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Rihanna’s Changing the Game and I am so Here for It
As a woman of color, working in predominately white industries, I get fixated on the little connections you find between people of color in the music industry. I love seeing how everyone knows each other and the beauty that comes out of it. Just a few weeks ago, there was Issa Rae’s #LemmonPepperKickback that featured photos of stars like Childish Gambino, Janelle Monáe, Amandla Stenberg, Mack Wilds, and Samuel L Jackson. Who knew they were all friends?! It was amazing to see. It got me thinking about how this year has been incredible in terms of talent recognition for people of color. Socially, that is.
I felt one particular star stood out from the rest in terms of her strides for the colored community. No, not Beyoncé. Rihanna, obviously. I’ve always had an appreciation for Rihanna. I mean, “Bitch Better Have My Money” is quite the jam, but her personality is what won me over the most. If you’ve seen her Twitter, you’ll know that she doesn’t care AT ALL. She’s sharp and savage to her haters while maintaining her laid back, carefree tone. You know she’s responding just to entertain herself, which in turn entertains all of us. In the last year, Rihanna has knowingly, or unknowingly, participated in one of the most important musical revolutions of our time – Black Girl Magic. A term I heard for the first time from Janelle Monáe, the most fabulous R&B singer, actress, and business woman of our time.
Black Girl Magic is all about women of color owning themselves and their talents but most of all, using their platforms to help other women of color. Janelle Monáe lives this life every day. She’s an activist, she has her own label, Wondaland, full of incredible artists of color, and she uses every opportunity to boost each one of them and her friends. For example, Janelle’s second full length album features powerhouse ladies like Solange on “Electric Lady” and Erykah Badu on “Q.U.E.E.N”, two songs that lift a lady of color from the core with lines like “You got the look that gods agree, they wanna see” and “I’m cutting up, don’t cut, me down”. Another example, is Janelle’s friend, Issa Rae, the creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, features music from artists of color in her show, including St. Beauty and Jidenna – artists off of Janelle Monae’s label. Insecure had an amazing year when you look at its ratings so even 30 seconds of exposure in the background is something special, especially as most of the artists of Wondaland are still on the rise. St. Beauty, for instance only has three singles released so far, yet they are about to jump on tour with Jhené Aiko and Willow Smith for a big celebration of Black Girl Magic. These girls are on each other’s teams and that is what Black Girl Magic is all about.
So, where does Rihanna come in? Rihanna is not necessarily on anyone’s team but her own. She doesn’t have a large coalition of ladies of color the way Janelle does, nor does she really promote anyone. So how does she fit in to all of this, besides the fact she is a person of color?
Last year, Rihanna released ANTI, the first album that she had full artistic license over. The first album she calls her own. On it, she’s unapologetic, she’s fierce, she’s sexy, she’s witty, she’s everything girls aspire to be. Listening to each song, you can feel her taking her power as hers and owning her career and her character. She’s a girl falling in love (“Love on the Brain”), she’s a girl done with her man’s shit (“Needed Me”), she’s sensitive but not trying to admit it (“Kiss it Better”), she’s just growing and learning like the rest of us (Consideration). She gets hurts, she wants to own her sexuality, and you can even hear how she doesn’t give a fuck if you like her because she is doing exactly what she wants, and hey, you can do whatever you want too.
ANTI was prepping us for the release of Fenty Beauty. All of the ownership, wittiness, strength, and swagger we absorbed off that album was to prepare us for the artistic freedom Fenty Beauty gave everyone. For those of you that don’t know, Fenty Beauty is Rihanna’s new line of makeup products designed specifically for people of ALL shades. From the whitest of white to the darkest of dark, Rihanna designed a line that fits everyone. Before Fenty, people of color had few shades to choose from. It was sort of like this warm brown should work or this cool dark brown that’s awkward but does the job. Or a lipstick that shows on dark lips, or a highlight that reflects light from a camera so your skin actually shows up. People of color consistently struggle with having to settle for a color. As a yellowish, light brown person, I know how hard it is to find a shade that works for my changing skin tone. However, Fenty finally came with options, 40 shades to be exact. With that, a whole world of acceptance opened up for people of color. A whole world of not being embarrassed of your skin color, of not having to compromise, of having a community of people running to Sephora to get their hands on a product that is totally on their team.
This line is more than just makeup. It represents the future. It is inclusive, it is about accentuating, not covering, and it tells us that steps are being taken to show we’re here and we have a voice. Rihanna managed to take what she did with Anti, where she said “hey, this is what I am and you can love it or whatever” and bring it into this makeup line where we the people, can use this product to say the same thing.
Rihanna took Black Girl Magic to the masses. She brought her art to us, the normal, the semi talented, the ones who look to these amazing ladies of color for guidance on how to find strength within ourselves. Fenty put Rihanna on Janelle Monáe’s level in terms of giving a shit. Because unlike Beyoncé, who yells “get in formation” behind her, Rihanna yells “yeah, I said it” then steps to the side for the rest of us to join beside her.
This is just the beginning and I am genuinely so excited for what is to come.
Play along as you read!