In a world of phonies, Rihanna is the realest. How she manages this, we may never know.
As I’m writing this, there are members of the Rihanna Navy lined up on the sidewalk outside the Macy’s in downtown Brooklyn. They’re waiting for Rihanna to appear and perform at the unveiling of her seventh perfume, RiRi, on Monday. That’s in three days. They’ve been there since 6 a.m. Plenty of time to wonder what she’ll wear. What she’ll say.
I get it. I’ve waited for Rihanna too. In fact, I’m waiting for her right now. The whole deal with this cover story was that she wouldn’t grant us any facetime, or phone time, but agreed to answer five questions over email.
Thing is, I knew she could go ghost. Not just because she can, which she can. Not just because of Beyoncé’s recent Vogue September issue cover story, where Pulitzer-prize winner Margo Jefferson wrote a killer writearound with zero involvement or comment from Bey’s camp. But because I’ve been in exactly this position before—seven times, actually, if you count each leg of Rihanna’s 777 Tour in 2012.
From Mexico City to Berlin and Toronto to Stockholm, I’ve waited for Rihanna. Once, I waited on the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle airport for three hours because she wasn’t quite finished shopping for lingerie at Chantal Thomas. After which she stopped at La Perla, another very nice underwear store. This was documented on Rihanna’s Instagram, and Just Jared’s. I think she ran into Puffy at La Perla.
At the time I—along with 140 other journalists, a handful of fans, and a caravan of international contest winners—was sleep-deprived, hungry, and utterly f**ked sideways from back-to-back redeye flights. The tour was the brainchild of Rihanna and her manager Jay Brown. A Boeing 777 furnished by Delta would squire a roving enclave of carefully selected individuals to visit 7 countries in 7 days for 7 Rihanna concerts and parties to commemorate her 7th studio album in as many years.
There’s a special kind of confusion and circadian loopiness that accompanies landing in different countries one after the other without ever seeing daylight. It makes you feel insane. A documentary was shot to capture the trip for posterity, and in it Brown states that the whole point was so other people would know what it feels like to live like Rihanna.
I can’t say what it’s like to be Rihanna, but judging by that week, I’d guess it feels like being a jetlagged basketcase in a hostage situation. I do know that the very special circumstances surrounding that tour conditioned me to become more obsessed with her, and that three years later, she comes up a lot. I have discussed, at length, over drinks, whether or not she works out. How many phones she has. If she ever gets sick. If there exists a man who could date her and, more importantly, who we’d want that man to be, because surely we deserve a vote, because stars are just like us, and of all stars, Rihanna feels the most real. I believe this is a sentiment shared by many of her fans, even ones who were never trapped on a plane with her. Still, I can’t picture Rihanna jogging. Or going to the dentist. I usually envision Rihanna in the sun, languidly smoking. In short, I can only imagine things that she’s already shown us.
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