From growing up in a tiny town in the Barbados to becoming an international music star, a film actor, a force of nature in the beauty industry, and a lingerie and clothing juggernaut, it’s safe to say that Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty is one of the most impressive women we’ve ever encountered. She also turns 32 today, giving us yet another reason to celebrate her.
Rihanna is ferociously independent and self-possessed, yet described by all those who work with her as generous, gracious, interested, and mesmerizing. Rihanna has survived a father who was addicted to drugs and alcohol during her childhood and divorced her mother when she was only 14 years old, thus leaving the family’s support system unstable. Yet, the popstar has been famous for most of her life, catching her first big break when she was only 17 years old.
She is the youngest solo artist ever to earn 14 number-one singles, has eight studio albums under her belt, and boasts a total of 31 top 10 singles that chart on the Billboard ‘Hot 100’. Growing up in Barbados, Rihanna knew from a young age that she was destined to be a singer, and told anyone and everyone who would listen. In fact, it was this determination that led her to performing for American producer Evan Rogers – who along with his partner Carl Sturken – helped shape the careers of Christina Milian, Kelly Clarkson, and Christina Aguilera.
Rogers, who was married to a Barbadian woman, was on vacation on the island. Through a network of friends who knew Rogers’ wife, Rihanna was taken to perform for the star-maker when she was only 15 years old. She belted out songs by Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey, and immediately made an impression on the producer. Later, she came to New York with her mother and performed again for Rogers and Sturken, who signed her to their company, Syndicated Rhythm Productions. She quickly found herself in a room with Jay-Z at Def Jam Recordings, who refused to let her leave until she signed with his legendary label.
As Rihanna worked to get her career off the ground, she was placed in the capable hands of music producer Ne-Yo, whose careful instruction helped transform her from a nervous teenager into a confident popstar. Ne-Yo initially wrote most of the songs for her first few albums, which contained hit songs like “Umbrella” (for which she later won a Grammy), “SOS”, and “Hate That I Love You”.
Rihanna soon proved to be a chameleon-like star, changing both her look and sound often, especially during the formative years of her career. Four years after her first hit single “Pon de Replay” charted on the Billboard ‘Hot 100’ in 2005, Rihanna’s tumultuous relationship with Chris Brown became public knowledge, with photos of the popstar’s battered face surfacing on the internet. Brown, who was abusive and controlling throughout their relationship, assaulted her nearly to the brink of death.
Rihanna completely transformed her sound after this brutal attack, taking control of her music career by writing her own songs for the album Rated R, which intimately chronicled her experiences with Brown. Although his horrific abuse was a significant moment in Rihanna’s life, she did not let the incident define her nor stop her from succeeding. Instead, she blossomed when she started directing her own music career and quickly branched into new avenues, like acting.
In 2016, when she released the brooding, intense, and danceable eighth studio album Anti, Rihanna stood on top of the music world – Anti was the most listened-to album of the entire year, with more hits than any other album to ever chart on Billboard. From the top of the charts to the top of the beauty industry, Rihanna’s rise was meteoric. In August 2017, she teased the coming of her new beauty line with an Instagram post counting down to September 8, 2017. Little did any of us know at the time, but this day would go on to change the way beauty brands operated forever.
Fenty Beauty debuted foundation that not only blended and covered well, but also came in 40 shades for literally every skin tone under the sun. Black women, who had long felt marginalized by the dearth of choices at their local beauty counters, rejoiced and helped turn Fenty Beauty into one of the world’s most sought-after brands overnight. Everyone else scrambled to keep up, quickly releasing broader shade ranges in their own lines, but it was too late. Rihanna beat them all to the punch.
Inclusivity is a huge part of her marketing scheme, and her past campaigns have included a wide selection of unconventional models like Slick Woods and Duckie Thot. She employed a similar type of models – including curve models like Lulu Bonfils – to help launch her body-positive lingerie line, Savage x Fenty. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s conquering the fickle fashion realm as the first woman of color to have a maison backed by the prestigious LVMH group. In doing so, Rihanna has not only proven the huge need to cater to all women within the worlds of beauty, fashion, and lingerie, but she has also set the bar incredibly high for other brands.
She is also a style icon of the highest order – is there anything Rihanna won’t experiment with? Unafraid of edgy silhouettes, unknown brands, and outré looks, she is one of the few stars who is truly fearless when it comes to fashion. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted the Rei Kawakubo exhibit in 2017, she was one of the only celebrities who showed up to the Met Gala actually dressed in Kawakubo’s designs – and not just any Kawakubo look, either. She wore a butterfly-encrusted version that was truly astonishing to witness.
Recall also her stunning yellow gown by Guo Pei at the 2015 Met Gala, penchant for massive manly suits, tiny sunglasses paired with couture, and glittering Gucci masks. Those are just some of the ways she makes her ensembles memorable. In honor of the Bad Gal’s birthday, we’ve rounded up some of her best looks – both on and off the red carpet – in the gallery, below.