5 Lessons Rihanna Has Taught Me About Winning At Life
Rihanna is a vibe. An aesthetic. An energy. A living legend.
At just 29 years old, the eight-time Grammy award winning Barbadian singer has solidified her place as one of the most successful artists of all time. Ever since releasing her debut album in 2005, Music of the Sun, Rihanna has had 30 singles on Billboard’s Top 10 chart. This is a feat only the Beatles and Madonna have surpassed. Yes, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has amassed more Top 10 hits than Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.
She is also the biggest-selling singles artist of the digital age in the US. Rihanna is the first (and so far, the only) artist to reach 100 million gold and platinum song certifications through the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). This means Rihanna’s genre-bending singles have been downloaded or purchased more than any other singer on the RIAA’s radar, including Taylor Swift and Beyoncé.
But it’s not just the music industry Rihanna dominates. Her iconic style has earned her one of the most prestigious fashion awards: The Fashion Icon Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Basically, she has a seal of approval from the Grand Dame of Fashion, Ms. Anna Wintour. Also, Rihanna’s philanthropy has been recognized by President Barack Obama, and lately, by Harvard University.
And that’s not all: this month, Rihanna disrupted the beauty industry with the launch of her make-up line, Fenty Beauty.
Rihanna disrupted the beauty industry with the launch of her make-up line, Fenty Beauty.
Launched in stores in 17 countries, and online in 150 countries, the make-up line offers 40 different foundation shades. Rihanna themed her launch: “The New Generation of Beauty.” W Magazine has called it the “The New Era of Inclusivity in the Beauty Industry.” Call it what you want, but know this: Rihanna stays winning the life game.
Here are 5 lessons I have learned from Rihanna’s consistent success:
1. Stay True To You.
Whether it’s the movement of her body, her cheeky Instagram posts, her irreverent fashion, or the minimum vibrado in her voice: I always get the sense that Rihanna will be herself without permission, and without apology.
It’s in the ways she speaks. Despite living in the U.S. since 2003, Rihanna’s accent pays homage to her Bajan heritage. It’s in her swag. Whether it’s rocking PJs in public, or keeping MET Gala enthusiasts on their feet every year, Rihanna will wear what Rihanna wants — and she’ll most likely pull it off.
Rihanna’s authenticity is evident in her vulnerability too. After Chris Brown pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna in 2009, she didn’t go into hiding. Neither did she use the incident to build her brand or bash her ex. Rihanna went on Oprah and told the truth: she still had feelings for Chris, and wanted him to find peace.
Due to her distinct rawness, Rihanna’s fans (aka Rihanna Navy) aren’t just invested in her music or products — they are invested in her. And this personal investment, Jenna Wortham writes in the New York Times, is “something remarkable, something post-pop, something much more intriguing and far-reaching than album streams, sales or award nominations.”
2. To Accelerate, Collaborate.
Let’s be honest: Rihanna doesn’t have the best voice out there. In one breath, I could list 20 female singers with stronger vocals than Rihanna, and I would just be getting warmed up. No one, probably not even RiRi herself, would put her pipes in the same category with legends like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey or Adele. Yet, Rihanna has had more Top 10 hits than every female singer in history, except Madonna. Why is that?
Part of Rihanna’s success lies in the fact that she’s never been afraid to partner with the best in her industry
In 2008, Rihanna earned her first ever Grammy, ‘Best Rap Collaboration’, for her worldwide hit with Jay-Z, ‘Umbrella’ (a full circle-moment, considering Jay-Z got Rihanna her first record deal).
Of Rihanna’s 30 Top 10 hit songs, 15 have been collaborations. This includes songs like: ‘Hate that I Love You’ (feat. Ne-Yo), ‘What’s My Name’ (feat. Drake), ‘Break It Off’ (Feat. Sean Paul), ‘We Found Love’ (feat. Calvin Harris) and ‘FourFiveSeconds’ (with Kanye West & Paul McCartney).
Rihanna doesn’t just feature great artists on her projects, she regularly collaborates with others on their own songs. ‘Wild Thoughts,’ arguably the song of Summer 2017, is a DJ Khaled song featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller. Rihanna also works with great writers. For example, ‘Diamonds’ was written by Sia.
3. Do Your Best And Ignore The Rest.
Despite eight Grammy nominations this year, Rihanna walked home empty handed. I was big mad. I could let every other loss slide, but the fact that her song ‘Work’ (feat. Drake) lost the ‘Best Pop Duo/Group Performance’ award to the Twenty One Pilots song ‘Stressed Out’ reeked of injustice. I mean, Twenty One Pilots who? And if you didn’t hear ‘Work’ in 2016…were you even alive?
If you didn’t hear ‘Work’ in 2016…were you even alive?
But while I had my panties up in a bunch on her behalf, here’s what home girl was doing:
That’s right, RiRi came to the Grammys with a jewel-embellished hip flask, and had herself a merry time. She took shots, blew a kiss to Beyoncé, danced, and even facetimed a pal. Unlike Kanye West who was equally nominated for eight awards this year and won none, and who is frequently outraged by the out-of-touch Academy, Rihanna refuses to let the critics steal her joy.
Lately, internet trolls have been criticizing Rihanna for gaining weight. A Barstool Sports writer even published a viral article that essentially fat-shamed her. Rihanna’s Insta-response? “Somebody called me too fat?” she asked, with three laugh-crying emojis.
4. Don’t Put Off Giving Back.
Rihanna’s history of philanthropy is almost as long as her musical career. While accepting Harvard University’s Humanitarian of the Year’ award this past February, she noted: “At 17, I started my career here in America, and by the age of 18, I started my first charity organization.” Rihanna launched the Believe Foundation in 2006, to help terminally ill children. She supported a variety of charitable endeavors after that, before founding the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) in 2012. The foundation is named after Rihanna’s grandparents, Clara and Lionel Braithwaite. She hosts a ‘Diamond Ball’ annually to raise funds for CLF. The inaugural Diamond Ball raised $2million, and the second raised over $3million. By the third Diamond Ball, Barack Obama praised Rihanna’s work, commenting: “You’ve become a powerful force in the fight to give people dignity.”
CLF supports innovative education and health programs around the world. For example, in August 2017, Rihanna announced CLF has teamed up with ofo, a Beijing-based bike-share initiative. Through this partnership, Rihanna is providing bikes to young girls in Malawi to help them get to school quickly and safely.
Life has been generous to Rihanna it seems, because she has been generous to others.
You don’t have to wait to be as rich as Rihanna to give back. As she noted in her Harvard acceptance speech, all you need is one person, one organization, or one dollar to spare.
5. Don’t Just Do It — Do It Better.
Make-up lines by celebrities are nothing new. Of recent note: Kylie Jenner’s lip kits and Kim Kardashian’s contour kits. But Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launch probably had the Kardashian-Jenner sisters shook. How?
First off, Rihanna took her time. Fenty Beauty was nearly three years in the making, with two years of development and several months of testing and teasing. Rather than rushing to enter the beauty space by releasing one product kit, Rihanna slowly worked on a range of initial products, including brushes, primers, foundations, eye-shadows, and highlighters.
She also saw a void in the market, and produced products that filled that void. Make-up lines have long been criticized for not catering to minorities, particularly darker skin hues. The biggest challenge was making sure that each product covered all skin tones, and it was a challenge I was up for,” Rihanna told Harper’s Bazaar. “I didn’t care how long it took, I was going to make sure that we covered most skin tones. Diversity and inclusivity are important to the brand.” The brand is not only diverse and inclusive, it is accessible all over the world. Over the past few days, I’ve seen Fenty Beauty reviews by an Albino woman, a Caucasian gay man, a British Hijabi, a South Sudanese vlogger, and many others. Rihanna truly thought of people of all shades, personalities, cultures and races.
Also, while Rihanna worked with Kendo (the LVMH Group incubator for beauty brands) to create Fenty Beauty, she didn’t just slap her name on the products. In true Rihanna form, Fenty Beauty goes against the grain. Unlike the foundations du jour that transform faces, Fenty Beauty enhances. The products were intentionally designed to feel lightweight, and to “make skin look like skin.”
In short, with pretty much everything Rihanna does, she doesn’t just do it: she does it better.
With pretty much everything Rihanna does, she doesn’t just do it: she does it better.
I blog about the intersection of women & pop culture/policy/theology/ literature/more at www.blessingomakwu.com. You can also find me on social media: @blessingomakwu.