You read parts of the following interview in Vogue’s April cover story. The interview took place on Super Bowl Sunday in the sprawling gothic home of Carlton Gebbia, whom fans of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills will remember as the “Celtic pagan witch” from season four. Rihanna had just flown in to L.A. for her cover shoot from Toronto, where the night before she and Drake wrapped the video for “Work.” Later in the week, she would present her Puma collection at New York Fashion Week. But on this sunny California afternoon, Rihanna arrived casually turned out, in a vintage Guess leather biker jacket, green Vetements sweatpants, and a Star Wars T-shirt.
For a Wiccan, Gebbia’s taste favored a surprising dose of Catholic iconography. Ornate iron crosses hung above doorways, framed paintings of saints ascended a staircase wall, and, in a vamp-red bar room, there was a dark-wood confessional booth. Rihanna and I spoke in the home theater. It was after 9:00 p.m., the shoot had wrapped, and two men in suits had just stopped by from the Recording Industry Association of America. After they left, Rihanna wandered into the theater and plopped down in one of several red leather recliners. A member of her team poured Dixie cups of Pinot Grigio.
I wanted to talk about Anti first. The opening song, “Consideration,” sets the tone for the album. Was the process of recording it different in any way?
I just felt really connected to that recording. I felt like, if any recording could represent this album, whether it’s sonically, whether it’s the sound of my voice, whether it’s the attitude, whether it’s lyrically. The beat. Everything is so demanding, and it grabs your attention right away. And I felt like that was important, especially after such a long time between albums.
On “Higher,” we hear a completely different dimension to your voice. Can you tell me about recording that one?
We recorded that song at 4:00 in the morning. 4:00 to 5:00. We had finished recording a bunch of stuff, and it was the end of the night. It was pretty short. We just said, “You know what? Let’s just drink some whiskey and record this song.” And when I heard the song, I envisioned a drunk voicemail. You know he’s wrong, and then you get drunk and you’re like, “I could forgive him. I could call him. I could make up with him.” Just, desperate. [laughs]
You dropped “Work” first, obviously. There’s sort of a vocal variation in that song. I think one writer called it “post-language”—that flourish on the chorus. Did that just unfold in the studio?
Yeah. Because I felt like if I enunciated the words too perfectly, it would just not be the same attitude or the same sass. Because that’s how we speak in the Caribbean. It’s very broken and it’s, like, you can understand everything someone means without even finishing the words. This song is definitely a song that represents my culture, and so I had to put a little twist on my delivery.
And you’re coming from shooting the video for “Work,” right? What were you going for?
It was just supposed to be a dancehall party. Just like a party that we would go to in the Caribbean and just dance and drink and smoke and flirt and really just enjoy the music. It’s like when your favorite song comes on. And that was the moment that was captured in the video.
How is working with Drake different from working with anyone else?
Um, Drake. I mean, Drake has a lot to offer. He’s very intelligent, and so I trust him a lot with his direction. Doing a collaboration with him, you know it’s going to be great. Everything he does is so amazing. He’s so talented that you kind of just trust that it’ll be right. And plus, we know each other, so I know that whatever he writes is going to be honest, and it’s going to make sense to where I’m at in my life. That’s the difference. We know each other.
Overall, it seems like the songs are slower and slightly more introspective and personal. Did you know that that’s what you wanted to do?
I didn’t really know what the sound of the album would be in the beginning. I knew what I wanted to feel. I didn’t quite know how I wanted to hear it, but I knew that I would know it when I felt it. And so I went through a host of songs—songs that I thought were big and songs that I thought were up-tempo and would make sense. In the end, I just gravitated toward the songs that were honest to where I’m at right now, and how I think. The things that I want to listen to. The things that I want to smoke to.
Were you getting bored of the formula?
Very much. Every time we’ve done an album, we’ve always stepped out a little bit. But this time, again, we spent so much time in between albums that I needed the music to match my growth. I didn’t want to get caught up with anything the world liked, anything the radio liked, anything that I liked, that I’ve already heard. I just wanted it to be me.
It seems bold considering the state of the industry, to double down on the risk-taking.
I always believed that when you follow your heart or your gut, when you really follow the things that feel great to you, you can never lose, because settling is the worst feeling in the world.
Settling makes you feel like a sellout. It makes you feel like a liar. It doesn’t make you feel like you believe anything you’re saying or singing or performing. If you’re performing music that is not who you are or where you’re at, it is painful. It’s painful for the performer and for the audience. And I didn’t want to be caught doing what I felt like would sell or do what I’ve done before. I needed to do what I believed in.
The press has been all over the place with the theory that it was leaked. Can you set the record straight about the rollout?
It did get leaked. Don’t think that’s up for question anymore. Everybody knows it got leaked. But luckily that did not hurt us.
You also announced the tour before dropping the album. You’re touring with Travis Scott. Creatively, why were you attracted to working with him?
Well, when I go on tour, I like to bring people who can get the crowd excited. That’s why we got Big Sean in Europe. We also have The Weeknd. And Travis Scott. They are all really great performers. They know how to own the stage. And that’s really important before I come on. Because I want to come to a crowd that’s like [snaps fingers] in a great mood. They’re excited. They feel like they’re ready to party.
I want to ask you about signing on to release your music through Tidal. Why did you decide to release your music that way?
Well, a part of our plan was to stream or download the album exclusively for the first 24 hours, which was going to be done through a Samsung link that fans had to enter and redeem. And Samsung felt like the best machine for that was Tidal.
Artists seem to be going the streaming route more and more, right?
It’s true. Streaming is a really big market for me. We’ve been doing great in the streaming market, so it’s not something I want to alienate at all. Streaming counts now. They’re treating artists the way we deserve to be treated. So it’s not blindly—it’s not invisible sales or invisible streams or invisible listens or downloads.
Before it was just—it was robbing us. Before streaming, it was robbing artists. Robbing us of our sales. It’s free music. So now the free music counts. It is definitely going to make a big difference in the music industry. For a fact.
I wanted to ask you about “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
“Bitch Better Have My Money” just felt like something everybody can relate to, whether it’s in regards to money or not. There’s something about that attitude or that confidence, that level of discarding something. Because it’s also just very final. It’s a very final statement. That song can be taken in so many ways. You know? And hardly ever is it actually money. I mean, money’s pretty much the obvious thing. The nonobvious thing is somebody who’s just jocking you. You’re not paying them any attention. You’re minding your own business. And everything that comes out of them is targeted toward you. And so you just feel like—
You mean like feeling preyed upon by people or—
You feel like at the end of the day, you might as well get paid for this shit. You know what I’m saying? It’s just a way to describe a situation. It’s a way to be in charge, to let people know that you’re all about your business.
I wanted to ask you if you get tired of people kind of pitting you against other women in this space. Like yesterday, with Beyoncé’s “Formation” coming out and everybody talking about the timing with Anti.
[Big laugh] Here’s the deal. You know what, it’s more relevant to the world. They somehow are so enthused by that. They just get so excited to feast on something that’s negative. Something that’s competitive. Something that’s, you know, a rivalry. And that’s just not what I wake up to. Because I can only do me. And nobody else is going to be able to do that.
So you just try to tune it out.
Especially with Anti. I went through so many emotions and roller coasters of feeling good, loving it, hating it, doubting myself, hating myself. “This is awful.” “I lost it.” “Wait, but I do love it still.” “But then—” And it’s like, no. Eventually you just need to know who you are. You know when something is you. You know when you love it and that’s the only thing that matters. When it comes to everybody else’s thing and their lane and their timing, I’m never doing anything intentional to, like, come after somebody. That will always be my biggest mistake or anybody’s biggest mistake if that’s their intention. So I just focus on my little project. That’s all I can handle. That’s a lot to handle. I can barely handle all of that.
Since you last spoke to Vogue, you’ve gotten even more experimental with fashion.
That’s funny. I’m like, really? I feel like I got more bummy.
Well, the CFDA dress! Was the CFDA dress a response to the “Free the Nipple” campaign and that Instagram situation?
I have always freed the nipple. It was never to get attention. Never sexual. Never in desperation. The bra just fucked up my sheer shirt. I just wanted to be perfect and that’s what I went with and I felt okay with that. And after a while, it became such a scandal and a “horrible role model” thing. It was a topic of discussion, and eventually other girls started defending me. And now there’s this whole “Free the Nipple” movement.
But CFDAs was the last time that I did that. I remember saying that day to my stylist and everybody in the room, hair and makeup, everyone—I was just like, “Now you see it. Tomorrow you won’t.” Because this is the last time. I can’t go any further than this. I’m barely there. So I said, “From here on, we’ll be back to clothes. Let’s just put clothes on. Even if I don’t want to. Make sure I put clothes on.” Because I don’t want people to think that I’m doing this on purpose.
Okay, last bit. I want to run through the names of designers, and you tell me really quickly what you love about their clothes. Stella McCartney.
I love Stella. I loved her clothing and I thought they were flirty. She has a way of making women sexy without looking like they’re trying to be sexy, which is my favorite thing in life.
Alexander Wang is edgy. He’s ahead of the curve. He is always setting trends. Never following. And that makes me excited about his designs.
Olivier—he’s such a beautiful person inside. And I’m really proud of him for being such a young black man in this huge fashion industry and still being able to sell clothes and change a brand and put his thing on entertainment in the way that he has, where people die to get one of his dresses.
Raf is just a freak of nature. He’s like my soul mate when it comes to design. How can someone understand your mind like that? He’s so great at being twisted. He pushes the envelope. He’s past the envelope now. Past pushing the envelope. He’s making his own envelope.
What about Vetements?
Love Vetements. It’s one of those brands that just blows your mind. It’s never going to be all the same thing in my closet. But with a brand like Vetements, you can have a leather skirt, a shirt and jacket to the ground, a T-shirt, a sweatsuit, a tailored skirtsuit. You literally can have every occasion of an outfit in one collection.
And then the last one is Victoria Beckham.
Oh! Love Victoria. I’ve only worn her a few times. Her sunglasses are really good. She knows how to snatch waists. Her dresses fit really well. Zac Posen, though, he’s the best at snatching waists. He’s legit. He knows how to make a woman’s body look great. Tom Ford knows how to make a woman a bad bitch.
Jean Paul Gaultier is king to me. And the other one—obviously, Dior. Dior is just—they’re timeless, they’re classic. But I also love that they’re never afraid to change. Never afraid to evolve and stay ahead of the times. I mean, the fact that Dior has done a Rasta collection. You think about that. It blows your mind that Dior would take a risk like that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.