by Ericka Boston
(taken from the August 2006 issue of Sister 2 Sister magazine)
When Robyn Rihanna Fenty returned to her native Barbados in April, it was a joyful homecoming; her family and friends were—at last!—within driving distance, her second album was days away from release, and she was the top-selling artist in the country’s history. Not bad for an 18-year-old, right? A Girl Like Me would soon go on to see its first single, “S.O.S,” simultaneously rank #1 on three of Billboard’s char ts, but that’s because Rihanna has been pushing herself…hard.
Four hours before her official album release party, weariness had Rihanna firmly in its grasp, thanks in par t to the drain of the previous day’s international travel and a nightcap of so-happy-to-be-home dancing at Club Xtreme. She’d arisen with the sun to give a press conference for soundbyte-hungry journalists at the Hilton where she was staying, do a mini photo shoot and give one-on-one interviews with the likes of MTV and E! before faking her way through an Xbox 360 gaming event and doing some more interviews. By the time she came in from posing on the balcony of the designated work suite, fatigue plainly shone on her face. But she smiled meekly and answered all of this reporter’s questions, occasionally singing to herself and later apologizing, because “first impressions are everything.”
Later that night, however, Rihanna’s energy was at full strength; winding and thrusting, slinking and posturing, she satisfied eager tourists and islanders alike as they sipped cocktails under the moonlight to her pulsating rhythms. Less than three years ago, when producers Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken discovered Rihanna in Barbados, later bringing her to audition before Def Jam Records President Jay-Z, she’d impressed them with her beauty and talent, and now she was back at home, giving her all to those who love her most.
After performing tunes like “S.O.S.,” “Pon de Replay,” “Unfaithful” and Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No),” she ditched her dancers and DJ in favor of acoustic guitar accompaniment. In the final song of the night, Rihanna lent her plaintive wail to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” The entranced audience matched her word for word, holding their glowing cell phones open, high above their heads in appreciation.
S2S caught up with Rihanna again a few months and a few countries later. Read on to find out about her encounter with Michael Jackson, the hardship of eating around the globe, and the tabloid speculation about her and her boss Jay-Z.
Ericka: I know that you’ve been traveling a lot. Tell me about all the places you’ve been in the last couple of weeks.
Rihanna: Last couple of weeks? Italy, Portugal, L.A. I’m in Canada right now.
Ericka: How much time did you spend in each place?
Rihanna: Just like a day. And several cities throughout the US, I just can’t remember them.
Ericka: You were in Japan for a little bit and you spent some time with Michael Jackson. What happened? What’s he like?
Rihanna: Oh, he’s sokind! Very shy but very kind.
Ericka: Did you have an idea of what he might be like before you met him?
Rihanna: No, I had no idea. I had no idea. I was really, really nervous because I didn’t know what to expect.
Ericka: So how did that happen? Did he just approach you or did you go and talk to him?
Rihanna: He sent a message to the guy who was taking me around in the arena. He was like, “I’d like to know her schedule ’cause I wanna meet her.” And I was like, what? I star ted, like, freaking out and “Do I look good? Is my hair okay?” And then finally I met him and he’s just so sweet.
Ericka: What did you talk about?
Rihanna: Honestly? We didn’t talk about muchbut, honestly, I cannot even tell you what we talked about.
Rihanna: I was sostar-struck that…I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say.
Ericka: You did some red carpet for the MTV Movie Awards. How did you prepare for that? Were there cer tain people that you wanted to talk to?
Rihanna: Oh my gosh! Yeah, I got to interview Justin Timberlake, which I really wanted to do. And I wanted to interview T.I. I didn’t get him, [MTV News correspondent] Sway got him.
Ericka: Who did you enjoy talking to the most, or who did you get the best response from?
Rihanna: I got a great response from Ludacris.
Ericka: What did you talk to him about?
Rihanna: His new album, his shoes…yeah.
Ericka: His shoes? What about the shoes?
Rihanna: He had these transparent Nikes on.
Ericka: Oh goodness! [Laughs]
Rihanna: They were so dope.
Ericka: So I guess you probably got a different side, because normally you’re the one that’s being interviewed. Did you learn anything about repor ting from that experience?
Rihanna: I just realized that their job is just as hard as mine [laughs]. ’Cause you have to research and find out what exactlyto ask them, you have to try to ask questions in ways that are not usually asked and ask questions that people don’t usually ask, because I know that’s always the thing for me. I hate when I get asked the samequestions all— the best interviews are the ones with the questions you don’t get asked all the time. So I realize it’s a lot to think about.
Ericka: What questions do you always get asked that you’re just so sick of being asked?
Rihanna: I think it’s pretty much generic questions, like, I don’t want to say the audition with Jay-Z but that’s a question that I get asked a lot, though. But I know that—
Ericka: Really? Even though you’re
on your second album now? You still
get asked that?
Rihanna: Exactly, right!? I thought that the whole world knew! But some people don’t, so then I just realized it’s all of total innocence then, and I just answer it ’cause I realized that people really don’t know this; they know about it but they don’t know details and they just—you know, when I think about it, if I heard that—if I was an interviewer and I heard that an ar tist got to meet Jay-Z and had an audition for him, I would really wanna know what it was like! What’s he like, did he have a cigar in his mouth, was he just sitting behind his desk? You know? I’d wanna know details, too.
Ericka: That’s interesting that you mentioned the cigar. Did he have a cigar when he watched your audition?
Rihanna: [Laughs] No, he didn’t, he didn’t. That’s what people ask. ’Cause you know, what they see in videos, they wanna know if that’s what he’s like in the office.
Ericka: So what kinds of questions have you never been asked that you would just absolutely love to talk about?
Rihanna: Um… nothing, you know. I mean, not that I can think of.
Ericka: Okay, well if you happen to think of anything during the interview you can stop me and we can talk about that! [laughs]
Rihanna: Ha, no, okay, I will.
Ericka: Dancing seems to come naturally to you. How much of your show is choreographed and how much is just you out there letting loose?
Rihanna: Well, there’s certain songs that just need to
be choreographed. Like, “Pon de Replay” is such a big dance song. There’s “S.O.S.,” of course. But pretty much a lot of it I just walk out, feed off the crowd and vibe with them. Just try to be natural. Even some of the songs that are choreographed, sometimes I just go left and do what I wanna do. Just have fun.
Ericka: Have you ever taken dance lessons?
Rihanna: I used to do jazz and African when I was 6 years old. Then after a while it felt like I was going to school, so I went, “Mummy, I don’t wanna do this anymore.” So I stopped and I never went back. Finally I met up with a choreographer here when I started doing videos, then I started back. But dance always came naturally because it’s a part of my culture.
Ericka: So you stopped doing dance. Did you participate in any other activities when you were a kid?
Rihanna: Honestly, no. I just used to be a real tomboy. I went around with my brothers and stuff.
Ericka: How many brothers do you have?
Rihanna: two girls. Me and my cousin—we were the only two girls.
Ericka: So how did you go from tomboy to your clothes now? I don’t wanna say you’re a girly-girl, but you have a very feminine look. So how did you go from tomboy to this?
Rihanna: I know! I think I grew out of it. I guess I was probably, like, reading magazines and being like, that’s cool, I wanna do that, try that, maybe I should wear my hair like this.
Ericka: So you have two brothers. Are they older or younger?
Rihanna: Younger, younger.
Ericka: How old?
Rihanna: There’s one that’s a year and a half younger than I am; he’s the one that I used to run around with.
Ericka: Since you’re “big sister,” did you ever boss ’em around and stuff?
Rihanna: No. We used to fight….
Rihanna: [Laughs] Yeah! We used to fight like we were of age.
Ericka: I know even as a journalist it’s kind of hard for me to be “on” all the time. Do you ever get sick of the crowds and the reporters and do you just wanna be by yourself sometimes?
Rihanna: There’s some times when I wanna be by myself but I know when that time can come. Like you know that you have a job to get done and you do it, that’s how I go about my business. Then when I get back to the hotel I’m like, okay, when I get to the hotel I just wanna be by myself, and I’ll go to my room and light a candle. I play some music, lay on the bed and chill.
Ericka: That day I met you in Barbados you seemed really tired. I was kinda trying to hurry up through it and stuff ’cause I definitely know how it is with all-day schedules.
Rihanna: I think I was like that because we were there for, like, 24 hours. And, you know, you flew in and basically flew right back out.
Rihanna: That’s exactly how it works for us, too. But the night before that? We had just flown in from, like, an international country, and it was endless flying. Got to Barbados and started working right away. And I didn’t even get to see my family and it was really crazy. I was there for like—it gets to the point where you’re just like, I know I have to do it but I’d just like to see my mom for, like, 10 minutes. You know what I mean? [Laughs]
Ericka: Now she was at the show that night, right? I wanna say I saw somebody in, like, a pink suit that looked kind of like you. Was that her?
Rihanna: I don’t think my mom looks like me. My mom is dark. None of my family looks like me. I look like my dad’s family, complexion-wise and everything. Certain features [are my mom’s] but complexion-wise I look like my dad.
Ericka: Are you close to your dad?
Rihanna: Closer to my mom. Now I’m close to my dad ’cause I’m away from him, so I really miss him a lot now, but I’m closer to my mom than to my dad.
Ericka: Okay, you live in Connecticut, right? Do you live by yourself in Connecticut?
Rihanna: No, I live with Evan [Rogers] and his wife.
Ericka: How often do you get to see your family?
Rihanna: I don’t get to often at all. Maybe once every four or five months. I’ve seen them once for this year, and that was that time in Barbados. Right now I’m, like, applying and begging for a vacation! ’Cause I go on tour throughout July and the beginning of August. Then I wanted to take a vacation. Then I got the offer to perform at “Miss America.”
Ericka: Oh wow!
Rihanna: Yeah, that’s a big deal! Every time I ask for an off day, it gets canceled because of an offer.
Ericka: Something big comes up.
Rihanna: Yeah, and I wouldn’t turn it down.
Ericka: What is your favorite place that you’ve visited?
Rihanna: Where I am right now; Toronto.
Rihanna: Believe it or not. I always tell people that and they’re like, “Really? Have you been to Paris and Italy?” I’m like, doesn’t matter. Toronto—the vibe is just so chill. Everyone is cool and easy and about their own business. There’s great shopping, there’s a lot of great West Indian restaurants ’cause there’s a lot of West Indians here. Yeah, I always have a good time when I come here.
Ericka: Now how did you get the name Rihanna and why do you use that name instead of Robyn?
Rihanna: Rihanna’s my middle name and Robyn, I thought, was a more common name.
Ericka: What’s the most difficult thing for you about being on the road? Because you probably spend more time on the road than at home, right?
Rihanna: Oh, by far. I’m never home. When I go home it’s for less than—probably like 12 hours. Just to unpack, do laundry and re-pack and go again.
Ericka: So what’s the most difficult thing for you about being away so much?
Rihanna: Being away from my family
and friends for so long. I get homesick. And finding food is the hardest thing.
Ericka: Finding food? Why’s that?
Rihanna: Because I don’t eat a lot of stuff. I don’t eat Indian food, Mexican food, Cuban—I like a little bit of Cuban food but not really.
Ericka: You don’t like Mexican food?
Rihanna: No! I don’t like Japanese food, hardly eat Chinese food.
Rihanna: Yeah, I’m really, really picky!
Ericka: What is it about those other kinds of foods that you don’t like?
Rihanna: I think I’m not familiar with the taste. I’m not open-minded at all. It’s come to the point where I’m just like, okay, Rihanna, you need to be eating something ’cause you’re not going to find West Indian and Italian food everywhere you go.
Ericka: So what is your favorite thing to eat?
Rihanna: I love Italian food and curry chicken, West Indian—fried plantains…yeah.
Ericka: With all the behind-the- scenes work that goes into creating images, do you have any say in what you do or don’t do, or what you do or don’t sing and wear?
Rihanna: I don’t like to wear things too skimpy.
Ericka: And what do you consider skimpy?
Rihanna: Skimpy’s like, really, really exposing a lot. If I do shorts on the bottom, it’s gotta be something very conservative at the top. If it’s skimpy at the top, it’s gotta be long jean sor something. I like to balance it out. I won’t do short shorts and short top, too. Not just, like, abikini.
Ericka: Some magazine in Europe wanted you to pose topless or nude or something, right?
Rihanna: I think it was in Germany—like a men’s magazine. They wanted me to do this…you know what the men’s magazines are like. And my management, you know, they were obviously opposed to it. They told me about it but still, I was like, hell no! Hell no! That’s sonot me. I remember growing up reading magazines—every time I’d see that I would be like, I’m nevergonna do that. And that’s what I admire so much about Alicia Keys. She became so successful off of just her music. She was really, really conservative with her style, at first. And she became such a huge success and it was all about her music.
Ericka: I know that you’ve gotten some flack in the past from Barbados about your clothing choices.
Rihanna: Yeah, yeah.
Ericka: Do you ever worry about letting them down?
Rihanna: There was one time I remember I went to the beach and I had on a one-piece swimsuit with jeans, but the swimsuit, obviously it had the back out and stuff, the sides out. But I was on the beach! And they took the picture and they made it look like it was a top that was really revealing, but obviously they knew it was a swimsuit because I had two friends behind me with bikini tops on! And they put it in the newspaper and then there were call-in programs about it….
Ericka: Oh goodness!
Rihanna: Yeah, it was a big deal for, like, three weeks straight—talking about I’m not setting a good example and stuff. But I just ignored it because it was really ridiculous. I was at the beach. I didn’t have to have jeans on, you know what I mean? But I did.
Ericka: Is there a lot of pressure on you? Do you ever feel like that?
Rihanna: There’s different kinds of pressure. There’s a pressure of being a role model, there’s pressure of being signed by Jay-Z and L.A. Reid and wanting to do their names proud. Um, there’s the pressure of just being in the public eye and wanting to be a great artist.
Ericka: What is the most surprising thing that a fan has done for you, or done to meet you?
Rihanna: Surprising thing done to meet me? Let me see. Well, there was one crazy, crazy thing—one of my fans stole my manager’s phone to get my number [laughs]. He called me and he thought he needed a rewardsince he was so honest as to say he had the phone. It was just silly and stupid.
Rihanna’s handlers whisked her away for her next appointment before I could find out what happened to the hopelessly misguided fan, but she was able to fill me in later. They didn’t give him the $300 reward he’d hoped for, and her management had the cell phone company turn off the stolen phone. The guy later sent Rihanna a text message and said he sold it.
I also asked her about the rumor that she’s Beyoncé’s rival for Jay-Z’s affection, and whether she and Beyoncé had ever discussed the gossip. She said there’s no reason to talk to Beyoncé about any of that because it’s not true; she’d much rather ignore it. As for reports that she was Jay-Z’s bugaboo while he was out at a basketball game with his lady, Rihanna said she saw that story, too, and it’s also untrue; she and Jay-Z only talk on the phone if there’s something urgent going on with her project, and even then it’s never for more than a few minutes. She said her schedule is busy and so is Beyoncé’s, so they don’t hang out, but she respects Beyoncé and considers her a role model in the entertainment industry.
As for all the entertainers she’s been linked to, she laughed hardest at the mention of Ne-Yo. “He’s like my brother!” she emphasized. She’s never dated Chris Brown or Nick Cannon, she’s never been approached by Bill Cosby, and the rumor that she thinks Damian Marley is cute is also false. As for that last one, she corrected me: “He’s hot!”