"Rihanna wears the first Durag on the cover of British Vogue. Covered head to toe in Dior or Burberry, this time cover has two versions. She is talking about music, business and desire to have 3 or 4 kids. Rihanna here again, powerful woman with a "gold throat" is an Icon of all times."
All eyes on Rihanna. A woman who mastered living in her own skin and has nothing to hide. Weekly her social media following has grown by 0.1 Per cent, taking it to 339,7 million, while her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook mentions sit at 734,000, meaning 2,9 billion accounts worldwide currently follow each step of hers. That is crazy, isn't it!
“We can’t let the desensitivity seep in. How many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other races, sexes, religions?” she asked, before invoking some of the tragedies that have become closely associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. “When we’re marching and protesting and posting about the Michael Brown Jrs and the Atatiana Jeffersons of the world, tell your friends to pull up!”
“Oh, I’m nervous before even getting in the car to go to something,” she says. “It can be devastating. And when I pull up to the red carpet, I’m like…” she imitates crisis breathing. “Are you kidding me? I left the Grammys one time. Left! In the middle of my hair and make-up. My hair half up, half of my lash on…” It was 2016 and she had been due to perform “Kiss It Better” from herAntialbum. At the time she was said to have left because of issues with her voice, but anxiety can be just as flooring. She laughs about it now, but she wants me to know it’s harder for her than it looks. “Being on camera, being in a room full of celebrities is still not normal for me, by the way.”
Rihanna is, she believes, at the beginning of a new era, conscious of a new decade and her own proliferating identities. Foremost is a description she uses with ease: “businesswoman”. She is poised to release a long anticipated new album, to cement the success of her new luxury fashion house Fenty Maison (the first female-fronted LVMH brand created from scratch), to mark the continued ascendance of her lingerie brand Savage x Fenty and make-up industry game-changer Fenty Beauty, which is imminently expanding into skincare.
Her next music project – nicknamed R9, because it will be her ninth album – the absence and delay of which has been tirelessly debated by her army of stans, The Navy. “I can’t say when I’m going to drop,” she says (it could even be out by the time you read this). “But I am very aggressively working on music,” she adds, coyly.
“I don’t want my albums to feel like themes, there are no rules. There’s no format. There’s just good music, and if I feel it, I’m putting it out. I feel like I have no boundaries. I’ve done everything – I’ve done all the hits, I’ve tried every genre – now I’m just, I’m wide open. I can make anything that I want.”
It is well documented that the star was born and raised in Barbados, but her mother, Monica, was an immigrant to the Caribbean island from Guyana, the former British colony in South America. Rihanna tells me that Guyanese immigrants were unpopular in Barbados when she was growing up. “The Guyanese are like the Mexicans of Barbados,” she says. “So I identify – and that’s why I really relate and empathise with Mexican people or Latino people, who are discriminated against in America. I know what it feels like to have the immigration come into your home in the middle of the night and drag people out.”
“Not my mother, my mother was legal,” she is careful to clarify, “but let’s just say I know what that fight looks like. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve been in it. I was probably, what, eight-years-old when I experienced that in the middle of the night. So I know how disheartening it is for a child – and if that was my parent that was getting dragged out of my house, I can guarantee you that my life would have been a shambles.” “So when I see these injustices happening, it’s hard to turn a blind eye,” Rihanna continues. “It’s hard to pretend it’s not happening. The things that I refuse to stay silent on, these are things that I genuinely believe in.” And not just in America. Living in London has, Rihanna says, given her a different perspective on the global struggle against racism and injustice. “I think police brutality is probably extremely severe in America, but racism is alive everywhere. Everywhere,” she emphasises. “It’s the same [in the UK]. It’s either blatant, which is becoming more and more of a norm, or it’s underlying, where people don’t even know they’re being obvious about it. You know, it’s just a subconscious layer that’s embedded from their entire core.”
For the last three years, Rihanna has mostly lived in London, where she says she loves to record music and generally create. The notorious party girl is a little less committed these days, and she takes it upon herself to provide a disclaimer as to why, when she does go out, it’s with the fanciest of crowds. “I like it because they’re too bougie to give a shit about me. When I walk into those places, I am invisible. And nothing makes me feel better than being invisible.” Where would she like to be going if visibility weren’t an issue? “I’d rather go to Brixton,” she laughs. “But if I do that now, and I try to get some Jamaican food, it’s going to be an event, you know? So if I want a night off, I go hang with the people I would never hang with. And I just, I’m just in my bubble. Which I really enjoy about London.”
“Since I turned 32, I’m realising life is really short, you don’t have a lot of time to tolerate shit, you know? You put so much on your plate. When you’re overwhelmed, you need to start cutting things out. And I’m overwhelmed too much. What’s happening now is that I’m going back to black and white. My grey area is shutting down.”
Her team, a core group of women who are as sociable as they are serious, work where she works, which is everywhere. In place of the partying at night, she now simply chooses to work with a drink in her hand.
“It’s true,” Rihanna laughs. “We will work and work and work. And then we get to this plateau and we’re like, ‘OK, we’re either going to bed or we could keep working.’ And then we’re like, ‘Hey, is it shot o’clock?’ Then everybody takes a shot. Then we’re like, ‘OK, we need to pick it up.’ Everybody does a shot of espresso, then we turn some music on and then we’re like, ‘Keep working.’” I can’t keep a look of concern from my face. Is that sustainable? “Oh, no!” she exclaims. “I’m working like this now so that I don’t have to in the future.”
“I know I will want to live differently,” she continues. The main difference she has in mind is children. When I ask her where she sees herself in 10 years, she says, in a distinctively Bajan tone of disbelief, “Ten years? I’ll be 42! I’ll be ancient.” She playfully ignores my outrage (I’m almost 40 myself) at this idea. “I’ll have kids – three or four of ’em.”