on television, but the NBA smartly grabbed her for the second-biggest halftime gig of the year in 2011, when she played at the break of the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Her performance was of course blistering, and aided by two extremely high-profile guests: Kanye West, who performed then-single "All of the Lights," and of course, Drake, who wished the singer a happy birthday in the midst of their "What's My Name" collab. We haven't seen that kind of star power on the NBA stage since -- a point rubbed in by the lack of a Bad Gal cameo this past weekend during N.E.R.D.'s performance of the RiRi-featuring "Lemon" at this year's All-Star halftime. -- A.U.
Wishes Ciara “Good luck with bookin that stage u speak of" (2011)
Part of Rihanna’s allure is that she has somehow struck a simultaneous balance of otherworldliness and down-to-earth-ness. And really, what’s more relatable than some Twitter shade? After Ciara said Rihanna “wasn’t the nicest” on a 2011 episode of E!’s Fashion Police, the two got into it on Twitter. Ciara told her, “Trust me Rhianna u dont want to see me on or off the stage,” to which Rihanna replied (among other things), “Good luck with bookin that stage u speak of.” A truly iconic Twitter moment, and the mark of a true social media queen. -- N.M.
Reinvents herself with “We Found Love” single and music video (2011)
Eight years since its release, Calvin Harris’ EDM-splashed hit “We Found Love” featuring Rihanna still instantly brings to mind images of BadGal rocking out at raves, writhing in a grimy bathtub and letting a lover tattoo her backside -- much thanks to the track’s phenomenal music video, which snagged a VMA for video of the year. At the time, many fans connected the visual’s abuse-ridden love story between two addicts to Rih’s ill-fated relationship with Chris Brown, making her character’s decision to leave her companion by the final scene all the more triumphant. Drawing comparisons to Trainspotting and even Requiem for a Dream in its short film-like style and drug-related content, it remains one of the best and most memorable video performances of Rihanna’s career. -- T.C.