Rihanna: The True Superhero of Beauty

When Rihanna stormed to international fame as a fresh-faced music sensation, few doubted her talent and drive but nobody could have guessed at the potential of her incredible career. As it happened, the decade that she spent as one of the world’s biggest music stars was merely the beginning for Rihanna, who is now one of the most influential women in the entertainment industry for reasons that have very little to do with music and everything to do with her remarkable instincts for innovative, inclusive, and socially conscious products that appeal to the broadest possible range of people. Now she’s giving back to help others overcome the struggles she faced along the way, a True Superhero for all. 

Rihanna: The True Superhero of Beauty
Rihanna in 2005's Pon de Replay

A painful childhood

Robyn Rihanna Fenty was born in 1988 in Barbados and raised by her parents in a three-room bungalow along with their five other children, all from previous marriages. Her mother, Monica, was an accountant, while her father Ronald worked as a warehouse manager. He was battling addictions to alcohol and later crack cocaine that would eventually cause him to lose both his job and his marriage. Ronald was frequently violent toward his wife, and this also had a terrible effect on young Rihanna who suffered excruciating stress headaches throughout her childhood. These headaches were so severe that doctors feared she might have a brain tumor, but numerous CT scans revealed nothing. Rihanna’s parents split up when she was 14, and the headaches immediately ceased.

Her school life was not much better. Ronald was descended from Irish and Scottish immigrants to Barbados, a group who faced discrimination and isolation on the island, and Rihanna also suffered from this prejudice. As she told the magazine Allure in 2008: “I was a little confused as a kid because I grew up with my mum, and my mum is black, so I was cultured in a very 'black' way. But when I go to school, I'm getting called 'white'. They would look at me and would curse me out. I didn't understand. I just knew I saw people of all different shades and I was light.” Fortunately, as Rihanna grew older, it was her talent that set her apart from her classmates and she had the last laugh when becoming a globally successful recording artist by the time she was just 17. 

Rihanna: The True Superhero of Beauty

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When Rihanna stormed to international fame as a fresh-faced music sensation, few doubted her talent and drive but nobody could have guessed at the potential of her incredible career. As it happened, the decade that she spent as one of the world’s biggest music stars was merely the beginning for Rihanna, who is now one of the most influential women in the entertainment industry for reasons that have very little to do with music and everything to do with her remarkable instincts for innovative, inclusive, and socially conscious products that appeal to the broadest possible range of people. Now she’s giving back to help others overcome the struggles she faced along the way, a True Superhero for all. 

Rihanna: The True Superhero of Beauty
Rihanna in 2005's Pon de Replay

A painful childhood

Robyn Rihanna Fenty was born in 1988 in Barbados and raised by her parents in a three-room bungalow along with their five other children, all from previous marriages. Her mother, Monica, was an accountant, while her father Ronald worked as a warehouse manager. He was battling addictions to alcohol and later crack cocaine that would eventually cause him to lose both his job and his marriage. Ronald was frequently violent toward his wife, and this also had a terrible effect on young Rihanna who suffered excruciating stress headaches throughout her childhood. These headaches were so severe that doctors feared she might have a brain tumor, but numerous CT scans revealed nothing. Rihanna’s parents split up when she was 14, and the headaches immediately ceased.

Her school life was not much better. Ronald was descended from Irish and Scottish immigrants to Barbados, a group who faced discrimination and isolation on the island, and Rihanna also suffered from this prejudice. As she told the magazine Allure in 2008: “I was a little confused as a kid because I grew up with my mum, and my mum is black, so I was cultured in a very 'black' way. But when I go to school, I'm getting called 'white'. They would look at me and would curse me out. I didn't understand. I just knew I saw people of all different shades and I was light.” Fortunately, as Rihanna grew older, it was her talent that set her apart from her classmates and she had the last laugh when becoming a globally successful recording artist by the time she was just 17. 

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Mister Jay-Z, turn the music up

Two years earlier, the 15-year-old Rihanna had auditioned for songwriter and producer Evan Rogers and recorded a demo that under other circumstances might have sparked a major label bidding war. As things turned out, the tape landed first on the desk of Def Jam Records’ new president Jay-Z and, after seeing Rihanna perform, he offered her a six-album deal on the spot; he was so afraid of losing her to rival labels he kept her at the Def Jam offices until 3am in order to ensure the contracts were all signed. Shortly afterward, Rihanna’s debut single Pon de Replay was released and was a worldwide hit, reaching number two in both the UK and US charts. 

Rihanna performing Umbrella in 2007

Two years of tremendous success followed; her first two albums both sold over 1m copies each and there were several more hit singles, but it was with the release of her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, that Rihanna graduated from successful teenage pop sensation to one of the biggest stars on Earth. The lead single Umbrella was both a worldwide chart topper and a huge critical success, heading many critics ‘Best Song of 2007’ lists and winning Rihanna her first Grammy. 

Dealing with public trauma

While her career was sensational, Rihanna’s private life was traumatic. She began dating the R&B star Chris Brown in 2007 but their relationship turned abusive, in a horrifying echo of the traumas Rihanna had experienced with her parents as a child. In 2009 Rihanna and Brown were both booked to perform at the Grammy Awards, but the night before the show Brown viciously assaulted Rihanna in a car. Insult was added to injury when crime scene photographs showing Rihanna’s bloodied and bruised face were leaked to online gossip sites and subsequently spread like wildfire across social media, a shocking violation of the victim’s privacy. Fortunately, the investigation was not adversely prejudiced by this disclosure and Brown was given a one-year custodial sentence for his crime. 

Unfortunately, Rihanna could not expect any respite from the intrusion of the press into her private life, which remained the subject of constant speculation. Having to deal with the traumas of domestic abuse in the public eye must have been enormously taxing for the young star, but she chose to demonstrate her resilience by growing ever more successful and using that success to give support to others who had experienced similar hardships.

Exclusives and inclusivity

Rihanna’s music would continue to be the main focus of her career for several more years, and she bounced back from her public traumas with ever more successful and defiant releases; 2010’s Loud was followed in 2011 by Talk That Talk and 2012’s Unapologetic, all selling several million copies worldwide and bringing Rihanna more critical acclaim, and several more Grammys, but Rihanna’s attention soon started to focus on other areas.

In 2011 she launched her first business venture with the release of a Rihanna-branded fragrance, Reb’l Fleur; this was an enormous commercial success and led to the release of several more perfumes over the following years, which quickly began generating revenues to rival her record sales. Her next big venture came in 2015 when she was part of a consortium of music industry stars who bought and rebranded the music streaming platform Tidal, turning it into an artist-focused service that aimed to pay musicians better royalties than rival streaming sites. To help promote the service, Rihanna released her eighth album, Anti, exclusively on Tidal; this did not hinder its success, and Anti became her second Billboard number one album. 

Rihanna: The True Superhero of Beauty
Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar winning a Grammy in 2018 for Loyalty

Her biggest entrepreneurial successes were still to come. In 2017 she launched Fenty Beauty, an inclusive cosmetics company with the tagline ‘Beauty for All’ that was widely praised for its diverse product range, catering for all skin types and tones. Once again, Rihanna’s products were enormously commercially successful, and this triggered what has subsequently become known as the “Fenty effect”. Fenty Beauty’s products weren’t just gender-neutral, vegan, clean, and cruelty-free, they were also outselling the competition and this led to a revolution in the cosmetics industry as rival companies raced to diversify their product ranges in an attempt to keep pace with Rihanna. 

Giving back support and inspiration

Rihanna's dizzying success has led her to become the richest female musician on Earth and the second-richest female entertainer, with only Oprah Winfrey outstripping her. Forbes reports that an estimated $1.4bn of her $1.7bn fortune comes from Fenty Beauty, but even before she dominated the world of business she was a committed philanthropist and social campaigner. In 2012 she founded the Clara Lionel Foundation, named after her grandparents Clara and Lionel Braithwaite, through which she directly supports and raises funds for many important causes. The Foundation’s annual Diamond Ball raises several million dollars for charities each year and, in total, over $80m has been raised over the last decade for education and emergency-response causes. Rihanna was awarded Harvard University’s Humanitarian of the Year award in 2017 for her charitable work and since the rise of Fenty Beauty the scale of that work has grown enormously; during the Covid-19 pandemic she made donations of $5m to various relief charities, and a further $2m donation to charities assisting victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown period. 

Giving a powerful acceptance speech at the 2020 NAACP Image Awards

She has also used her voice to highlight social issues around the world, such as 2021’s Indian farmer’s protests, and closer to home she has campaigned in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, even refusing to perform at the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show in protest of the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick. Rihanna’s superpower is surely an ability to include as many people as possible in her work, and the way she used the success that has brought her to help others clearly marks her out as a True Superhero. 

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