The Rihanna Essentials: 15 Singles To Celebrate The Singer's Endless Pop Reign
Upon the release of "Lift Me Up" — Rihanna's first solo single in more than six years — GRAMMY.com rounds up 15 tracks that showcase her vocal prowess and bad gal energy.
Over the past five years, Rihanna has built a booming business portfolio — and reported $1.7 billion empire — that includes beauty, skin and lingerie/loungewear companies. Meanwhile, the singer, born Robyn Fenty, left fans eagerly waiting for new music — and the wait is finally over.
"Lift Me Up," Rihanna's first solo single in six years, arrived on Oct. 28, just two days after she erupted the internet with the announcement of her return. The song is the lead single to the also highly anticipated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, and focuses on a universal need for love and tenderness.
With the new song and plans to perform the halftime show at the 2023 Super Bowl, it's natural to wonder what else may be on the way. In the meantime, take a look back at 15 essential singles that showcase RIhanna's growth, versatility and impact on popular music — and get ready for the next Rihanna era.
Listen to all of the songs in GRAMMY.com's Rihanna Essentials Playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music, powered by GRAMMY U.
"Pon de Replay" (2005)
Rihanna's debut single offers a good-girl twist on dancehall pop as she implores the DJ to rewind her favorite song. According to The Guardian, when she was 16, Rihanna signed a deal with New York City's Syndicated Rhythm Productions (SRP). Founders Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers put the song on a demo with her that attracted the attention of Jay-Z and music executive L.A. Reid. After she auditioned in person, she was signed to Def Jam in a joint deal with SRP.
"Pon de Replay" hit no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 within two months of its release — not bad for a first outing!
Her epic collaboration with Jay-Z and producers Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, "Umbrella" consciously traded her good-girl image for something more mature. A song about enduring friendship that lasts a lifetime, "Umbrella" put her onto a new pop music playing field with the forever stars, sitting atop the Hot 100 for 7 weeks and topping charts around the globe. "Umbrella" also earned Rihanna her first GRAMMY, winning the award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2008.
"Don't Stop The Music" (2007)
The GRAMMY-nominated "Don't Stop The Music" carries on an iconic pop hook, the "mama say mama sa mama coosa" refrain from Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" that was popularized in Michael Jackson's 1982 smash "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." "Don't Stop The Music" earned RIhanna her fifth No. 1 on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart (as of press time, she has 33 to date) and signaled that the music was indeed not going to stop for her — and neither were the hits.
Atlanta rapper Jeezy guest stars on Rihanna's second single from her fourth album, Rated R. An empowerment anthem for herself and others, she set her music and business destiny with the line, "Tougher than a lion, ain't no need in tryin'/ I live where the sky ends, yup, you know this."
"Rude Boy" (2009)
One of Rihanna's many dancehall-inspired singles, "Rude Boy" is her most successful solo chart hit to date, notching five weeks atop the Hot 100. A cheeky poke at silly dating situations and pick-up lines, the fun bravado of "Rude Boy" dares men to see if they're "big enough" for her.
"Love The Way You Lie" (2010)
Eminem recruited Rihanna to collaborate on his relatable song about being trapped in lust with someone who isn't exactly the most truthful, and its message connected with listeners around the world. "Love The Way You Lie" gave Rihanna another No. 1, but more prominently, her first certified Diamond single — and her only to date. As of press time, the song has sold more than 13 million copies.
"Only Girl (in the World)" (2010)
Even 12 years after its release, "Only Girl (in the World)" still has the power to propel dance floors with its insistent beat. The way Rihanna belts out her high-octave chorus remains one of the strongest vocal displays in her catalog. It's also seemingly a critical favorite, as the song was the first solo song to win Rihanna a GRAMMY. (To date, Rihanna has won 9 GRAMMYs and has received 33 nominations overall. All but two of her wins are for collaborations.)
"Man Down" (2010)
Rihanna is all guns blazing on this chillingly murderous reggae single from Loud. Its deadly metaphor for breaking a man's heart is a striking display of Rihanna's confident songwriting, one of two reasons why the song is important to the singer herself. "It's a very cleverly written song, and what I love about it is that it's not a lyric you'd normally hear a female singing," Rihanna told Spin in 2010. "The vibe is Jamaican and West Indian. That's something that's close to me."
"We Found Love" (2011)
With its frenetic electronic beats, relentless treble and big breakdowns, Rihanna captured the EDM zeitgeist with "We Found Love" and earned herself another otherworldly smash hit. It remains her longest-running No. 1 on the Hot 100, topping the chart for 10 weeks in 2011. The heady, pilled-and-thrilled music festival vibe of the music video helped score Rihanna and Calvin Harris a GRAMMY Award for Best Music Video in 2013.
One of Rihanna's all-time calling cards, "Diamonds" was created with the help of Australian artist (and co-writer) Sia and power producers Stargate and Benny Blanco. But it's Rihanna's dynamic vocal performance that makes the song particularly special. "Diamonds" topped charts all over the world, including the Billboard Hot 100.
Nashville artist Mikky Ekko co-wrote and dueted on the slow burner "Stay," one of Rihanna's more poignant duets. The song's spare instrumentation highlights the vulnerable beauty of her voice and emotive range, a special highlight in a discography laden with layered digital beats and dance-floor anthems. Rihanna and Ekko performed the song live at the 55th GRAMMY Awards in 2013, where it was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
"B— Better Have My Money" (2015)
Rihanna channels the soul of rapper AMG's 1991 gangster rap classic "B— Better Have My Money" into a viral smash. The trap beats touched on the hip-hop inspired sounds of her 2012 album, Unapologetic, further expanding her rather dance-forward discography — and showing that, as she stated in 2009, she goes hard.
Five years after Drake recruited Rihanna for the title track to his 2011 album Take Care, she invited him to collaborate on the lead single for her 2016 LP, Anti — and the reignited partnership proved to be massive. "Work" became Rihanna's 14th No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and made her the only artist to have seven consecutive albums score a Hot 100 chart-topper. What's more, it served as another opportunity for the Barbados-born singer to tap into her Caribbean roots — and arguably reinvigorated dancehall as a whole.
"Love On the Brain" (2016)
Rihanna's infatuation-drenched doo-wop ditty is a slow burner, but a wowing performance that puts her voice on display. While Anti cut "Higher" also does that, the polished beauty of "Love On The Brain" made it a perfect final single from the album — and a lovely cliffhanger for Rihanna's musical absence.
"Lift Me Up" (2022)
Rihanna made her triumphant return to music in sophisticated fashion. "Lift Me Up" marks RIhanna's first solo single in six years. The tender track features subtle production, allowing Rihanna's voice to shine, and offering a stunning declaration that she's back.
As some fans noted on Twitter, "Lift Me Up" shows that Rihanna may be on an even bigger level in this next era. "The maturity in Rihanna's voice whew LORD," one fan reacted. Another echoed, "Six years away from solo material done took her ballading to a new level.
Whatever comes next, one thing remains clear: that Rihanna reign just won't let up.
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Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images
8 Artists Who Were Inspired By Their Teachers: Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z & More
In honor of Music In Our Schools Month this March, take a look at how teachers made a heartwarming impact on superstars like Katy Perry and John Legend.
Before Rihanna, Billy Joel and Jay-Z became some of the biggest names in music, they were students just like the rest of us. Without some particularly special teachers, they might not be the superstars they are today, and they all remember who first encouraged them.
Within the past few years, Rihanna made a special trip to a cricket match in England to reunite with her old P.E. teacher from Barbados, who she calls her "MVP"; Joel traveled back to his New York hometown to honor the teacher who said he should be a professional musician; and Jay-Z told David Letterman that his sixth grade English teacher made him fall in love with words.
In honor of Music In Our Schools Month — which raises awareness for supporting and cultivating worthwhile music programs in K-12 — GRAMMY.com highlights eight artists who have praised their teachers for making a lifelong impact.
After watching Joel tackle Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, his high school music appreciation teacher Chuck Arnold suggested that he consider music as a career.
"He said to me, you should be a professional musician," Joel recalled of his Hicksville High School mentor during a 1996 event at C.W. Post College. "Now, for a teacher to say that, it's like condemning someone to a life of poverty, drug taking, alcoholism and failure.
"A teacher is telling me this," he added seriously. "It had a huge influence on me."
In 2022, Joel was on hand to congratulate Arnold during the dedication of the Charles "Chuck" Arnold Theatre at the school. "This is for the coolest teacher there ever was," he praised.
.@CBSSunday surprised Lizzo with her high school band director, who encouraged her to apply herself when she was learning to play the flute — and her reaction was priceless: “Wow, I did it, didn't I?” https://t.co/dwffNvYzpb pic.twitter.com/xp5kDK5pWB— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 6, 2019
In 2019, CBS Sunday arranged a surprise visit with the singer and Manny Gonzales, the former band director at her alma mater, Elsik High School in Houston. She told the network that Gonzales helped her get a scholarship to study classical flute at University of Houston.
"You told my ass!" Lizzo exclaimed as she squeezed him. "You were like, 'Get it together, girl, 'cause you are special. Apply yourself!' Those moments meant so much to me."
The Atlanta DJ/producer and king of crunk has done more than take parties to the next level — he has invested in the educational future of children in Africa by building two schools in Ghana with the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise. He credits a mentor at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta for sparking his brain when he was a teenager.
"It was my music teacher [who inspired me to dream bigger]," he said in a 2019 interview with Yahoo! "I wanted to play drums, and if I didn't play drums, I wouldn't make music, and drums are the foundation for what I do."
Roddy Estwick was Rihanna's P.E. teacher in Barbados and is now the assistant coach of the West Indies cricket team. The two had an emotional reunion at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England.
"He made a lasting impact on my life and he really offered great advice to me and many others when we were at school at Combermere," she told Barbados Today amid their reunion. "I just wanted to let everyone know what he meant to me in my development and what he did for us back at school in Barbados." Essence reported that Rihanna described him as, "My mentor, my champ, my MVP" on her Instagram stories.
The Ohio native credits his English teacher Mrs. Bodey at North High School in Springfield for setting him on the path that culminated in his music career.
"Until her class, I hadn't believed in my ability as a writer," Legend shared in a 2017 op-ed for Huffington Post. "She recognized my potential and showed me that I could write with creativity, with clarity, with passion."
He continued, "Mrs. Bodey, along with a few other teachers, helped me gain confidence in my skills and pushed me to challenge myself. They pushed me to graduate second in my class. They pushed me to deliver the speech at our graduation. They pushed me to earn a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, to hone my writing as an English Major and, ultimately, toward a successful career as a songwriter."
The singer was reunited with the most pivotal teacher in her life during her "An Audience with Adele" concert special in 2021. While the singer took questions from the crowd, actress Emma Thompson asked Adele if she had a supporter or protector in the past.
"I had a teacher at [south London high school] Chestnut Grove, who taught me English. That was Miss McDonald," Adele said. "She got me really into English literature. Like, I've always been obsessed with English and obviously now I write lyrics… She really made us care, and we knew that she cared about us."
Miss McDonald then surprised Adele on stage, and the singer was brought to tears — a touching highlight of the special. She even told her former teacher that she still has the books from her class!
While Perry has admitted that she wishes she had a better overall education, her former music school teacher gave her confidence to pursue singing seriously.
"I'm kind of bummed at this stage that I didn't have a great education because I could really use that these days," she said in a 2014 interview with Yahoo! "There was a teacher named Agatha Danoff who was my vocal teacher and music teacher at the Music Academy of the West. It was very fancy and I didn't come from any money… and she always used to give me a break on my lessons. I owe her a lot of credit and I appreciate that she looked out for me when I didn't have enough money to pay."
Picture a young Shawn Carter — now better known as Jay-Z — with his head stuck in a dictionary.
"I had a sixth grade teacher, her name was Ms. Lowden and I just loved the class so much," Jay-Z said during his appearance on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman in 2018.
He later realized how much Renee Rosenblum-Lowden, who taught him at Intermediate School 318 in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, had an influence on his passion for language. "Like, reading the dictionary and just my love of words," he explained. "I just connected with her."
"I knew he was extremely bright, but he was quiet," Rosenblum-Lowden told Brut in 2019, sharing that he scored at the 12th-grade level on a sixth-grade reading test.
"He's been very kind," she added. "Every famous person has a teacher who probably influenced them, and I wish they would all shout out the way Jay-Z did."
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Rihanna Offers Inspiring Performance Of 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Song "Lift Me Up" At 2023 Oscars
Following her Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, Rihanna continues her 2023 comeback with another televised performance — this time, of "Lift Me Up" from 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' at the 2023 Oscars.
Rihanna shone with soft glory at the 2023 Oscars tonight with her lustrous performance of "Lift Me Up," the Oscar-nominated song from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
"Lift Me Up" is Rihanna's first Oscar nomination, and other collaborators on the track include Tems, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Göransson. Göransson composed the original film's score alongside Kendrick Lamar.
Other nominees in the Best Original Song category are “Applause” from Tell It like a Woman (Diane Warren), “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick (Lady Gaga, BloodPop), “Naatu Naatu” from RRR (M.M. Keeravaani, Chandrabose), and “This Is A Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once (Ryan Lott, David Byrne, Mitski).
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also received nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Ruth E. Carter made history as the first Black woman to win two Oscars, winning for Best Costume Design this year and in 2019 (for the original Black Panther).
The performance comes after the nine-time GRAMMY winner's spectacular Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, which marked her first live performance in seven years (and made for one iconic baby bump reveal).
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Photos (L-R, clockwise): Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ACM, Terry Wyatt/Getty Images
Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
Who run the world? Harness positive energy during Women's History Month with this immersive playlist honoring Beyoncé, Rina Sawayama, Kim Petras, and more female musicians.
In the words of recent GRAMMY winner Lizzo, it's bad b— o'clock. To kick off Women's History Month, GRAMMY.com is celebrating with an extensive playlist spotlighting women's divine musical artistry. Perpetually shaping, reinvigorating, and expanding genres, women's creative passion drives the music industry forward.
This March, get ready to unlock self-love with Miley Cyrus' candid "Flowers," or hit the dancefloor with the rapturous Beyoncé's "I'm That Girl." Whether you're searching for the charisma of Doja Cat's "Woman" or confidence of Rihanna's "B— Better Have My Money," this playlist stuns with diverse songs honoring women's fearlessness and innovation.
Women dominate the music charts throughout the year, but this month, dive into their glorious energy by pressing play on our curated Women's History Month playlist, featuring everyone from Dua Lipa to Missy Elliott to Madonna to Kali Uchis.
Listen below on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Watch: 6 Thrilling Moments From Rihanna’s Triumphant Return With Performance At Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show
At the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, Rihanna ran through her catalog of hits and successfully reasserted her status as an inimitable R&B superstar.
After seven years, nine-time GRAMMY winner Rihanna made her triumphant return to the stage by taking over one of the biggest platforms in the world: the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show.
Over the course of 13 minutes, the Fenty Beauty mogul ran through her catalog of hits and successfully reasserted her status as an inimitable R&B superstar. At turns soaring and swaggering, Rihanna’s show was a display of unabashed confidence and a steadfast reminder that even after more than half a decade away, pop remains the province of Barbados’ first love.
Ahead of the show, the hitmaker-turned-billionaire opened up regarding her initial hesitation about hitting the stage — just a few months after having her first child with A$AP Rocky.
"When I first got the call to do it again this year, I was like, 'You sure?' I'm three months postpartum. Should I be making major decisions like this right now? I might regret this," she told Apple Music.
"But when you become a mom, there's something that just happens where you feel like you can take on the world," the singer continued. "The Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages in the world, so as scary as that was because I haven't been on stage in seven years, there's something exhilarating about the challenge of it all."
Below, GRAMMY.com rounded up the five biggest and most thrilling moments from RiRi's Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Ballin’ Bigger Than LeBron
Forgoing a grand entrance, Rihanna began her set suspended high above the field at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium. And in a bit of a surprise, she opened not with one of her 14 No. 1 hits, but with 2015’s "Bitch Better Have My Money."
"Ballin' bigger than LeBron/ B—, give me your money," she demanded at the top of the show, reminding the world of her innate greatness.
Only Girl In The World
While many a Super Bowl Halftime Show performer before her has trotted out a surprise guest or two — Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, anyone? — the superstar held the spotlight all by herself.
Even on typically star-studded singles like "Wild Thoughts" and "Run This Town," she opted to strut down the giant runway without any help from collaborators DJ Khaled, Bryson Tiller, Jay-Z, or Kanye West.
That’s How Rih Balls Out
Introduced with a snippet of Talk That Talk favorite "Birthday Cake," Rihanna segued seamlessly into the sexually charged Unapologetic strip-club banger "Pour It Up."
Just a few months postpartum, the Oscar nominee made it clear she’d never loosened her grasp on her sexuality, getting freaky as her army — or navy, rather — of white-clad backup dancers scissor-kicked, leaped and twerked along with her.
Highlight Of My Life, Just Like That Fenty Beauty Kick
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rihanna performance without a nod to her ultra-successful makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, would it?
The mogul certainly knew how to sneak her oh-so-subtle product placement into the show, touching up her makeup with a compact as her dancers rushed the field to what was certainly the biggest surprise of the setlist — Kanye’s 2010 smash "All Of the Lights."
Shine Bright Like A Diamond
Donning a floor-length Alaïa coat and gloves to match her sexy all-red ensemble, RiRi once again took to the sky for her grand finale.
Isolated on her own platform with just a mic stand, the nine-time GRAMMY winner launched into two of her biggest hits: 2007’s "Umbrella" followed by 2012’s "Diamonds."
The back-to-back songs were nothing short of chill-inducing. "Find light in the beautiful sea/ I choose to be happy," Rihanna declared against a backdrop of twinkling lights from the stands and a sky filled with fireworks.
That Legendary Baby Bump Reveal
Rihanna may have just given birth to her first child, a boy, last May, but fans started speculating online that the singer maybe, just maybe, might be with child again during her set. Only after she left the field did her representative confirm to The Hollywood Reporter that Rih is officially expecting her second child with A$AP Rocky. Which, yes, means she performed that entire, effortlessly iconic Super Bowl Halftime Show while pregnant.
The Rihanna Essentials: 15 Singles To Celebrate The Singer's Endless Pop Reign