Rihanna talks “Unapologetic”, fans, her love for strip club records and more
Rihanna opened up about fans, fearlessness, and how to take the perfect self-portrait on Instagram in her latest Complex cover story. But the Bajan beauty had a lot more to say during our one-on-one interview. Read on as she dishes about working with Future and Eminem, her love for strip club records, and what she’s numb to.
Is there anything too private that you wouldn’t want to share with your fans on Instagram?
Yeah, that’s why I can’t tell you. [Laughs.]
But you’re pretty comfortable with connecting with your fans on social media.
Of course. They know who I am, that’s why I feel comfortable being myself around them. Really, I want to encourage them to be that way. If you don’t live your life, then who will?
You have a special connection with your fans. How did you and The Navy become so close?
Well, at first I didn’t really use anything in the social network world. I was so anti-social network, which is kind of ironic. I actually first started on a chat room on my fan site. My fans didn’t really believe it was me. They were asking all these questions and I was giving them real answers, but they wouldn’t believe me. I was like, “Oh my gosh.” So I said, You know what? This is the same thing as Twitter. Twitter is just like a giant chat room that you can text. Almost like you can text your fans.
Then I just started talking to them again. They would ask real questions and I would answer. I guess we started building a relationship like that and getting really close. They started to find out things about me, I started to find out a lot of things about them, and you realize how much you really have in common with people. They’re definitely a fun group — they’re really funny. It’s hilarious even to just watch them. They’re so entertaining. As much as they think I’m entertaining, they entertain me just as much, if not more.
Congratulations on your album. It’s my favorite so far.
Thanks so much.
You have twelve No. 1 singles which is already a huge accomplishment, but how important was it for you to get that No. 1 U.S. album? Was that the goal?
You know what? I thought about it for the first few albums and then, after you don’t get it, eventually it just goes out of your mind. Then, with the seventh one, I really was thinking to myself, “This album needs to be good enough to be a No. 1 album.”
Not that the others weren’t. I just want people to know that it’s good enough. I put so much pressure on myself when I was making this album that Jay-Z actually spoke to me and said, “If you’re making this to be a No. 1 album, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason.” It kind of snapped me right out of it. I said, “You’re right. All I need to make is a great album.” And that’s where the pressure really laid for me.
I wanted this music to be so good because it’s number seven and you don’t get that back. It just had to be perfect for me. And I got worried that it wouldn’t be finished in time. I knew I would be able to finish all the songs I had so far, but I didn’t know for sure that that was the body of the album. All the songs were fantastic but sometimes you’re like, “Maybe we need a little more this or a little less of that.” So I was getting worried in the end, right up to the very last second, then it fell right into place.
One of the themes in the album seems to be about how people think they know your personal life, but they really don’t know the half of it. Was that your intention when you made this record?
I had no intention when I was making this record, except the truth. That’s all I wanted. So whatever is there is real, it’s raw. It’s all the elements that I am, that I’ve grown to become so far. That’s why the album is called Unapologetic, because it’s the truth.
So were you ever apologetic?
Not apologetic necessarily, just that I held back before. I didn’t show a lot of myself. I was very guarded and it just didn’t feel safe to be like that. I felt like I just needed to be open and free and really just fearless with who I am. Basically just say, “Fuck it. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll hate me? They’ve done that before.” I just felt like you have to stay close to the ground. You really have to.
Some of the songwriters and artists on the album you are working with for the first time. Do you reach out and pick these collaborators yourself or do these songwriters come to you?
Initially, when we start putting the album together and when we’re trying to find the sound, I pick the people that I think can execute it. We put kind of a little camp together and we switch people in and out and put producers together, put writers together in a room and see where they go. That kind of lays a foundation and gets people started in a bit of a direction. When you get one that you love, then everybody knows, “OK, this is where we’re going.”
It was that way with “Diamonds.” I mean we had some other songs before, but “Diamonds,” when I heard that, I knew this is exactly what I want to feel. I want to feel this the whole time. Whether it’s fun or whether it’s mellow, I want to just have it here [puts hands on her stomach]. And you also have to spend time with the writers, you have to spend time with the producers and really go in the studio, allow them to really know me so it’s really easy for them to help me get my story into words.
Then there’s the other half, where the writers write the songs and then they send it to you, and we had a couple of those that kind of just blew our minds. Like the record with Future to be specific. For that one, I just called him and told him, “Just write me a song for you, don’t write me a song for me. Just write a song you would love.” Because I picked up that he had some songwriting skills that could kind of work for a female. A female could also achieve those melodies and it would work. And he sent me that record and the minute I heard it, I was like, “Oh my God. Oh my goodness.” It was really shocking. And sometimes you get ones like that that you have nothing to do with. [Laughs.] It was perfect.
What did you hear from Future that made you want to work with him?
I heard a couple songs on his album that just had some unexpected melodies. I wanted him to just write something that people wouldn’t really expect to come from him. But I didn’t want to say that, because I didn’t want to make him overthink it. I just wanted him to write something that he loves, because he already knew he was writing it for me. It was supposed to be me singing the hook on “Loveeeee Song,” but I really loved his tone on it. I said we’re definitely keeping him on it. Because I love his demeanor on the record.
I love it, because I love “Turn on the Lights.” He’s such a sensitive thug.
Yeah, that one for sure. For sure. The melodies in that? Ugh, sick.
You said “Diamonds” was your favorite record since “Umbrella.” What made it take that number one spot for you?
The way it made me feel. It was so inspiring and uplifting. It was giving me hope, that song. And I was like, “You know what? I’m tired of angry love songs.” Love doesn’t always have to be about breakups and “Fuck you,” and you know, “I hate you,” and “We’re never going to be together again.” It could be sweet. It could be, “Hell yeah! We’re diamonds!” Like, don’t let nobody tell you any different.
I want people to think like that, because, you know, the government even wants to tell people how to love. And I was really tired of that, you know? That just doesn’t make any sense. That song for me really did that, and at the same time, my grandma had just, you know, passed, and it really resonated with our connection and our relationship for me as well. So it was special. It was just special.
When you sing that song, do you think about the relationship you had with GranGran Dolly?
Every time. Every time. I think about a couple of things, but that’s definitely one of them.
What are the other things that you think about?
Love. I think about love.
Do you like singing about love the most?
I think love is one of the purest things you can sing about. One of the best things you can sing about. But I like songs that are quirky too, like “S&M.” I like fun records as well, but love is—there’s nothing wrong with it. It’ll never get old.
“Numb” is very different from your previous collaboration with Eminem. How did this one come about?
The moment I worked with him on “Love the Way You Lie,” I wanted to work with him again, and we did “Love the Way You Lie (Part II).” And then I wanted to work with him again. [Laughs.] I just love working with Eminem. He’s just one of my favorite rappers, and his lyrics—he’s a true poet, and I enjoy that about him. For this song, I needed someone with not only his skill, but his personality. And I needed someone who really understands the perspective and the metaphor in the song of going numb and being numb to everything around and to say, “Fuck you.” Eminem is definitely the perfect guy for that.
What are you numb to?
To the world, to opinions that don’t matter, you know? People that don’t hold any value in your life. That. I’m numb to that, because that’s none of their business.
“Bands A Make Her Dance” is one of your favorite songs.
So did you specifically want to make a strip club record on this album?
Yes, who told you that?
I just figured it out.
Oh shit, that’s crazy. I specifically wanted to make a strip club record.
And what made you pick a Mike WiLL Made It record over something else?
Actually, it picked me. It was one of those where I was sent a track. As a matter of fact, the writers and Mike Will were in the studio and Chris went over there and came back and said, “There’s this crazy song that Mike Will made, you should listen to it.” So I had somebody from the label bring it for me so I could hear it. Argh—like right away I knew like this was going to be my record. Like, I knew they made it for me, but I just hadn’t heard it yet. But when I heard it, I just knew that I was keeping it. It’s one of my favorite ones. Right away I couldn’t stop listening to the demo, over and over.
So Chris heard the record first and was like, “You have to hear this now”?
He was in the studio with them while they were writing for me, so yeah.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Stay.” How did you find Mikky Ekko?
Mikky Ekko ended up writing the song for us, and when we first heard it, we loved it. When the kids from Roc Nation found it and brought it to us, I loved his voice on it. The tone of his voice was really beautiful, and the label actually asked us if we could keep him on it. And it turned out perfect—I didn’t have a problem with that, because I loved his tone in the first place. That’s what made me fall in love with it. I just wanted to do it justice, or at least as good as him.”
What are you trying to say with the record “Half of Me”?
It basically meant that people assume, and they think they know based off of whatever records, or whatever the media feeds to them. It’s pretty much saying that’s all you have, and that’s not even really the half of it. People take the little bit of information that they’re fed, and they draw a picture of who you are. And most of the time it’s wrong.
You sing, you’ve designed, and you act. Is there anything else that you want to try?
I mean, there’s so many things. So many things that I can’t really talk about, cause I don’t want to give it away anything or blight it before it happens.
You’re already a pop icon. You came from Barbados to America at age 16. Now you’re one of the world’s biggest pop stars. Where do you go from here?
Bigger. It’s all about growth.