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From ‘Pon De Replay’ to ‘Work’ – 8 tracks that show how Rihanna has changed the landscape of pop music

In honour of her upcoming Superbowl Halftime show, we’re taking a look at a highlight from each of Rihanna’s 8 albums




Rihanna is one of the most commercially successful, culturally influential musical artists of the 21st century.  The Barbadian native has enjoyed a multi-faceted career currently well into its second decade.


And with a Superbowl Halftime performance arriving imminently, it’s fair to say Rihanna shows no sign of slowing down.


In fact, these days she’s perhaps as well known for Fenty, the line of beauty and clothing products of which she is a 50% shareholder, as she is for her music. Forbes reports that the success of Fenty has helped the artist reach that prestigious billionaire label.


However, some of that could be down to the fact that she hasn’t released a studio album since 2018’s Anti. Many fans will be hoping that 2023 is the year Rihanna finally drops a new full-length album.


In 2007 Rihanna boldly claimed that she wanted to be “the black Madonna”, citing the iconic popstars knack for reinvention as a personal inspiration.


Reinvention and evolution are two words which have defined Rihanna’s music throughout her 8 studio albums. So today, we’re going to be taking a trip through a pop giant’s career to date, and looking at how Rihanna has pushed the boundaries of pop music with every project.

Music Of The Sun – Pon De Replay

Signed to DefJam records after being invited to audition for the label by none other than Jay Z Rihanna’s 2005 debut LP Music Of The Sun encapsulated much of the artist’s early influences; R&B, Reggaeton, and classic pop. Its lead single ‘Pon De Replay’, peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Almost 20 years later and the song is still an undeniable reggeaton-infused hit.

A Girl Like Me – Unfaithful

Rihanna’s second LP, A Girl Like Me, was released in 2006. Musically, it still echoed the artists’ early influences of R&B, pop, and reggae.


However, early signs of the modern pop anthems which would go on to define much of Rihanna’s most beloved songs were beginning to show, typified by slow ballad tracks like ‘Unfaithful’.


The album earned Rihanna her first number-one single on the Billboard 100 courtesy of ‘SOS’


Good Girl Gone Bad – Rehab


A breakthrough pop album in every sense of the word. Rihanna had seen plenty of commercial success prior to the release of Good Girl Gone Bad in 2007, but its eventual 6 times certified status in the US would dwarf everything that came before it.


Lead single ‘Umbrella’ spent 7 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, an incredible feat for the then 19-year-old artist.


It was also the album where Rihanna embraced the full pop aesthetic of the time. Take for instance ‘Rehab’, which features appearances from chart giants Justin Timberlake and Timberland.

Rated R – Rude Boy

Rihanna goes electric. More specifically, the release of Rated R in 2009 shows the first tangible signs of the EDM influence which would feature in much of her next few projects.


Rated R was a much darker album, thematically, than Rihanna’s earlier work, perhaps mirroring personal events in the artist’s life.


‘Rude Boy’ is a bit of an exception, a superb blend of EDM, dancehall, and pop aesthetics which earned Rihanna another Billboard number 1.

Loud – ‘Only Girl (in the world)’

It’s 2010, and EDM (alongside its myriad subgenres), is the absolute zeitgeist sound and aesthetic.


So it’s little surprise that Rihanna’s net reinvention leaned heavily in that direction. For her fifth studio album, the artist decided to break new ground, and process trauma.


‘Only Girl (in the world)’ is one of the absolute pop tunes symbolising the EDM flavour of the time, with its iconic chorus feeling as at home on a Swedish House Mafia tune as it would a Rihanna one.

Talk That Talk – We Found Love

With an iconic music video, shot partly in Bangor, Northern Ireland, ‘We Found Love’ is one of the great pop odysseys of the 2010s.


The music video helps allude to the subject matter at hand, a tumultuous end to an abusive relationship.  This is then set against the lush EDM arrangement and production of then-up-and-coming Scottish producer Calvin Harris.


Much more so era-defining than it was of its time, ‘We Found Love’ is still Rihanna and Harris’ longest reigning number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.


The second single released from 2012’s UNAPOLOGETIC, ‘Stay’ is a return to the slow, pop-balladry which featured in Rihanna’s earlier work. It’s a superbly worked song, featuring vocals from Mikkly Ekko and peaking at number 3 in the Billboard Hot 100.


As a personal milestone, ‘Stay’ earned Rihanna her 24th Billboard charting song, which helped her move beyond the tally of Whitney Houston – one of her childhood inspirations


Anti –  Work

‘Work’ features a strong resurgence of dancehall aesthetics from Rihanna, and a move toward more overtly contemporary hip-hop flows.


Not surprising then to see Drake feature, considering his monolithic status in pop and hip-hop toward the end of the 2010s.


Nearly 5 years later and ‘Work’ still feels fresh and vibrant. In short, still a vibe.



Author: Luke Sharkey


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