Thursday, April 18, 2024

Rihanna does it all in 2011


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SAY WHAT YOU WILL, there have been no Barbadian personalities whose names have flavoured the conversations of anyone on these shores – or beyond – the way Bajan pop queen Rihanna has.
From the studios of music industry experts to the pews of the tiniest church, from rumshops to the Houses of Parliament, the words and actions of the 23-year-old sex symbol, fashionista, chart-topper and Grammy Award-winning artiste have all had tongues wagging from the dawning of 2011 to the end.
And she started and ended it all, coincidentally, on a “sexy” note.
In January the Good Girl Gone Bad, who was fresh from a breakup with baseball star Matt Kemp, made headlines by telling paparazzi in Hollywood that her New Year’s wish was for “sex”. Fast-forward to three days before the end of 2011, and Rihanna captures the hearts of the advertising world, which voted her sizzling ads for Armani Underwear the “sexiest of the year”.
Her daring, sexy photographs were hailed as the best of the year in a poll of advertising industry chiefs carried out by prestigious American magazine, Advertising Age.
“It’s Rihanna at her sexiest. She’s never looked this good. She’s in amazing shape and the pictures are stunning,” the magazine said about the shapely We Found Love singer who Esquire magazine had dubbed “the sexiest woman alive” in October, and whose assets first turned heads when she won the Miss Combermere pageant at Sherbourne Centre way back in 2004.
But as if her “sex” comment – and her obvious sex appeal – weren’t controversial enough, Rihanna appeared on the cover of British Vogue’s November issue speaking of her fondness for the well-known C-word. Like a lit fuse, her words sparked the ire of many, while some reacted with wry amusement to her incredible statement:
“That word is so offensive to everyone in the world except for Bajans. You know African-Americans use the N-word to their brothers? Well, that’s the way we use the C-word . . . . When I first came here, I was saying it like it was nothing, like, ‘hey, c…,’ until my make-up artist finally had to tell me to stop.”
Not only did the star inadvertently speak for some of her countrymen with that unforgettable gaffe, but the Barbados cultural ambassador’s risque outfits, sensual dance moves and graphic music videos were always linked in a negative way to her beloved country. And by November, Christian leader Bishop Dr Marlon Husbands had understandably had enough.
Voicing his concern?that Barbados was “in a state of decay and immorality”, he accused Rihanna of “always doing foolishness”, and described her as unworthy of being an ambassador.
At a service launching the Independence anniversary celebrations by the Democratic Labour Party, whose late leader had ironically bestowed the ambassadorship upon her, Husbands took issue with many of her actions, including the controversy that had ensued two months before in Dublin, Ireland, when a farmer had told her to cover up after she had stripped down for a video in his wheat field.
Controversy, which has dogged Rihanna since her much-publicised abusive relationship with Chris Brown in 2009, escalated in 2011 for the green-eyed singer who has given the world, in seven short years, hits like Only Girl (In The World), Disturbia, Umbrella, Unfaithful and her biggest hit so far, We Found Love.
In February the video to her saucy single S&M, released the previous month, was banned in 11 countries. Critics berated its sexually explicit lyrics, lewd costuming and the image of the star deep-throating a large banana. The S&M video not only portrayed metaphors of sadomasochism, including scenes of her whipping reporters, dressing in a leather bikini and being tied up, but it spawned a major lawsuit when one photographer alleged that it had used imagery from his photo shoot for Vogue Italia.
The drama was to intensify, for in less than three months she released Man Down, eliciting comments from Americans who described it as “an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song”, while across the globe many dubbed it “vengeful”, adding that it reeked of vigilante justice and reminded viewers of the relationship she had endured with Brown.
Yet others saw it as “art”and – unlike most modern music videos featuring beautiful black women – the depiction of a gripping story.
Man Down did not escape a huge outcry from some Barbadians who felt that this “role model”, a title which she herself has repeatedly rejected, was sending the basest and most violent of messages to their children.
Like S&M, Man Down was also banned in several countries but by the time it truly reached home, it was lapped up by the 25 000-strong crowd when she performed it on the Bajan leg of her LOUD tour at Kensington Oval on August 5.
That concert, while turning out to be an enjoyable and memorable evening for those simply glad to be there, got an equally memorable tongue-lashing afterwards. Patrons complained of the VIP section being too crowded, of bars running out of food, of the interminable wait between headliners CoverDrive and the other acts, and the rumoured high fee charged to the Barbados Government by the world-class artist.
But while many critics felt the “investment” to be too high, those who had financed the $4 million concert pomised it would have benefited the country in a major way through tourism, for which Government spends $90 million yearly in marketing.
Another talking point was the Kadooment costume which Rihanna wore in Baje International’s band and which, incidentally, hardly got a peep of criticism from Bajans who themselves play mas’ in the skimpiest of outfits and “do the dawg” on the road to Spring Garden; but she got much stick from the British Press which, in a classic display of ignorance, likened the festival and her dancing on the music truck to some primitive pagan celebration.
With criticism and adoration swirling around her, the raven-wigged Rihanna kept going and going . . . until last month when she was rushed to a hospital right before her sold-out concert in Sweden. Sources later claimed that it was the long nights and hard partying that had stopped her in her tracks.
“Rihanna is running on empty but she’s still been going out drinking and living it up,” an insider told London’s The Sun newspaper, which also reported that doctors were worried she might have been pushing it to too hard and needed to take some time off.
She cancelled her second Swedish concert, but went on to wrap up the LOUD tour in London when, again, controversy struck on December 21. Dutch fashion magazine Jackie published an article referring to Rihanna as the ultimate “n…. b….”, causing the editor, one Eva Hoeke, to issue an apology stating that “the author meant no harm” and that the headline using the words was meant to be “a joke”.
Rihanna replied on Twitter: “There are 1000’s of Dutch girls who would love to be recognized for their contributions to your country, you could have given them an article. Instead, u paid to print one degrading an entire race! That’s your contribution to this world! To encourage segregation, to mislead the future leaders to act in the past! You put two words together, with the intent of abasement, that made no sense . . . . Well with all respect, on behalf of my race, here are my two words for you….”
Hoeke subsequently resigned.
Amid all this, nearly every song Rihanna touched has turned to gold. And in 2011, she celebrated 11 No. 1 hits with the biggest being We Found Love, featuring Calvin Harris.
Becoming the seventh artist in the Billboard Hot 100?s 53-year history to tally 11 No. 1 hits, she has joined The Beatles with 20, Mariah Carey with 18, Michael Jackson with 13, Madonna and The Supremes with 12 each and Whitney Houston with 11. Janet Jackson and Stevie Wonder each have ten.
Rihanna’s No. 1 hits are: SOS, Umbrella, Take A Bow, Disturbia, Live Your Life, Rude Boy, Love The Way You Lie, Only Girl, What’s My Name?, S&M and We Found Love.
Whether one agrees with, commends, glorifies or villifies Rihanna, her music, words and actions have made her, without a second thought, THE NATION’s Most Controversial Person Of The Year.


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