Intervjuer Musikk R&B Sakprosa

Den opprørske Rihanna

Rihanna er tilbake i Norge, og kommer med sin «Diamonds World Tour» til Telenor Arena torsdag 25. juli og Koengen i Bergen fredag 26. juli.

Da passer det jo bra å legge ut hele 2012-intervjuet mitt med Rihanna-biografen Chloe Govan, som ga ut den gode boka Rihanna: Rebel Flower i 2011. Mer om Rihanna her og her.

ØH: A big question: What do you think are the main reasons Rihanna climbed so rapidly to the top? Because she was only one of many promising newcomers when she released her first singles.

CG: Rihanna’s exotic look and sound, combining Caribbean reggae rhythms with American pop, instantly set her apart as different. However, the biggest factor of all in her breakout success was extremely hard work. Within a month of the release of her first album, she was back in the studio recording a second one – a speed almost unheard of for a pop artist – and that’s a pattern that’s continued throughout her career.

By day, she’d spend hours perfecting her dance routines, rehearsing her vocals and promoting her music, after which there’d be a concert and then by midnight while others were sleeping or out partying, she’d hit the recording studio. She wanted to prove she wasn’t a one-hit wonder.

Seeing her father’s life self-destruct through crack cocaine addiction also gave Rihanna wisdom beyond her years – she knew that, like him, if she got caught up in a drug-fuelled lifestyle, she could lose everything. This meant that while her rivals became complacent and fell prey to rock ‘n’ roll living at the expense of their careers, Rihanna remained the same desperately ambitious girl she’d been back in Barbados pre-fame, hungry to succeed. Her mentor Jay-Z’s biggest advice was to remain humble and never take anything for granted – and she took notice. While Rihanna is always seen on the social circuit and she plays and parties hard, she works equally hard – and while she dabbles in soft drugs, the only one she’s addicted to is success.

ØH: Rihanna is surrounded by an enormous team of producers, songwriters, musicians, record company people, managers, etc. Who have been the most important people in her career, and how much control do you think she has of her music and image?

CG: Evan Rogers, the producer who first discovered her, played a huge part in launching her career. Before she met him, her only musical experience had been singing Mariah Carey songs in her school lunchbreaks, but within months of her fateful meeting, she’d moved in with him and his wife and started a new life in America.

It was an enormous leap of faith for both of them – Rihanna had to adjust to a new country and culture and Evan was taking a risk that America would see her star potential as much as he did. Fortunately Jay-Z was just as keen, and the rest is history. Since then her entourage has only grown, but over time she’s developed a voice for her own, so it’s her vision that the team is working to achieve.

ØH: How important was it that Rihanna was one of Jay-Z’s first signings as Def Jam president?

CG: Very. I think Jay-Z was at a stage in his career when he was ready to invest a lot of time and resources into developing the next big thing and his years of experience in the industry as a recording artist himself meant he had lots of good advice to offer her. The timing was good all round.

ØH: How has Rihanna’s bajan background formed her as an artist? Since Barbados in many ways is a more conservative society than USA, do you see some sort of rebellion against her cultural background in her career?

CG: Rebellion has been in Rihanna’s blood from day one. At home on the island, women dressed modestly and life was centred around family and the church. Yet even in her early teens, Rihanna was rebelling against the status quo. She was partying in nightclubs underage, regularly drinking alcohol as early as 13 and was a love cheat by 14, breaking her boyfriend’s heart.

Even becoming a singer was an act of rebellion because where she grew up, the music scene was almost entirely dominated by men – but Barbados hadn’t reckoned on someone like Rihanna. Even her early music symbolised rebellion. It was full of calypso and soca rhythms, the same sounds that disenchanted slaves had used in colonial times to spark off an uprising against their masters.

The church strictly forbade locals to listen to these rhythms and yet now Rihanna was on stage singing and dirty-dancing to them. Inciting Barbadians’ fury even further, one backless swimsuit she wore with jeans on the beach caused three weeks of disapproving local media coverage. The public condemnation upset Rihanna, but she realised that these were the consequences of being a free spirit.

ØH: Speaking of rebellion, you describe the moment when she decides to cut her hair short as symbolic for her getting a hand on the steering wheel. Is this the start of her taking control?

CG: Definitely. Before her image overhaul, she couldn’t shake off comparisons to Jay-Z’s wife Beyoncé, and accusations that she was a poor imitation of other singers. She wanted to stand out in the crowd instead of living in more established artists’ shadows. To her, beauty was boring and long, flowing hair was something every female singer had – so she chopped off her looks, ditched the «cliché» reggae rhythms and prepared to be a «good girl gone bad», someone who took control of her own destiny. The edgier, more aggressive look on the outside was symbolic of exactly how she felt underneath.

ØH: The violent breakup of Rihanna’s relationship with Chris Brown was a tragedy, and will stick with her for a long time. Seen from the outside it seems like she manage to lay it behind her in record time, and continued with her career. But what kind of consequences do you think the relationship has had in the long run?

CG: The problem is that Rihanna grew up in an abusive household where her father regularly beat her mother so, according to psychological theory, violence will seem normal and familiar and she’ll subconsciously be drawn to relationships with men who mirror her own father’s behaviour.

That’s what we’ve seen with her forgiveness of Chris Brown and recording two duets with him and the rumours that they are romantically involved again. Shcokingly, Rihanna has even said that she finds herself sexually aroused by violence but, more likely, this is her way of attempting to appear in control of what happened to her – she doesn’t want to be seen as the victim. In the long term, I think we’ll say goodbye to the innocent, vulnerable Rihanna permanently – she has her guard up now as a defense against getting hurt again.

ØH: Does Rihanna represent something new in the world of pop, in the way that she effortlessly combines element of pop, r&b, hip-hop, rock and techno? Which artists are her most important followers?

CG: When Rihanna first hit the airwaves, I think many artists were afraid to branch out into different genres in case they alienated their code audience. Yet Rihanna has combined classic reggae, where an exaggerated version of her Caribbean accent takes centre stage, with genres like rock, pop, dance and hip-hop and has been constistently popular with everything she’s tried.

Her courage has paved the way for other cross-over artists such as Nicki Minaj and, of course, Jay-Z’s new protege Rita Ora.

ØH: Rihanna has released six albums in seven years, and is still only 24 years old. What do you think she will do in the next five years, will she be concentrating on music or branch into movies and other ventures?

CG: Rihanna’s first love will always be music – but as she enjoys the freedom of exploring different roles, I think she’ll keep acting as a sideline. I can also envisage her starting a fashion line. She’s turned down previous deals because they didn’t offer her enough creative control over the products so whenn she does make the leap into the fashion world, i’m sure it’ll be on her own terms.

ØH: In the last couple of weeks Rihanna has courted controversy many times, with risky pictures and messages on Facebook and Twitter, flirting with everything from dope smoking and lesbianism. Do you think she wants to be seen as controversial, dangerous?

CG: Rihanna doesn’t have to try too hard to invite controversy – it flows  from her blood! While some managers might try to manufacture a colourful risque image for their artists to keep them in the headlines, Rihanna manages that effortlessly just by living her every-day life.

Sometimes she’s nonchalant – she posts her holiday album full of topless pictures as if it was the most natural thing in the world, or she’ll roll a joint in public on her minder’s head as if she’s oblivious to the watching world around her. Most stars are self-conscious and desperate to create a oerfect, squeaky-clean air-brushed impression of themselves – but Rihanna seems confident enough to just be herself.

Av oyvindholen

Father, journalist, author, and journalist in D2/Dagens Næringsliv (www.dn.no).

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