"A girl like me/Is just a little different from all the rest/And a girl like me/Never gonna settle for second best," Rihanna sings on her 2006 song, A Girl Like Me. It's a strangely prophetic line, wedged into a song about a boy. But if the Barbados singer has proved anything in the last decade, it's never been about anyone else but her.
As a singer, Rihanna began her career 2005 with the release of Pon De Replay, a dancehall hit that garnered the unknown singer worldwide attention. Fast forward to 2009, at the top of the last decade and the star was eons away from who she was then. Following the release of her album, Good Girl Gone Bad and the very public unravelling of her relationship with Chris Brown, Rihanna began to shed the shell of her former self, blossoming into an effervescent and sexually-realised woman.
This culminated in her next album, Rated R, released November 20, 2009. Songs like Rude Boy, Hard and Stupid In Love eviscerated the facade of the squeaky-clean pop star revealing flesh, blood, pain, lust and a bleeding heart. The world was already engaged with Rihanna, but from this moment onward we all became obsessed. A grimy, unfiltered star who wore her heart on her sleeve, Rihanna captivated fans and enticed new ones as she dealt with the emotional, mental and physical repercussions of domestic abuse as the world watched on.
In 2010, she collaborated with Eminem on Love The Way You Lie, released the coquettish What's My Name with Drake and toyed with EDM on Only Girl (In The World). As Rihanna became synonymous with the #1 position on the Billboard 100, she leaned into this newfound grit even harder, releasing her most divisive hit yet, S&M, in 2011. Unbothered by controversy after years spent in the spotlight, she had nothing to lose and everything to gain. This fearlessness became her badge of honour.
As 2012 arrived she continued her upward momentum, releasing another #1 hit with Diamonds and We Found Love with hitmaker, Calvin Harris. By the time Unapologetic was released, it was clear that Rihanna was taking no prisoners as she marched her way to the top.
Pour It Up saw the star twerk, flash cash and rap with futuristic harness reminiscent of Eve and Lil' Kim. Teaming up with Future on Loveeeeeee, Rihanna was magnetic, overshadowing the Atlanta rapper with her iridescent lilt as she weaved in and out of a staccato flow. Then there was the disastrous 777 Tour, where the star strung along 150 journalists and fans on a 7-day bender across the world, but little could be done to derail her fame now.
What came next was her opus. ANTI arrived with a firm middle finger and a wry wink after a four-year wait, but it didn't matter. It was everything fans had hoped for and more. Reggae swirled with braggadocious demands for stolen money as she gloated about her bedroom talents with an intoxicating sourness. Bitch Better Have My Money, Work and Sex With Me remain standouts, although these answers change depending on who you speak with.
However since 2016, the musical wells have run dry as Rihanna has turned to other passions; fashion, beauty and lingerie. Some assumed it to be a temporary detour, counting down the moments to the popstar's return, while others revelled in her new ventures.
Her 2016 Fenty Puma fashion show saw her step into her role as creative director of the sportswear brand and take her power to the next level. For the first time, fans were given the chance to dress like the star, donning avant-garde silhouettes and muted hues of khaki, dusty pink and purple from the luxury athleisure line. This would be a precursor to her Fenty brand under luxury fashion group LVMH which launched in May 2019, making her the first Black woman to achieve such a feat.
In 2017, Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty under LVMH's Kendo Brands, a deal worth $10 million that would change the beauty industry from the inside out. Not only did it inspire a slew of other celebrity-headed beauty brands, but the singer's wide range of foundation colours - which previous to this was unheard of - served 40 different shades for those with ivory complexions to the darkest shades of black skin. Other cosmetics giants followed, folding to the precedent she had now set.
Empowering women with little concern for the status quo is why everyone loved Rihanna in 2009, but she stuck to this in every facet of her businesses over the course of the next ten years.
In 2018 when she launched her lingerie line Savage X Fenty, she featured an array of body shapes and ethnicities on the catwalk. The fashion industry and Savage X competitor, Victoria's Secret, had continued to fail at representing its consumers, shunning trans women as Rihanna not only focused on marginalised people, but put disabled, trans, pregnant, and unrepresented bodies front and centre. In 2019, when Victoria's Secret announced it had cancelled its runway show for the first time since its inception, Savage X Fenty put on its debut showing at New York Fashion Week to critical acclaim.
During all of this, the star has also focused on philanthropy. The Believe Foundation, which she founded in 2006 helps terminally ill children, as she's raised awareness for HIV/AIDS, and founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in honour of her grandparents in 2012. With this, she's created the Clara Braithwaite Center for Oncology and Nuclear Medicine in Barbados as well as her annual Diamond Ball charity fundraiser event, which in its first year raised over $2 million. She's attended marches protesting Donald Trump's presidency, denounced the U.S. government's immigration policies and was named Harvard University's Humanitarian Of The Year in 2017.
To find a celebrity with more influence, power and humanity than Rihanna is difficult, but to pinpoint one that even comes close to her achievements in the last decade is near impossible. From music and fashion to beauty and lingerie she is the best at what she does, floating to the number one position as did her pop hits in the early 2010s. Perhaps calling her the artist of the decade is an understatement, as Rihanna is bound to be remembered for years to come not only for her innovative flair but for her refusal to be anyone but herself, and in this giving us permission to do so ourselves.