Asking someone to jump in a shark tank for the sake of fashion is an exercise in insanity. But Rihanna is not just someone. When I talked to her about the concept last fall, she just thought it was “cool.” (Her team was slightly more anxious.) Cut to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, one day in December. In the tank live three sand tiger sharks, none shorter than eight feet long. The sharks are used to divers, but photographers and pop stars are another thing entirely. Photographer Norman Jean Roy donned a scuba suit and jumped in. Rihanna followed—a dozen dives, and three outfit changes, while the sharks circled her intently. When the shoot was done, she was shivering, more cold than “cool.” Then she flew to Germany. Just another day in the life of a global pop star who spends her life swimming with sharks.
LAURA BROWN: Swimming with sharks is not only scary, it’s a big metaphor. How did you learn to swim with the sharks of life?
RIHANNA: I try my best to avoid the sharks of life, but I have had my share of experiences with them, and in those cases I just have to handle them accordingly. But I do not swim with sharks … sharks swim with sharks.
LB: Did you watch Jaws as a kid? Did it scare you or thrill you?
R: Both! It freaked me out because I was a beach baby, so every time a new Jaws came out I would take months off from the beach or just sit on the sand. If I happened to get in the water, my dad would hum the theme music, and I was right back out of it. But that was really my fault because I was obsessed with Jaws. Steven Spielberg was my childhood hero.
LB: Would you say you’re adventurous? What is the greatest adventure you’ve been on, and what would you like to do?
R: Greatest adventure? Are you kidding me? I just did a photo shoot in the midst of sharks. It’s going to be pretty hard to beat that.
| Norman Jean Roy for Harper’s Bazaar | 06 photo(s).
R: I think I’m like most people—we fear the unknown and the things that have yet to come to pass, which are the very things that don’t deserve to be feared. When you give God complete control, it’s very hard not to be fearless.
LB: Being famous for a decade now, you would have had to develop a thick skin. In what ways are you tough, and in what ways are you sensitive?
R: This skin has been developing since my first day at school. It didn’t happen after fame; I couldn’t survive fame if I didn’t already have it. So sometimes the toughest thing in life is to be vulnerable. I’m not generally a sensitive person, but I tend to be more sensitive toward others and what they’re going through. I don’t know if that’s the healthiest thing, but it’s the truth.
LB: You’re about to release a new album. How ambitious are you, having achieved so much? Are you competitive at all?
R: I am very ambitious! It’s ridiculous how much I want to put on my plate, which is already full. I am sensitive to what my team is going through. Actually I’m lying. They get no sympathy … we love what we do!
LB: You’ve been killing it stylewise. Do you have to psych yourself up for a daring red-carpet look or do you just go for it?
R: The way I dress depends on how I feel. I never have to psych myself up. Usually it just feels like it works.
LB: What has been your favorite red-carpet look ever?
R: My favorite red-carpet looks are usually the ones I get to help design: the Adam Selman Swarovski crystal dress at the CFDAs, the Stella McCartney all-white dress at the Met Gala, and the Adam Selman white jersey dress from the VMAs. But the red Azzedine Alaïa at the Grammys is also one of my favorites.
LB: Whose style would you like to steal for a day?
R: Zac Posen and his sick custom suits … and the hair.
LB: Is there a line, fashionwise, that you would never cross—something you would never wear?
R: I don’t like to commit to those kind of rules. You never know.
LB: How much maintenance does your style take—hair, nails, fittings, et cetera?
R: At times a lot of maintenance, and at times none. I have a job that requires quite a lot of glam, and I have a great team that helps me with that. But sometimes, like when I’m in the studio or on vacation, there’s little to no maintenance.
LB: What was behind your return to Instagram? Did you miss it? How much does connecting with your fans daily mean to you?
R: I … like … pictures! And that’s the bottom line.
LB: How do you feel about censorship on social media? Should the nipple be truly free?
R: The C-word?!!! I don’t even know how to spell that.
LB: What makes a BadGal in 2015?
R: You’re about to find out.
LB: What do you want to achieve this year, in life and in love?
R: The same goal I set every year—to be happy.
LB: Who is your most unexpected friend?
R: I have friends from rock stars to Rastas; I don’t even know what an unexpected friend is at this point.
LB: Do you make new friends easily?
LB: What is a perfect day for you?
R: The day I wake up without cellulite? Now that would be the perfect day.
LB: What is your guilty pleasure?
R: Reality TV. I can’t get enough of it.
LB: Finally, how do you eat goddamn pasta every day and still look like that?
R: You mean how I got my cellulite?