Rihanna lightens up, in her life as well as in her music

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USA Today: A half-dozen meeting postponements, several 11th-hour time switches, instructions to meet at a dive that’s closed — is this the way Rihanna treats all of her men?

“All of my men?” asks the seemingly puzzled dance-pop queen, who has just emerged only slightly late from an SUV and settled into her favorite table at a fashionable trattoria. “My boyfriend has it much worse,” she says with a coy smile.

That would be poor Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who has been her steady “for about nine months” and presumably has adjusted to the craziness that swirls non-stop around 22-year-old Robyn Rihanna Fenty (“Ri Ri” to her fans).

The tug-and-pull on her time has increased exponentially recently. She has just released her fifth album, Loud; is continuing to film her big-screen acting debut in Peter Berg’s Battleship, due in 2012; changed management teams; added her 14th tattoo (rebelle fleur, French for “rebellious flower”), on her neck; started planning a tour, “probably for next summer”; and has been rehearsing for the opening number of Sunday’s American Music Awards (airing live at 8 p.m. ET on ABC).

“I can’t really say what we’re doing” for the AMAs, she says, “but you will hear new material. It’s all about love.”

Two ‘Loud’ hits already

Rihanna has been feeling that love from her “girls and gays” fan base, who have propelled two of Loud’s singles into hits: Only Girl (In the World) is No. 2 on USA TODAY’s airplay chart, and What’s My Name?, featuring rapper Drake, is No. 19. Those and Loud’s nine other tracks, which include collaborations with Nicki Minaj and Eminem, represent a dramatic departure from the dark, tempestuous sound of last year’s Rated R.

That work was “more of a documentation of a very specific time in my life” — focusing on the emotional fallout from her domestic violence problems with then-beau Chris Brown. Loud has “some of the colorful, lighthearted pop” of 2007’s double-platinum Good Girl Gone Bad, she says, “but with more depth to it.”

And more down-and-dirty-ness, particularly via opening number S&M and Skin (with the chorus, “No heels, no shirt, no skirt, all I’m in is just skin”).

“My sexiness now is more flirtatious, not so defensive and aggressive,” says the Barbados native while shaking red pepper flakes onto her pasta. “It’s more feminine.”

Savvy businesswoman

But that’s just the most obvious aspect of this star. A mature, fast-learning head for business resides beneath her delightfully unnatural red-purple hair and above the gold necklace that spells out an unprintable phrase.

She’s establishing her own company, Rihanna Entertainment, and last month, she switched to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management team.

“You can’t have too much responsibility without being able to handle it in a responsible way,” she says. “So I just waited until the time was right. It was now. Business is something I need to be a lot more serious about. I feel, like, really old doing it. It has made me grow up.”

That maturity hasn’t been lost on others. “She has smart people involved in her career,” says Craig Marks, editor of Billboard (where the single What’s My Name? hit No. 1). “She “maintained her composure and dignity” with the Brown situation, he says, “and artistically, she took something from it and then moved on. The good thing about being young and a pop star is that you’re expected to change your identity frequently.”

Nevertheless, the girl who moved to the United States alone at 16 says she regularly asks herself whether she has packed too much living into too few years. “It’s a very repetitive thought. Especially when I think about what I want to achieve. I always over-challenge myself and beat myself up. ‘I haven’t done enough. I haven’t done enough.’ And then I think, ‘What the hell — you’re 22!’ “

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