In the 10 years since Robyn Rihanna Fenty burst onto the music-industry scene as the phenomenon known as Rihanna, she has had enormous success as a singer, fashion designer and actress. With a lengthy list of major achievements including record-breaking album sales, successful collaborations with major brands and roles in feature films, it’s hard to believe she was once just a talented 16-year-old Barbadian with a dream. At least until public-relations maven Jonathan Hay got ahold of her.
The year was 2005, and Rihanna had just released her single “Pon de Replay.” The song was one of three she put together on a demo tape intended for rapper-turned-mogul Jay Z, according to Popdust.
“The song is undeniable. I think the magic of the song is in the drums and the way she rides the track with her cadence,” Hay told International Business Times. “It was the perfect first single for a new artist. It set up her career perfectly and was such a great first impression.”
While the song ultimately landed her a recording contract with Def Jam, it did not come without a lot of hard work on the back end. After receiving the stamp of approval from music-industry legend Bruce Swedien, Hay got to work promoting the up-and-coming artist. Unfortunately, that was a lot easier said than done.
However, Hay recalled, “No matter the marketing, a song has to have legs on its own -- and it did.”
Although Swedien and Hay both agreed the song was a hit, Hay remembered being turned down by nearly every outlet to which he reached out. Finally, Jennifer Vinyard, who worked at MTV at the time, decided to take a risk and publish a short blurb about the teen. To this day, Hay credits much of RiRi’s early success to Vinyard’s honorable mention.
A lot has changed since then. When Rihanna was a young girl in the industry, her initial sound was much tamer than the music we’ve come to know and love today. It wasn’t until the release of her album “Rated R,” with the song “Rude Boy,” that things began to change. Older and far less afraid of outside opinions, the singer began to come into her own. She started showing more skin, singing about more-risque topics and speaking her mind -- no matter what. While change this drastic has proven disastrous to other artists, Rihanna fans were ready and willing to accept their new queen.
“Rihanna is cutting-edge and risky. Her look is totally unique. I love that fact that she seems fearless and not afraid to express herself in anyway,” Hay said of her transformation over the years. “Obviously, her imagery is a big part of her brand, and everything she has done over the last 10 years has been right on point.”
Throughout her decadelong career, Rihanna has gone from an artist on the rise to a megaforce across multiple industries. In addition to selling millions of records, winning eight Grammy Awards and taking home six platinum or multiplatinum albums, the 27-year-old has also carved out a respectable acting career, created a beloved line of MAC cosmetics and broken into the fashion industry.
“It’s crazy to think about her influence on pop culture for a decade now,” Hay said. “The fact that she does so much outside of music is staggering. You can just see that she works so hard. She has so much visibility without being overexposed, which is incredibly hard to do.”
Either because of or despite the changes in both her persona and her sound, Rihanna fans remain among the most loyal in the game. Even 10 years later, many of her earliest tracks receive airtime across multiple radio stations -- and you bet listeners still sing along the way they did when the songs first made their debuts. Hay attributed this to her great ear, adding, “She seems to really give the people everything she has.”
Even with the unbelievable success Rihanna has had in the last 10 years, the PR maven doesn’t see an end in sight for the young star. Hay said he strongly believes “she will go down as being iconic.” He is preparing to pitch a few new projects to the “S&M” singer.
“I’d love to produce and write music with her. That’s my goal. I wasn’t really confident enough to pitch some of my own songs to her team. Now, I’m going to do it,” he said. “Ten years from now, I want to be writing about the song that I produced for Rihanna 10 years earlier.”
Rihanna is hard at work on her eighth studio album. It is unclear when it will be released.