Awards Rain Down
Awards Rain Down
Along with her music fame, Rihanna signed endorsement contracts. Gillette paid her to advertise its Venus Breeze razors. She also became the face for CoverGirl cosmetics. The Bajan tomboy now appeared in glamour magazines around the world in various states of dress or undress. She developed her signature look, fingernails, and fan base—all necessary components of stardom. She climbed toward the pinnacle, however, when she received several Grammy nominations in December 2007. Was it possible that newcomer Rihanna could compete against the big names in the music world and win one of the top awards in the industry?
The road to the summit of stardom started out wet. When Rihanna's single “Umbrella” hit the stores in England during May 2007, a deluge stuck. Never in the past two hundred years had the country seen such a downpour. Umbrellas popped open everywhere, both indoors and out. Capitalizing on the situation, the Totes company came out with a Rihanna umbrella. The soggy weather and the sea of umbrellas formed the perfect backdrop for Rihanna's latest hit.
Whether it was the rain or the combination of the Rihanna/Jay-Z vocals, the song stayed at the number one position in the United Kingdom for ten weeks. In the United States, it soared from number forty-one to number one, where it remained for seven weeks. The “Umbrella” video had an equally impressive debut at number ten on MTV's Total Request Live. It rose to number one within a week and held that position for fifteen days, the longest of any video released in 2007. YouTube viewers watched it more than nine million times.
The rain lasted so long that some newspapers called it the “Rihanna Curse” and jokingly blamed her fans, saying they were doing rain dances to “Umbrella.” Interestingly enough, the U.K. storms cleared after Timbaland's “The Way I Are” overtook “Umbrella” for the number-one spot. Storms also plagued the New Zealand, Spain, and Greek releases. In spite of the weather,
both the song and video reached the top ten in many countries around the world and stayed there that summer.
As the song's popularity spread, rumors about Rihanna and Jay-Z's relationship circulated. The “Umbrella” lyrics led people to wonder if Rihanna and Jay-Z were only singing (and later acting in the video) or if they truly did care for each other as the song indicated. Rihanna agreed that “Umbrella” was a song about a relationship, but she pointed out that it could be about friendship as well as romance. She had chosen to sing it because she wanted to do something different, something that people would not expect from her. The many hours she had spent with Jay-Z, she insisted, had been time spent working on the song, not developing a relationship.
In spite of Rihanna's denials, the media persisted in linking her name with Jay-Z's. Some people suggested that Rihanna was trying to unseat Beyoncé in both the music world and with her boyfriend, Jay-Z. Rihanna denied that and said that she admired Beyoncé and viewed her as a role model. She classified herself as Jay-Z's new protégée, and she viewed Beyoncé as a celebrity and a seasoned performer, someone she aspired to be like. Rihanna did admit that she hoped to reach the same heights as Jay-Z's girlfriend someday, but she made it clear, “I'm not looking to steal [Beyoncé's] crown. I'm looking to get my own.”69
With “Umbrella,” she was well on her way. A flurry of requests for interviews, photo shoots, and endorsement deals soon followed. Magazines such as Teen Vogue, InStyle, Allure, You, and FHM vied for her time. The young, naïve Rihanna, with her long tresses and her gentle Caribbean manners, set about transforming herself into a sexy, sultry temptress as she appeared on the covers of more than thirty fashion publications, including Glamour, Seventeen, Complex, and Giant.
She shed the sweet, feminine image her producers had chosen and became, according to InStyle magazine, a “trendsetter with neon nails, spiky locks, and a love of experimentation.”70 Tattoos, huge earrings, and Christian Louboutin shoes became part of her signature style. The one-time tomboy transformed herself into a fashion icon.
Once she had been too shy to protest when her producers told her how to dress and what to wear, but she now asserted herself. She willingly let hairstylists and makeup artists experiment with her look, but she was not afraid to speak up if she did not like their ideas. Because she was the one who had to appear in public, she had the final say about what looked and felt right. Unlike most stars, she does not mind being seen without makeup. She was photographed for People magazine's “Most Beautiful” issue without it, and she insists she prefers the freedom and comfort of the natural look.
That attitude extends to her body as well. She says she will never have plastic surgery. She readily admits that the thought of the knife terrifies her, but, more importantly, she is content with her looks. “I like my body and I work out as hard as I can to make it as perfect as possible. But at the end of the day there's always people who criticise your weight, your hairstyle, and what you're wearing. I just get on with it.”71
Rihanna's newfound confidence showed in her music. Her first album showcased her island background; her second, her young teen persona; but her third became her breakout album. When she was working on it, she said that it expressed where she was in her life and in her career. Her goal was to break away from the innocent image that had been forced on her early in her career. She defined her new sound for interviewers, saying, “It's a lot edgier than the rest of the stuff that anyone has heard from me before. I'm singing about different things, it's a lot sexier.”72
The album title, Good Girl Gone Bad, caused a stir in the media, and many people wondered what she meant by the phrase “Gone Bad.” Rihanna explained to reporters that, to her, the word bad did not mean “sleazy.” It only meant that she had become rebellious and had started taking risks. She then clarified her definition of the word bad: “Bad means cool, bad means funky, bad means having an attitude, bad means being edgy.”73
Many people admired Rihanna's new look and sound. Talia Kraines of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), for example, applauded the changes Rihanna had made on her latest album: “Three cheers for her declaration that ‘once a good girl goes bad, she's gone forever.’ If being bad does this for Rihanna, then being good, is like, totally overrated.”74
Asserting herself paid off in other ways: Rihanna selected her collaborators for the album. She chose to work with Ne-Yo and Stargate again. She and Ne-Yo teamed up for “Hate That I Love
You,” later released as a single. One reviewer praised this song, saying Rihanna's and Ne-Yo's “voices go together like strawberries and cream.”75 By contrast, many reviewers panned “Question Existing,” the other song Rihanna and Ne-Yo did together, although most agreed Rihanna sang beautifully about the heartaches and loneliness of stardom.
New to this album were tracks by Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. Rihanna had always hoped to work with Timberlake. She got her wish one night after a show:
Justin just came into the studio and he started messing around, making a beat. And it was fun. We played around with that one, too. And when we came to New York, Justin came back to the studio and he was like, “I wanna write this song for Rihanna.” So Timbaland had an idea and he knew he wanted to call the song “Rehab” and he had a beat. So then Justin Timberlake … wrote the song in his head. He didn't write anything on paper. He went into the booth and sang it and I was very, very impressed. We all loved it.76
For Rihanna, working with Timberlake turned out to be fun. She admired his sense of humor but was impressed by his seriousness
Pop singer and songwriter Justin Randall Timberlake was born on January 31, 1981, in Memphis, Tennessee. From 1993 to 1995, he was a member of The Mickey Mouse Club, along with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
He started out as a lead singer in the band 'N Sync, but he later released his first solo album, Justified, in 2002. His next, Future Sex/Love Sounds came out in 2006. His first two albums sold more than 18 million copies.
Before he was allowed to receive the two awards he won at the 2004 Grammys, he had to apologize for the “wardrobe malfunction” that occurred during the Super Bowl. As part of the show, he had pulled off part of Janet Jackson's black leather outfit.
Timberlake has appeared in movies; has recorded songs with various performers, including Madonna and Rihanna; has opened several restaurants; has started a clothing line; and is the host of the Professional Golfers' Association tour. By 2008 he had won six Grammys, an Emmy, and three American Music Awards.
about his work. She also enjoyed working with Timbaland. They added the catchy dance tune “Sell Me Candy” and the reggae-based song “Lemme Get That” to the album.
Rihanna admits that when she and Timberlake first recorded together, she was awestruck by being in the same room as him. The song they worked on together, “Rehab,” was later released as a single. Reviewers praised the catchy ballad for its smooth instrumentals that fit perfectly with Rihanna's voice. Reviewer Jason Kennedy believed the romantic sound made “Rehab” a good choice for slow dances and predicted it would be played for years to come.
Timberlake hoped the ballad would show that Rihanna had hit a point in her career where the music world should see her as an adult. Jay-Z was equally impressed with Rihanna's latest sound. He told reporters, “She's found her voice. That's the best thing for any label—to have an artist step in and take control of their own career. She's left the nest.”77
Not all critics were as effusive with their praise. AllHipHop.com wrote, “Now on her third album in as many years, Rihanna's challenge is proving that she's more than just a pretty girl being used to sell ‘Urban’ flavored bubblegum. Sadly for her, this album will do nothing to help her plight.”78
Kari Livingston of Associated Content agreed. She indicated that not much on the album made it different from Rihanna's other two efforts. Livingston also complained that because the final track on the album was the mid-tempo song “Good Girl Gone Bad,” the CD did not end on its strongest note.
Other reviewers disagreed. Talia Kraines of the BBC countered:
Rihanna and her team of famous songwriters and producers have grabbed some of the chunkiest beats from the 1990s and pulled off a stunning 3rd album that's packed full of singles…. The sizzling “Umbrella” might be the biggest hit Rihanna's ever had, but there's plenty on this album that could do even better.79
Portrait magazine concurred that Rihanna had produced a solid album. Its reviewers felt that Good Girl Gone Bad far surpassed her two earlier releases and predicted that it would spend all summer in many teens' mp3 players. Fans around the world must have agreed. Good Girl Gone Bad debuted at number two on the Billboard Top 200 and went triple platinum in Europe after its release in June 2007.
Three singles in addition to “Umbrella” hit the shelves during the summer of 2007. “Shut Up and Drive” made the top fifteen. “Hate That I Love You” and “Don't Stop the Music” both ended
Originally called the Gramophone Awards, the Grammys got their name from the trophy given to outstanding musicians. The trophy is a miniature gold gramophone—an old-fashioned record player—on a stand. The Grammys began in 1958 to recognize artists; they are the music industry's highest honor. The first awards ceremony was held on May 4, 1959, in Beverly Hills, California.
The awards ceremony, now usually scheduled in February, has been broadcast on television since 1971. The most important categories are Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. Record companies and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc., an organization of music professionals, choose the works they believe are the best from the past year. Members vote for the winner, but they can only vote in categories in which they are experts.
Some people have criticized the Grammys because they do not always reflect public opinion. Others believe they are a way for the recording industry to advertise. Most artists appreciate them for the recognition they bring. They find that winning a Grammy translates into much higher sales for the work.
up in the top ten. These singles put Rihanna in the running for major awards.
At the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards that fall, Rihanna was nominated for five awards, including Female Artist of the Year. When the winners were announced, she received two trophies—Video of the Year and Monster Single of the Year—for “Umbrella.” Even more impressive, she had garnered six Grammy nominations for “Umbrella,” “Don't Stop the Music,” and “Hate That I Love You.” The line-up of stars for that evening included most of Rihanna's childhood idols as well as many collaborators on her albums. Rihanna had to wait until February 2008 for her big night—the fiftieth Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los
Angeles, California—to find out if she would surpass them in any of the categories.
Cameras flashed as Rihanna entered the Staples Center wearing a flirty, electric blue Zac Posen dress. The bling on her arm glittered. She had watched the Grammys before, but this time she was the center of attention. “I did what I thought I was supposed to do,” she says, “because I'd seen other people do it. I knew that on the red carpet, you stop and you shake and you smile. But you don't really know. Everybody's calling your name—that was weird to me. And I thought I wasn't pleasing them. They all sounded so angry: ‘Rihanna, look here’; ‘No, look here, Rihanna.’”80
Time after time the media captured her pose. Fans pushed each other aside for a glimpse as she strolled down the famed red carpet. Attending the Grammy Awards that evening is a memory she will never forget. The highlight of the evening was the announcement of Best Rap/Sung Collaboration: “Umbrella” won.
When they called her name, Rihanna hugged Jay-Z and then headed to the stage to receive her award. She had promised to give her father her first Grammy, but, at the microphone, she told him they would have to fight over who got to keep it. After thanking all the people who had helped her, including Jay-Z and her family, she held her Grammy high as she exclaimed, “Barbados, I love you! We got one!”81 Though she had journeyed far from her island homeland to start a new life in America, she did not forget the people or land of her birth in her moment of triumph.
Jay-Z had been right when he dubbed “Umbrella” a winner. “I knew [‘Umbrella’] was going to be a No. 1 record,” he says. “I believe what happened with this album is that she found her voice…. It shows such growth for her as an artist. If you listen to the lyrics to that song, you know the depth and how far she's come.”82 She had come a long way. Only one question remained: Where would she go from here?