Rihanna discusses women's rights, mac and cheese and Dior
An exclusive interview with the iconic singer
Rihanna – a.k.a Robyn Rihanna Fenty, is a force to be reckoned with. She recently lent her voice (in more ways than one) to a new animation film Home, became the first woman of colour to appear in a Dior ad campaign, signed on as partner for Jay Z's Tidal music-streaming business, sang with Paul McCartney. The list goes on. Buro 24/7 recently sat with the iconic Barbadian beauty to discuss women's rights, her ideal man, what her home country means to her, and how she created a bespoke soundtrack, and was heavily involved in the new DreamWorks animation film...
You recently worked on a DreamWorks animation film for the first time. How much do you relate to your character – Tip – in Home?
I loved it, I adore her personality, she's very brave, very fearless, very determined, but very sassy, and that's what I love about her. And I feel like I identify with a lot of those traits, especially the sass.
What were you like as teenager, were you very ambitious or rebellious?
When I first moved to America, I was very, very ambitious and I still am. My drive has always been fueled by my passion for what I do. I love being creative. So whatever outlet I can find that I love and anything I can be creative in, I just kind of hone in on. Whether it's designing or music, or now animation, I love it. And as the years have passed, my ambition has also been joined by a little bit rebellion. So that's who I am and this character, Tip is similar, but she's so grounded and it's very inspiring.
"What is the top? Because I think the top, it doesn't exist – you are never there. If you ever feel that you are on top, you only have down to go and I don't ever want to feel comfortable enough to say that."
In the movie, there's a reference to Barbados and obviously that's a huge part of you, as it's where you grew up. Would you say it has shaped who you are now?
Yes. Everything, from school life, to my home life, to my culture, you are who are and there's that foundation that has been built for sixteen years before I moved to America so no matter what, I have always stayed close to my family and my friends and people from home and I always go back home, I always try to stay close to that and never lose that. So it is a part of me and it's a part of the film and her accent and her attitude.
Can you describe your childhood; you wanted to be a singer from a very early age right?
I was so determined. I believed so much that it would happen [to become a famous singer], and it was so far from reality, it was so far from even being possible, but weirdly then it did not seem far away. Only now in hindsight do I look back and think wow! That was a really, really, really big dream for a little girl from a really little, small island. And to be able to live that, I mean, when I was younger, I watched videos and magazines, I would read magazines, I would just obsess and I would just listen to music and I mean Mariah, Celine, Whitney, Destiny's Child, those were a lot of the big voices I listened to amongst other things like reggae and hip hop. I just wanted to sing, I wanted to make music that could be heard all over the world, because these were women from all spectrums of the globe so I just, I believed that it could happen for me too.
What's the best thing about Barbados? When should people visit, and what should they see?
I would say the best time to go is either during carnival in the summer, or at Christmas time. Christmas time is beautiful, it's a little bit cooler, but it's never cold, it's always hot, always humid, but it's 79 degrees, as opposed to 90-something-degrees in the summer. But then the summertime means carnival and you have got a lot of culture, great food, the beaches are pristine – they are perfect: Blue and the sand is white. It's a tiny rock of paradise, everything, the food, the coconuts, it's great. It's perfect. If I could do what I do and still live there, I would.
And what is one unique thing that you can only find Barbados?
Flying fish. But you could find that in Trinidad too, I guess – but I mean, that's the one thing I have to get from home. That and pepper sauce, seasoning, fish cakes, there's a lot of that, even the little snacks, like chips and chocolate, I am always having my friends bring tons of it when they come over.
They say that it's lonely at the top. So can you relate to the part of the film where your character is alone and she has to reconnect with the world?
What is the top? Because I think the top, it doesn't exist – you are never there. If you ever feel that you are on top, you only have down to go and I don't ever want to feel comfortable enough to say that. But, in regards to this film and being lonely I mean, I tour for like a year at a time sometimes, and after all that time, you kind of just want something familiar and you are just on a tour bus for months and months and months, and it does get lonely and you do have this really strong connection with the fans because they become what you know for so long. So I do identify with that feeling of just being stuck. But when she's stuck there [referring to a moment in the Home film], everybody knows what it's like to close the door at night and it be silent. So it did bring me back to that moment.
What does it mean to be a strong woman in this day and age? How difficult is it?
I think women are way stronger than they know. And I think they know their strength, but sometimes they just don't feel like being strong, because you are strong so much that it's like one day, 'can I get a pass today?' But I feel like it's a really beautiful thing to see, in this day and age and my generation and I am really inspired by the strength that women have. I feel like this film is something that's going to do that for a lot of teenage girls, who need that, who need that inspiration for strength and Tip is so bold and she's so real, even in her body and the way she dresses – her hair is all free and it's not perfect, and I feel like little girls are going to feel comfortable being that way and being strong, just being themselves.
Did someone inspire you to be strong?
I think I was very blessed to be born into a family that I was born into, because my mother is so strong, my grandmother was so strong and these are women that I have always been around since I was very little, so I think I was lucky to have women like that in my life, because that's all I know.
What are your health and beauty secrets?
Well I eat tons of Mac and Cheese. (Laughs) No really I do. But I am getting back into working out and eating cleaner and I'm trying to do it little by little – because I hate vegetables, but I am learning how to incorporate them one by one into my diet and drown them with other things. I am getting better with my training and now it's album time, video time, it's time to get fit, get tight. For my face? This is Mila Morales, this is my makeup artist, I take no credit for this. I don't have a regiment, I just moisturise and use makeup wipes and drink water.
No. But I need to. Thanks for reminding me.
From the outside, you live a very glamorous life – but it's probably not always that easy right? What's the biggest misconception about you and your life, and what do you do in your down time?
When it comes to how I am at home I think that is a very big misconception (laughs). At home I just watch TV, I am so boring. I just want to watch TV and lay on the couch. But outside of that I am so spontaneous and I love to do things, I love to get out, see things and travel. The world has so much to offer that there's never enough. So I love that, I love exploring, trying new things and listening to different types of music, stuff like that. But, at home, I am boring.
Is there anything you love to watch on TV in particular?
Reality TV, that is awful I know, but movies too, and I love documentaries. And late at night, I only watch cartoons because I don't want to get scared.
If we had a chance to peek inside your jewllery box what would we find?
Anything from Claire's Accessories to high-end pieces. Literally. I wear tons of costume jewellery, and I mix it in with a little fine stuff that I love. I have a lot of cool stuff; I am more into vintage jewellery, antique jewellery.
How did it feel to do the Dior campaign?
Dior is just class. It speaks of class and timelessness. It's beauty, it's elegance, and even to be acknowledged by them – I feel very special. Not just as a woman of colour, I think that's brilliant as well, but as a woman, to be acknowledged by Dior is very special.
What does fashion mean to you?
Well I think I have a great imagination, and I love to use it to create – whether it's design, fashion, or music. With the film, my imagination was the designer, I had to design these worlds in my mind, just by these key words and key descriptions from the director, and it's like that in fashion, you do the same. You imagine it and it comes from what you feel.
And how was that experience when you were in Paris with Dior?
I mean this time it was especially memorable because I went to Versailles which is incredible, there is so much history there, and just to be there laying on the couch looking at the beautiful paintings on the ceiling – it was so surreal. Like, I literally had to tell everybody in the room like: 'we are laying in their house right now, do you know that?' It was awesome.
"late at night, I only watch cartoons because I don't want to get scared."
A woman's magazine recently asked you, if you were not a singer, what you be, and you answered 'wife'. Who is your ideal husband?
Well I mean, if he could tolerate my schedule right now, I mean, if he's man enough to do that and not get scared, because I don't have a lot of time to offer for a man right now! So I don't even know, it's not even fair to pull anybody into this right now, so he would have to be willing to tolerate my schedule...
How do you see yourself? What makes you happy and brings out the sweet little girl, and what brings out the lioness fighter in you?
I do have both sides to me and I think most women do, they are strong but they are very vulnerable as well, and for me, I get very fierce and passionate about my career, about my family and the things that make me become a little girl? I love balloons, they definitely bring out the little girl in me.
How did you react to the photos of the woman who tattooed your face on her body recently?
You know what? I met her awhile ago and she asked me to sign her arm and I signed it and the next day I saw it again, because she had it tattooed. And that was years ago. I hadn't seen her much since then, but fast forward and this was the update! So I guess she just never stopped.
Did you think it was funny, or creepy? Or inspiring?
I mean, I wouldn't do it, but it's not me...
Would you consider acting again?
I'd love to do some more acting, if I have the time. But I did love the experience of doing animation, it was really different from doing something like Battleship and I almost feel like I want to do animation again, especially with Tim [Johnson] again, the director. I think he is so incredible and it almost makes me nervous to do it with anybody else because he's such a great director and that's the thing that made this work for me, because I knew nothing. I knew nothing about this process, I knew nothing about animating, I knew nothing about voicing a character, and he was really able to help me put these scenarios and picture these atmospheres and it helped a lot, it was the only way I got through it.
Lets talk about the songs that you contributed to the Home soundtrack – what inspired you with that process?
I specifically wanted the soundtrack to be a mixture of lighthearted fun and raw emotion. And I wanted the fans to feel a little bit of vulnerability, the kids, because it was real, and I wanted them to be connected and kids have – as do humans in general – a way of connecting a certain emotion to music. And we were very careful about the way we played the songs and even the songs that we came up with, they were so carefully placed within the film throughout, to convey those emotions that we wanted people to feel in those moments. So when it was fun, it was a dance party, when it was scary or thrilling, we had this incredible beat that was just...It was actually a beat that I had for my album that I wanted to keep, but it was so perfect for the film it drove that moment. Then there was this really sad moment close to the end, when you almost feel alone in that moment, from the second the song cues, you already just trigger into it [the emotion]. I cried, I cried at stick figures, way before it was animated and it was just perfect and I felt like the emotions are connected to each record, certain ones.
In terms of women's rights, which are closest to your heart?
That's a little tricky because I see women having a lot of strength and that's the thing I love most about women: Their strength. And I believe anything is possible, I believe we have come this far and there's so much scope for where we can go, and the more we respect ourselves, the more men will respect us, and I think it's all about giving and caring and loving each other. But, the children, there are a lot of people who need help, there are a lot of sick people, and there are a lot of sick kids, helpless kids. They are the future and if they have no help, that's the thing I want to focus on...
How much do you feel that your image as a singer and performer has changed over the years?
I feel like my image evolves as I evolve as a woman. With growth, there's change and things change. My style is a reflection of my mood, my attitude wherever I am at and you can see how it's evolved since the beginning of my career and even with the videos – style is a huge part of that attitude, the visuals, of what I have to say, and who I am.