18 things you need to know about Rihanna
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Derek Paiva
Rihanna is quite likely the most sweetly unaffected 18-year-old with three Billboard Hot 100 top five hits and two Billboard Top 200 top 10 CDs amassed in one year you'd ever want to meet.
Sure, the almost impossibly attractive Barbados-raised vocalist can rightly claim ownership of, arguably, the two most humongous radio and club anthems of this summer and last — "SOS" and "Pon de Replay," respectively. But thankfully, Rihanna hasn't lost any of her homegrown island-girl charm or manners on the way.
Rihanna phoned for a chat last week while her tour bus cruised from New York City to a next-day gig in Toronto. She had gotten offstage a couple of hours earlier. The cabin of her bus was noisy with tour crew chatter.
It also was nearly 2 a.m.
And Rihanna sounded understandably exhausted, and shyly admitted as much when asked. (A simple giggle from Rihanna, I find, reveals a lot.)
Still, she was always sweetly friendly, impeccably polite and as girlishly chatty as any reporter interviewing a teenage superstar seriously in need of some sleep could hope for.
And yes, she was even genuinely excited about her Pipeline Cafe show tonight, if not about the amount of time she'd actually get to spend here.
By the end of our chat, I knew I'd collected at least 18 things you NEED to know about Rihanna — one for each of her years on Earth — from the girl herself.
1. Her full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty. She was born Feb. 18, 1988, in St. Michael's Parish on the West Indies island nation. Her striking, exotic beauty comes from parents Ronald and Monica's Barbadian and Guyanese ancestry. And yes, her eyes really are that intensely green.
2. No one in Rihanna's family encouraged her singing. "Growing up, I always sang. But no one ever was really pushing me to do it," said Rihanna. "It was something that I wanted to do. So I developed a personal passion for it, fell in love with music and developed my own taste and style."
So while her mom spinned tunes constantly, "I listened to artists that I wanted to hear and not what (she) was playing."
3. Rihanna can show you a fine time in Barbados. Asked what one could do in Barbados that was illegal in the United States, Rihanna replied, "Drinking alcohol and clubbing at a young age. I was partying from 14. ... There's no particular legal age. ... It's pretty free and chill and laid-back." On the home front, however, Rihanna swore, "I was actually a good kid." Awwww.
4. She wasn't always girly. At 16, Rihanna won her high school's beauty pageant and the title of Miss Combermere (named after her school). At home growing up with two younger brothers and 13 male cousins, however, "I was actually a tomboy. ... Me and (a) cousin were the only two girls, and we had to fight to defend ourselves because (the boys) didn't want us around them.
"We wanted to do what they did. We wanted to climb trees. We wanted to fight. We wanted to catch animals. ... We had to defend ourselves a lot!"
5. Rihanna was discovered by the dudes who gave us 'N Sync's "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time On You." But don't hold that particular injustice against producers Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken. The duo eventually redeemed themselves by crafting Rihanna's biggest hits "Pon de Replay" and "SOS."
6. Jay-Z locked Rihanna in his office. Handed Rihanna's demo by Rogers and Sturken, the Def Jam Records head and Beyonce's significant other summoned Rihanna to his New York offices.
"The audition was pretty much straightforward," Rihanna recalled. "I walked in. I sang a few songs a cappella."
To say our man H.O.V.A. was interested is an understatement.
"He didn't want me to leave until I signed a deal. ... Twelve hours later, I signed the deal. That was kind of crazy, right?"
As Beyonce herself might say, "So crazy, my baby."
7. Rihanna has had more Billboard magazine chart success in one year than you. Released within a year of each other, "Music of the Sun" peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart last summer, while "A Girl Like Me" peaked at No. 5 last May. Her Billboard Hot 100 singles include "Pon de Replay" (No. 2, July 2005), "SOS" (No. 1, May 2006) and "Unfaithful" (No. 6, July 2006).
8. She didn't like "Pon de Replay" at first. "I thought it sounded like a nursery rhyme," Rihanna said of the infectiously catchy dancehall- and reggae-tinged pop hit that was her first worldwide smash single. "It didn't sound like singing. It wasn't music that I was used to or (sound like) artists that I was used to.
"I recorded it anyway. (That's) when I realized it was more of a vibe. It was really feedback from people that made me realize it was a great song."
9. Rihanna is really enjoying kicking some Barbados white sand in the face of folks who said she'd be a one-hit wonder. "I remember the first time out with 'Pon de Replay,' I got that a lot. A lot of people said I was going to be a one-hit wonder," said Rihanna. "But I worked my hardest to prove them wrong. And when we came out with the second album, "SOS" and "Unfaithful," both blew up!
She giggled, shyly.
"So I feel pretty good!"
10. Rihanna's new album "A Girl Like Me" features more of the real Rihanna than "Music of the Sun." "It's more personal," she said of the new CD. "I love ('Music of the Sun') but that was more of a party album ... a fun album. ('A Girl Like Me') is fun, gets emotional sometimes (and is) just mixed with a lot of different types of music, styles and flavors."
11. Being a million-selling dance-pop sensation has its ups and its downs. On the up side: "I'm getting to do what I always dreamed of doing ... something that I love and enjoy." On the harshest of the down side: "I'm away from my family and all of my friends in Barbados."
12. Rihanna is still awed by famous people. "I got to perform with Elton John!" she gushed about a recent live duet with the former Captain Fantastic at Fashion Rocks, the annual star-studded music concert that opens New York's Fall Fashion Week. "We did 'The Bitch is Back.' It was so much fun.
"He just goes for it. Nothing was rehearsed or anything. He was just, like, 'You wanna do it? Let's do it!' "
But wait! She's not finished.
"I'm star-struck every time. ... I met Mariah Carey at the BMI Awards about a week ago. ... We didn't talk or anything. We were just, like, 'Good meeting you.' But she was really sweet. She's someone that I always dreamed of meeting."
13. Rihanna's musical influences are mostly her age.
"I listened to a lot of R&B and reggae music," Rihanna said of her musical tastes growing up. "Seeing artists like B2K and JoJo come out at a young age really inspired me. If all of these young teenagers could do it, I thought I could, too."
14. Rihanna wants to be a thespian and a mogul. The acting bug bit after Rihanna did a couple of musical cameos this year on television ("All My Children") and film ("Bring It On: All Or Nothing"). Otherwise, she'd like to "probably start some companies like a makeup company, a clothing line (or) maybe a swimsuit line."
How about nabbing her boss Jay-Z's primo gig as a record label head?
"Wow! That's a big responsibility. I'm not quite ready for that yet. Maybe someday."
Probably what Jay-Z said just after "Big Pimpin'" hit, uh, big.
15. Rihanna just wants some fried flying fish with cou-cou. Another bummer about being on tour? No Bajan cooking.
"I find it hard to find something to eat. Always!" said Rihanna. "I'm a real picky person because I grew up on one particular type of taste for so many years. So now it's hard for me to eat food from different cultures.
"American food is great. But besides that, there's always an Indian restaurant or a Mexican restaurant or another culture."
16. She celebrated her two recent nominations for an MTV Video Music Award by getting a tattoo. Don't go looking for it at her Pipeline Cafe show, though. It's a tiny friendship symbol behind her right ear.
17. She'll be home for Christmas ... but not before. "I can't remember," answered Rihanna, glumly, asked when she last visited her family in Barbados.
Hmmm. That doesn't sound all that good.
"No, not at all," she replied, sighing.
She'll be back on the beach when her tour ends in December.
18. Rihanna seriously digs Hawai'i. And that's even though she's performed here just once — at the 50th State Fair in June — and got to do little else while on-island.
"I absolutely loved it. But I was really mad that I could only stay for, like, a day. One day!" Rihanna said.
It gets worse.
"This time when we come back, we're going to be there for 12 hours!"
Rihanna sighed again.
"It's sad. Because Hawai'i is so beautiful. It reminds me of home."
Reach Derek Paiva at email@example.com.