Pop culture

How Rihanna Defined the 2010s

Multi-hyphenate became the new norm this decade, and the bad gal was at the forefront as she added a fashion empire to her successful music career.
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Photo via Instagram / @badgalriri

The 2010s have been major for all aspects of pop culture. We’ve seen fashion moments that broke the internet, the rise of music artists like Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey, and a beauty scene that’s pivoted from maximalism to minimalism and back again. But in an age of Instagram culture and people embracing their hidden talents, the stars who stand out most are those who have managed to dominate in multiple spheres. From transitioning between industries to launching new brands, multi-hyphenate is the new norm.

And who better embodies this than Rihanna? Ten years ago, one could say she was just another successful music artist, and though she continued this focus for the first part of the decade, her knack for fashion and entrepreneurship eventually rendered her practically untouchable. Celebrity brands are everywhere, but no one else has so seamlessly captured the praise of fashion people while keeping hardcore fans as excited (and album-demanding) as ever. From start to finish, Rihanna’s journey through the 2010s has put her at the center of contemporary culture, defining the decade at every turn.

Before the first year of the decade was even over, Rihanna had released Loud, which featured singles like “What’s My Name?” and “S&M” but also marked her unforgettable era of red hair. While opinions in the Twitterverse and beyond were a bit divided on the bright shade, it definitely helped to cement her as one to watch in the style world as she paired her look with classic early 2010s style (mesh sweaters! crop tops! headbands with oversized bows!). She also made an early Met Gala appearance in 2011 (though not her first) in a lacy, form-fitting Stella McCartney number with a mermaid-esque braid.

Rih was really focused on her music at the start of the decade, releasing two more albums, Talk That Talk and Unapologetic, by the end of 2012. With songs like “We Found Love” and “Stay,” plus another Eminem collab (“The Monster”) in 2013, no one could get the icon out of their heads. A Rihanna hit was practically a given by now, but the star had much bigger plans in store.

Already having a strong reputation for her ever-changing look, Rihanna took home the CFDA’s Fashion Icon Award in 2014. Though the honor sometimes sticks to people who work primarily in fashion, it’s become common to bestow it upon influential celebrities with standout style, so no one fully realized the metamorphosis taking place until the bad gal showed up on the red carpet.  Wearing a Swarovski-crystal-covered naked dress by Adam Selman and pairing it with an equally sparkly headpiece, a pink fur stole, and no bra, she skyrocketed into style stardom with a look that would, quite literally, go down in fashion history. Her self-proclaimed biggest regret in life was neglecting to wear a bedazzled thong, but in the end, that didn’t seem to matter. Provocative yet sophisticated, the gown was a showstopper.

If anyone had any doubts after the CFDAs, the Met Gala in 2015 would change that. The theme was “China: Through the Looking Glass,” and Rihanna went all out by recruiting couturier Guo Pei to craft her look. The yellow gown, which featured fur trim and a massive train, turned heads everywhere and sparked the star’s reign as queen of fashion’s biggest night. The benefit went both ways, as Guo got recognition from the Western world, who started to pay attention to her cross-cultural maximalism. Since then, the star has stunned in Comme des Garçons (for the Rei Kawakubo exhibition, of course) and a Margiela pope look (for "Heavenly Bodies," which explored Catholicism), and though she unfortunately did not show up to serve us camp, the world can't wait to see what she wears in 2020.

2016 was another year in which Rihanna skipped the Met Gala (which, fair—that Guo Pei look was one of the decade’s top fashion moments), but she stayed as busy as ever. On the music side, she kicked off the year with Anti, which featured collaborations with Paul McCartney and then-beau Drake in addition to plenty of solo hits. Fashion-wise, she was starting what would be a two-year-long journey with Fenty x Puma, showing her debut collection just two weeks after dropping the new album. Featuring logos, hoodies, and goth aesthetics, it fit perfectly into the rise of streetwear, but more than anything, the timing of it all showed the star’s refusal to do things halfway. Two years later, the Fenty x Puma collaboration ended with a motocross spectacle at the Park Avenue Armory, because of course it did.

In September 2017, Rihanna started Fenty Beauty, proving she wasn’t just looking to get some publicity with brand collaborations—she was all in. The line caused immediate buzz for its foundations, which featured 40 shades at the time of launch, allowing for women of color, those with albinism, and truly almost anyone to find their perfect match. The star-slash-beauty mogul followed up on her initial offering with a universal red lipstick, a concealer, and plenty of maximalist beauty fun (read: glitter beauty galore and matte blue lipstick). Sephora now stocks the brand—essentially the equivalent of making it in the beauty world—and the likes of Amandla Stenberg and Shudu (the world’s first digital supermodel) have signed on to promote the products, bringing the already-buzzy brand to an even bigger level.

Perhaps none of Rihanna’s fashion and beauty endeavors have caused as much buzz as Savage X Fenty, her lingerie line. Since its launch in May 2018, the brand has strived to be everything Victoria’s Secret isn’t, providing an inclusive size range as well as putting the emphasis on women wearing lingerie for themselves, rather than to appeal to someone else. The brand’s debut show closed New York Fashion Week that September (which is a rarity if you’re not Marc Jacobs, let alone if your origin is in another industry entirely), and it immediately made waves with its diverse casting—who can forget pregnant Slick Woods?—and empowered energy. 

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It was only natural that Rihanna would go even bigger the next time around, and she didn’t disappoint, planning a performance-filled event at Barclays Center. Having partnered with Amazon Prime Video, she kept details under wraps by (gasp) not allowing the select live audience to use their phones, which only increased the buzz and mystique around the show until it debuted ten days later. When the world finally did feast their eyes, viewers experienced a similar degree of excitement to what many once did with the VS shows, but instead of scrutinizing their own bodies against those of the models (something I'd often witnessed firsthand, having spent my life on Twitter as a teen in the early 2010s), viewers celebrated, felt seen, and headed over to Prime’s shopping platform en masse to get the looks for themselves.

However, Rihanna’s biggest fashion achievement might just be one with a slightly smaller scope. Earlier this year, she collaborated with LVMH to launch Fenty, becoming the first woman of color to head up a house for the conglomerate, which hadn’t launched a new brand since Christian Lacroix in 1987. While there’s yet to be a fashion week debut (if that is in the plan at all), the high-end streetwear drops have made enough impact to earn Rihanna a British Fashion Award for Urban Luxe, mere months after the brand debuted this summer. Of course, the multi-hyphenate casually showed up in full Fenty before breaking the internet as she posed with A$AP Rocky.

While only Rihanna knows what her next move will be, she appears to be planning to take over even more industries—we know, for instance, that she wants to break into furniture. In the meantime, fans are searching far and wide for R9, the fashion mogul’s long-awaited return to music that she once said was dropping in 2019. Maybe it’s still coming, as she did just post that she was listening to the album, which parallels her actions days before Anti’s release. But regardless of whether or not the reggae-influenced project sees the light of day before January, the multi-hyphenate can rest assured that she has shaped this decade. Anyone who thought that no 21st-century musician would have a lasting influence need look no further—Rihanna is running this town.



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