As Real as Rihanna

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The odds against her would have discouraged a lesser woman. Channeling the emotion that came with a childhood full of struggle, pain, abuse, poverty and illness, it was impossible to look away from the young Barbadian when she sang. Her image veered between that of a club-hopping wild child to being the poster child for victims of domestic abuse. But Rihanna’s story has been one of resilience. 10 years and eight Grammy Awards later, her battle has been ferocious and her victories, hard earned. Shweta Bhatia discovers more

Robyn Rihanna Fenty, better known as Rihanna, grew up in a troubled home in Barbados. Her father who had a substance abuse problem, physically abused her mother and her as well. At 14, after a long journey with turmoil, her parents divorced and she took on the role as a full time caretaker for her younger brother while her mother worked. At 15, she won her high school beauty pageant when she sang Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’. Not long after winning the pageant, Evan Rogers, an American record producer, discovered the pop star and within months, Ri-Ri, as her fans fondly know her, left Barbados and moved to Connecticut. Rogers sent out her demo tape, which he recorded, and it landed on the desk of then newly appointed Def Jam president; Jay Z. Ri-Ri was immediately summoned by the legend to audition for a spot, where she chose to perform Whitney Houston’s ‘For The Love Of You’. “I signed her in one day,” Jay Z said in an interview. “It took me two minutes to see that she was a star.”

By May 2005, four months after she signed her first record deal, Rihanna released her first single, ‘Pon de Replay’ which peaked at the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100. Eight months later, ‘Umbrella’ hit the airwaves and reached number one position on the charts worldwide. Rihanna had become a bonafide pop star at 17. Going places with her music and fast growing fame, Rihanna was introduced to a young, 16-year-old, Chris Brown at the 2005 Vibe Awards. There was an instant chemistry between the two and it was blatantly visible. For two years rumours flew rampant about the nature of their relationship. Both the R&B stars kept denying that they were a couple and boasted about their close friendship. “We are best friends, honestly, like brother and sister,” Rihanna once said in an interview. Later that year, Chris Brown admitted to taking their ‘sibling’ like relationship to another level by stating that they may have started of as friends but had gotten closer over the year and were officially dating.

But on February 7th 2009- the night before the Grammy Awards- following Clive Davis’s party, an incident occurred that changed her life and, quite possibly, her reputation too. R&B singer, Chris Brown, the man Rihanna proclaimed to be her first love, assaulted her in his rented Lamborghini and left her bloodied and battered on the side of a street. Photos of her bruised and swollen face were all over the media. Brown was charged with felony assault and making criminal threats. He later went on to state that he was ashamed of his actions and blamed his childhood because he was surrounded by domestic violence and it had influenced the way he treated women. The story behind the assault is supposed to be that it began over a text message that Brown received from another woman and ended with him hitting and choking the pop diva before she lost consciousness. Ri-Ri went on to get a restraining order against Brown, after which, she flew to Barbados to recover while Brown retreated to his mother’s home in Virginia.

Adding further insult to injury, provocative photos of the songstress found their way online in May of that year. And while all fingers pointed in Brown’s direction, he denied any involvement with the leak. The pop-diva decided to focus on work and not react to the images. Her devotion to her music paid off when she dropped her fourth album ‘Rated R’, which debuted at number four on the Billboard charts. She embarked on her second tour and went on to win the ‘Best Rap Song’ at the 52nd Grammy Awards for her song, ‘Run This Town’.

Although she was rumoured to be dating the singer Drake and had also been linked to LA Dodger Matt Kemp, nobody expected Chris Brown to return to her life. But love, as they say, never makes sense and in 2011, after some time had passed, Rihanna agreed to have the restraining order lifted. Even though they weren’t seen together, they shook up social media when they displayed their affection publicly via Twitter. Many, including her fans, would have preferred if they both moved on but their emotions were pretty evident. However, come May, Brown allegedly addressed Ri-Ri on Kanye West’s track, ‘Theraflu’, with lyrics that seemed to be aimed directly at the pop diva, to which she responded by blocking him on Twitter. Amidst reports that Rihanna needed to go to rehab, her ex-beaus, Brown and Drake, got into a brawl at a nightclub, thereby directing attention to her, yet again. By then, it seemed controversy was following the singer wherever she went. But with the support of her ‘Navy’, as her fans are called, and her loved ones, she kept bouncing back and did so with full force.

Rihanna’s determined focus has made her a force to be reckoned with. Today, she has albums that instantly become blockbuster hits, sold out tours and various other accolades under her belt. She is a philanthropist, endorses various brands and is a fashion icon in her own right. She recently signed a $10 Million deal with the LVMH group to create a line of makeup, which she will be curating personally and is called, ‘Fenty Beauty’, after her last name. The edgy pop princess with emerald green eyes has transformed the music world. Her rise to fame has proven to be exhilarating and she is, without a doubt, a superstar in her own terms.