It’s strange to think we’ve been listening to Rihanna for 10 years — but we have.
Rihanna first burst onto the scene as a Barbadian teen with some great hooks and a lot of pizzazz. But since those innocent early days, RiRi has become one of the most iconoclastic figures in all of pop music. She’s brash, funny, smoky and stocked with an unapologetic libido. And over the course of her career, she’s sold over 200 million records. That’s more than Taylor Swift, Kanye West, U2, the list goes on and on.
Rihanna is only 27, and we’re probably not even halfway through her time at the top of the industry, so it’s impressive when you consider how many stone-cold classics she’s had her name on.
Her forthcoming album, "Anti" (rumored to feature collaborations with Drake, Lady Gaga, Eminem and others), is poised for a release any day now (you know how big name artists are with surprise releases these days) so we thought it was a good time to look back on Rihanna’s career so far. Below enjoy her 20 best songs, from dancehall and ragga to EDM and Drake features.
Certainly not the best song in the Rihanna catalog. Not even close. But “Diamonds" did give us that ineffable, still-kinda-ridiculous “shine bright like a diamond” reprise.
19. “Break It Off” (with Sean Paul)
An early Rihanna joint that most people may have forgotten. “Break It Off” captures the then-freshly signed artist sharing bars with Sean Paul, who was at the top of his game back in 2005. Certainly a far cry from the world-dominating anthems RiRi would eventually author, but her early spunk still holds up.
A semi-forgotten gem from RiRi’s breakout third album, “Good Girl Gone Bad.” A gratifying mid-tempo electro-pop banger, which is the base-level as far as Rihanna songs go. And the great subject matter: The cold grip of lust by-way-of horror movie metaphor. That is how it feels like sometimes, right?
17. “Take a Bow”
Usually when Rihanna goes full ballad she strips everything back to the piano (see: “Stay”), but “Take A Bow” always came off like a forgotten TLC slow-jam. T’s a song about a bad, bad, breakup, but there’s a liberating humor here that reminds us that life goes on.
16. “FourFiveSeconds” (with Kanye West and Paul McCartney)
Kanye West’s bars are a little busted; Paul McCartney’s guitar is hollow. But Rihanna’s vocal performance on “FourFiveSeconds” is truly one of a kind. Pop stars are encouraged to play it safe, so kudos to RiRi cracking open her throat on the wordless, pained ad libs in between the verses. Will we ever see more from these sessions? Let’s hope so.
15. “Talk That Talk” (with Jay Z)
Rihanna might be the greatest hook singer in the history of hip-hop. Seriously, who can touch her? (Maybe Beyoncé?) Later on in this list we’ll talk about the show-stopping “Live Your Life,” but we shouldn’t forget 2012, when she invited long-time advocate Jay Z to drop one of his best latter-day verses on “Talk That Talk.”
“I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it” is such a pitch-perfect pop lyric it's honestly surprising that it took unitl 2010’s "Loud" for someone to put it in a Rihanna song. “S&M” is one of the kinkiest things to ever march up the charts, and it solidified RiRi as the 21st century’s preeminent sex symbol.
13. “Pour It Up”
“Pour It Up” serves as maybe the final stage of metamorphosis for Rihanna. Once a boilerplate paint-by-numbers pop star, now a gothic, chrome-plated scene queen conquering every club in the world. We’ll be hearing this song pouring out of seedy clubs till the end of time.
12. “Don’t Stop the Music”
With one healthy Michael Jackson sample and five easy words (“please don’t stop the music, please don’t stop the music”) Rihanna built the defining house jam of 2007. In fact, if it wasn’t for a certain inescapable single, “Don’t Stop the Music” would’ve been the icon from "Good Girl Gone Bad."
11. “Princess of China” (with Coldplay)
Coldplay and Rihanna sounds like an ultra-cynical industry power-play to force two unit-movers into a totally unwarranted collaboration. But luckily for us, “Princess of China” happened right at the beginning of Coldplay’s newfound EDM phase. You surround Rihanna with gorgeous, tropical synthesizers and she will always, always sound good.
10. “Live Your Life” (with T.I.)
Rihanna’s empire was built on the “aay-aay-aay-aay” hook. It’s her signature. It’s the sound we’ll associate with her for generations. “Umbrella” might be the most notable example, but for the most triumphant “aay-aay” ever came on “Live Your Life," T.I.’s last moment as a conqueror and probably RiRi’s greatest guest spot of all time.
9. “Pon De Replay”
Rihanna wasn’t nearly the outsized pop star she’d grow to be after “Pon De Replay” broke her out back in 2005. However, it’s still a great song that will forever conjure “Oh yeah! This is Rihanna, isn’t it?” on dancefloors for the end of time. Seriously, it’s the Rihanna version of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
8. “Only Girl (In the World)”
In the gelatinous monoculture of modern pop songwriting, Rihanna has kept it pretty diverse. Slow, solemn piano elegies, Jamaican ragga, she’ll touch anything. In fact, “Only Girl (In the World)” is one of the few times she’s gone full rave. Naturally, it worked out beautifully.
7. “Love the Way You Lie” (with Eminem)
The first, and superior collaboration between RiRi and Eminem was pretty much ubiquitous throughout 2010. Marshall Mathers has always brought life-or-death drama when the time was right, and he keeps the intensity stoked for Rihanna’s heartbreaking chorus. You know you’re in a bad way when this song starts making sense, and that’s what great therapeutic pop music is for.
6. “Rude Boy”
The best of Rihanna’s more ragga-influenced jams, “Rude Boy” makes its money on a worldliness that most of her compatriots simply can’t muster. It’s a fairly simplistic song, sure, but those steel drums carry us to a different planet.
5. “What’s My Name?” (with Drake)
The Rihanna/Drake crush burnt twice as bright, but only half as long, which is a shame. However, it did give us “What’s My Name?,” a silly, sexy meme of a song that will be repeated between knowing lovers for years to come. Honestly, what’s better than pretending you’re Rihanna for a few minutes?
4. “Stay” (with Mikky Ekko)
Rihanna isn’t usually this quiet, but she’s always made room for a ballad here and there. “Stay” is a song about a very peaceful love, which is pretty refreshing in the midst of the life of a pop star. And yeah, we all melt for that “something in the way you move” line.
3. “B----h Better Have My Money”
Unhinged Rihanna is peak Rihanna, and you have to love her directness here. No sex, no subtlety, just pure rage. This is the first single from her forthcoming eighth album, "Anti," and it’s already become an icon for direct deposit swag everywhere.
2. “We Found Love” (with Calvin Harris)
When all else fails, call up Calvin Harris. Say what you like about the Scottish producer, but the man knows how to create euphoria. He was the perfect partner for one of the most pining, romantic tales in the Rihanna catalog. Pop music is a sanitized craft, but the pain here is strong enough to crack through the facade.
Still the world champion. “Umbrella” went five times platinum and briefly took over the entire Universe in 2007, mostly because “-ella, -ella, -ella, ay, ay, ay, ay” made for the greatest mindless hooks in pop history. It may never let us go — there may be no escape — and that's fine.