OTTAWA — Around this time last year, things did not look good for Rihanna’s Last Girl On Earth tour. Ticket sales were slow, and at least a half dozen shows were cancelled.Part of the problem was the economic downturn, and the Barbados-born R&B starlet certainly wasn’t the only artist to feel its effects. Neither was she one to sit back and wait for better days. Instead, Robyn Rihanna Fenty took action, showing the same single-minded ambition that propelled her from Caribbean beauty queen to international recording artist. Over the past year, the feisty 23-year-old did everything in her power to ensure her popularity.
As we head into the summer of 2011, Rihanna is again one of the most high-profile artists on the planet. At the moment, she’s on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine, her music is setting sales records and her Loud tour, which kicks off in Baltimore on June 4 and stops in Ottawa on June 8, is one of the hottest tickets of the season. Last year’s slump, if it’s remembered at all, will be seen as a minor blip.
How Rihanna accomplished this transformation was by taking charge. Although the economy is something no performer can control, it appears that everything else pertaining to Rihanna’s career, from music to management to hairstyle, was given an overhaul in the past year.
Here’s a look at the top five elements of the strategy that put Rihanna back in the spotlight.
Music: Rihanna’s fifth studio album, released last fall, has already generated six singles, including three that went to No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. The chart-topping songs are Only Girl (In The World), What’s My Name (featuring Canadian rapper Drake), and S&M. In general, Loud marks a return to Rihanna’s dance hall roots, with a strong euro-flavoured electro-pop sheen. The vocals are better, the songs are catchier and there’s an edge that reflects her don’t-mess-with-me attitude.
Controversy: The Melina Matsoukas-directed video for S&M was banned in 11 countries and restricted online for its references to sex, whips and chains, although Rihanna insists the song is actually about her relationship with the media. One of its defining images shows Rihanna dressed to the nines with celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton on his hands and knees on a leash.
However, that was mild compared with the new video for Man Down. It’s a revenge fantasy that opens with Rihanna gunning down the man who assaulted her the previous night. The woman who was attacked by ex-boyfriend Chris Brown in February 2009 told USA Today this week that she doesn’t condone violence. “I’ve been abused in the past and you don’t see me running around killing people in my spare time,” she said. “I just really want girls to be careful. Have fun, be sassy, be innocent and sweet, be everything that you are. But just try not to be naive.”
Business: It looks like Rihanna’s former manager, Marc Jordan, was the scapegoat for last year’s career missteps. In her second management shuffle in recent years, Rihanna fired Jordan last fall and signed a management deal with Jay-Z’s high-powered Roc Nation company. She also launched her own company, Rihanna Entertainment, to oversee her ventures in music, film, fashion, fragrance and publishing.
Style: Rihanna dyed her hair red and cut it short last year. But with the big-shouldered futuristic outfits she sported on stage last summer, her look was more freaky than feminine. Not wanting to scare off any potential fans, RiRi went back to the stylistic drawing board and emerged with a luxurious mane of thick hair, still fire-engine red, and a sexy new wardrobe of designer duds. “The whole shoulder pad thing, and the architectural look, is so sharp-edged and tough,” she told Billboard magazine. “I’m over that. I like floral prints now, which I never liked.”
Media saturation: If there’s a red carpet, chances are good that Rihanna will be on it. She’s appeared at the Billboard Music Awards, the Brit Awards, the Grammy Awards and even the Country Music Awards. She got the most mileage out of the Grammys, where she wore a stunning, see-through Jean Paul Gaultier gown on the red carpet. Her song, Only Girl, earned the Grammy for best dance recording, plus she heated up the telecast by performing with Drake and Eminem. Rihanna has also been on the covers of recent issues of Vogue and Rolling Stone, appeared on American Idol and the Today Show and was featured in a Nivea television ad. Oh, and she launched her own line of perfume, Reb’l Fleur, earlier this year. And she’s no slouch at social media: Rihanna is active on Twitter, with more than 5 million followers, along with 36 million Facebook fans.