At just 19 years old, Rihanna has already released three records (her latest, Good Girl Gone Bad came out on June 5), and has seen her hot summer song ”Umbrella” top various charts and set a record for single-day digital downloads. She’s two years shy of being able to legally order a drink at a bar in her new hometown, Los Angeles, but this young artist has most certainly arrived. Here, Rihanna (born Robyn Rihanna Fenty) talks about where she gets her strict work ethic, what it’s like working with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, and how she is received back home in Barbados.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where do you get all this ambition and drive?
RIHANNA: My mom is very ambitious. She was a workaholic. If she took a week off from work, she got so miserable at home. She was like, ”Robyn, I have to do something. I have to do something.” She would just go to my aunt’s store to help her work, just because she couldn’t sit still. And when I get an off day I do the same thing: I wake up early, I have to go out, I have to go shopping, I have to walk around, I cannot sleep late. Usually, I would be able to take a late day, especially in the studio, working all night, you can sleep late. But now, I am up super early.
With everything you have going on, usually people want to take some time off between an album or a movie or whatever just to rejuvenate and re-energize. How do you keep the momentum going from one project to another nonstop?
I think for several reasons. One is because I’m young and I can’t — honestly, when I take a break I get really fidgety and restless and I wanna get back to work. That has a lot to do with my youth. Younger people are usually very restless and can’t keep quiet. But also, I am very passionate about what I do. I love making music. I love the process of it. And every time, I like to switch it up a little bit and make it different. This time, I’ve been able to change it up completely and show people my growth and really reveal myself to people.
Going into your new CD, did you feel pressure to make a great album rather than a few great singles?
This time around, I just wanted to make an album that people could listen to from beginning to end without skipping any because it’s always a waste of time me going to the studio to record a song and then people skip it. When I buy an album I hate when I have to skip songs and I just have two songs to listen to. Brandy’s Afrodisiac album really helped to inspire that as well, because that album I listen to all day, all night. When I was in the studio that was the album that I listened to all the time and I really admired that every song was a great song. You could listen to the entire album. And I was like, ”You know what? I have to make an album like this.”
What was it like working with Justin Timberlake?
It was very great. [Laughs] It was fantastic because he’s such a cool guy. You know, he’s Justin Timberlake! And he’s still cool and chill. He’s fun, but he’s very serious about his work. And Timbaland — they just have a blast in the studio. I had a great time with them.
How did you hook up with Justin?
Well, Timbaland was on tour with Justin and we had to follow Timbaland, really. So we went to Chicago first and one night after the show, Justin just came into the studio and he started messing around, making a beat. And it was fun. We played around with that one, too. And when we came to New York, Justin came back to the studio and he was like, ”I wanna write this song for Rihanna.” So Timbaland had an idea and he knew he wanted to call the song ”Rehab” and he had a beat. So then Justin Timberlake came in and he just put his thing on it. He wrote the song in his head. He didn’t write anything on paper. He went into the booth and sang it and I was very, very impressed. We all loved it.
Can you tell me what that song’s about?
”Rehab” is a metaphorical song. Rehab really just means we have to get over the guy. So we talk about checking ourselves into rehab, meaning we have to get over him. And we compare the guy to a disease or an addiction. We’re just saying, ”We don’t wanna smoke any cigarettes no more,” meaning we don’t wanna deal with this BS anymore.
Lots of ’80s-pop influences on your new CD. Where does that influence come from? Are you a fan of ’80s pop?
I have to say when I was younger, I never used to [listen to it] because I wasn’t very exposed to it, but as I grow older, I want to know more about music. I want to discover more types of music that I wasn’t really exposed to. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Even on this album, you can hear little, little things from the ’80s.
Did you write any songs on your new CD?
Would you like to get into songwriting in the future?
I love songwriting, but if the song is great, I just leave it. I’m not one of those people who’s like, ”I have to have a publishing credit!” It’s not about that; it’s about making great music.
Have you found your true sound with your new CD or do you think you’ll continue to try different things in the future?
You know what? I think that when artists do albums, it should be an expression of them. I’m a growing person so you never know what’s gonna come out next time. This is an expression of how I feel right now. If this is still how I feel next album, then my sound is gonna remain very similar. But I like to experiment, I like to take risks, and I like to do different things every time. So I’ll switch it up every time just making it better each time.
With regard to the title of your new CD, is there a darker side of you that we haven’t seen?
Good Girl Gone Bad was an expression of where I am at this point in my life, where I am in my career. It just represents my rebelliousness. I got really rebellious because I was being forced into a particular innocent image and I just had to break away from that…. I think every teenager just has a point in their life when they just get rebellious. They go into their own world, they shut everybody’s opinion out, and they don’t care. That’s when they stick to what they want and that’s what I’m doing right now.
What you’re doing now — shedding your innocent good girl image by adopting a sexier look and edgier sound — we’ve seen before with Janet, Britney, and Christina. What, if any, is the difference between you and them? Do you view them as examples of what not to do?
It’s very important for me to show people who I am because fans can connect with me more. And when people see the video [for ”Umbrella”] the first thing they say is that I got sexier, and I wasn’t even thinking about that. Everything I wore is a reflection of how I felt, a reflection of where I am right now. And even the part in the video when I’m painted silver, people really talk about that, and I wasn’t even thinking about being naked, I was looking at the visual. It’s more artistic for me. So it’s definitely showing people me more than trying to look sexy.
Did you think back to how Madonna, Janet, and Britney made this transformation as while were plotting your own?
This album is not really something that I decided to do. I decided in myself that I’m just gonna do whatever I feel like. And it just came naturally. I didn’t say, ”I’m gonna put this on. It’s gonna be very sexy. It’s gonna be dark.” I didn’t really think about these things. So everything you see me doing right now, I didn’t pull inspiration from anybody that I’ve seen before. This is all me. It’s something that I just feel like doing. And what you get is exactly me.
What’s it like when you go back to visit Barbados these days? Do you still have a lot of friends there? Are people mostly happy for you or do you get hated on a lot?
A lot of them hate me, but a lot of them love me. I don’t really let the ones that hate me stop me from doing what I wanna do. They always have something to say about what I’m wearing, what I’m not wearing, like in the ”Umbrella” video. If I wear a swimsuit to the beach, it’s a problem, they put it on the front of the newspaper and call into programs. It really annoys me when people that I try to represent and I try to put them on the map as much as I can — you know, I didn’t have to put Tridents in my videos.
Put what in your videos?
Trident, which is the symbol of the flag. I didn’t have to talk about them. I didn’t have to even mention that I’m from Barbados. But I do and people kind of take it for granted. They hate me. They talk s— about me all the time. But I’m like, ”Whatever. I’m still doing this cause I love to do it and you’re not going to stop me.” p>What new artists from the Caribbean are you feeling right now?
I love Collie Buddz, Vibes Cartel. Sean Paul, of course, is the man.
What do you like to do during your off time? Do you like to party? Are you a big club girl?
I love to party! That’s part of my culture. I’m from Barbados. We love to dance. We love to listen to music and just get crazy. I actually don’t even do it because I don’t have time and I’m underage. But when I go to Europe, I’m of age there so I go out and I have a blast.
Do you have any plans to take time off soon so you can settle into your new crib in L.A. and just live life?
After this album, after my schedule dies down a little bit, I’m gonna get into movies… I would like to act in an action movie or a comedy.
Do you ever feel like you’re growing up too fast?
I don’t think I’m growing up too fast. That can definitely happen, but I’m still a kid at heart, sometimes. I feel like an adult and my actions are very mature, but I still love to have fun, I still love to crack jokes and play pranks on people and just enjoy myself as a kid.