This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
There are many reasons to love Rihanna, as both an artist and a spiritual presence that has adopted the form of a human. The Barbadian star has been releasing albums and making music videos for over a decade now—each of them timeless and influential in their own way, and all of them selling millions. During this period, she has gradually transformed from "pop star" into straight up music icon; the kind that sets trends as quickly as she breaks them, and whose picture will be mounted next to the likes of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston in the future music hall of fame.
The reason there are so many reasons to love Rihanna is because there is no singular Rihanna. There are multiple Rihannas. There are Slapping Your Vagina On Stage Rihannas and Nice Pic Of Me and My Dad Rihannas. There are Collaborating With Paul McCartney Rihannas and Touring With Eminem Rihannas. There are Rihannas Who Shoot Their Own Magazine Covers and Rihannas Who Set A Child's Drawing Of Their Face As Their Instagram Avatar. The Rihanna of the past is not the Rihanna of the present or the future. Sometimes, it's as if there are parallel Rihannas, in parallel universes, who are all being simultaneously viewed through the kaleidoscope of infinite time. So, to get some sort of scientific grasp of all this, we decided to definitively rank all the Rihanna personas in all their shades of brilliance.
A mammoth task, to be sure. But to make sure this list had a definitive order and end, like the conceptual inversion of The Life of Pablo, we decided only to analyze Rihannas who have appeared on more than one occasion, and in more than one space in time. For instance, we didn't count Dexterous With Umbrellas Rihanna because that was a brief blip on the timeline. As for our ranking system, everything is itemized in order of most to fewest fucks given.
BLESSING EMINEM'S CAREER RIHANNA
Appears in: "Love the Way You Lie" / "The Monster" / on tour with him for two weeks in August, 2014.
Rihanna's professional relationship with Eminem may just be one of Eminem's finest redeeming qualities post-Encore. Yeah we get it mate, you have a short temper and a vest on, change the fuckin' record!! For some reason Rihanna has chosen to thrice bless his career with "Love the Way You Lie" and "The Monster" and one of the most enormous (in cultural gravitas) collaborative tours of all time. In every instance, Rihanna glides through like a glamorous older sister into a room where her teenage brother and all his mates are hanging out, with an air that implies she knows he stole her weed. She stands composed outside a house on fire while Eminem emotes in a field of corn and Merry from Lord of the Rings snogs Megan Fox against a wall. She dumps a bucket of ice over his head for charity and he calls her "mischievous". It's almost impossible to imagine them doing anything normal like having a coffee or an actual conversation, but as far as #art goes they go together like hummus and marmite (which is a real thing I swear).
YOU AT YOUR SCHOOL DISCO RIHANNA
Appears in: "Pon de Replay" / "SOS" / your lipstick collection circa the mid-00s.
Considering Rihanna universally translates to "literally better than you in every conceivable way," it's humbling to revisit 2005 when her steez was "like you but slightly less shit." In the video for "Pon de Replay" she enters the club wearing a cropped sequin bra/cardigan (bradigan?), baggy jeans so low you can see her basic knickers, and a full forearm of plastic bracelets. She wears her hair in low curly bunches. As far as dancing goes she mostly does a lot of pointing and gyrating against inanimate objects. This is literally the only Rihanna you have ever had anything in common with, and even then—let's be honest—it was a reach. A year later she released "SOS" in which she has a similar vibe but the next level up, i.e. way less attainable while appearing more effortless. Still, through all her dramatic evolutions Rihanna has maintained one constant: from the moment she opened her mouth to tell the DJ to "turn it up" to the moment she logged on to Twitter to tell Piers Morgan to "grow a dick," Rihanna has worn lip gloss. For twelve years, that has been the case. In a current landscape full of matte basics, Rihanna's dedication to gloss remains so unwavering she even gives it a shout out in a song released in the year 2016. Maybe it's a subtle nod to her youth, her beginnings as a goddess in the making, her relatability factor. Maybe she just likes lip gloss a lot. Who knows we're all unworthy mingers anyway.
QUIETLY HEALING RIHANNA
Appears in: "Unfaithful" / "Diamonds" / "Stay" / "Love on the Brain".
For every video Rihanna releases where she's slowly and deliberately twerking her oiled butt cheeks in your direction, or smoking a joint atop some blood-soaked dollar bills, there's another where she's taking a solitary walk down the beach and staring into the middle distance, or singing to herself in the bath. The latter is what we call Quietly Healing Rihanna, and she can be traced all the way back to "Unfaithful" when she had a 2000s fringe, lip gloss and a twisty pink Nokia phone, through to "Diamonds" and "Stay" and, more recently, "Love on the Brain." These videos and songs are essentially when Rihanna ruminates on a fuckboy over some lowkey piano twinkles, has a word with herself in the form of an introspective ballad, and then moves on.
DALSTON WANNABE RIHANNA
Appears in: "We Found Love" / "What's My Name?" / your Facebook photo album titled 'Uni Year 1'.
For about two years Rihanna cosplayed various girls from the British TV show Skins and I'm not sure anybody noticed. Take the "We Found Love" video: dry humping in a regular sized bathtub in a council block, prancing around on top of tables in a chippy, shoplifting pasta salad from an off license? Effie as fuck. Or "What's My Name?": sexy dancing on chain link fences around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, doing the washing up, picking up a man (Drake) at the bodega? Very Michelle. Once again, Rihanna tried to trick us by acting like she can walk into a shop and buy some milk. Like that's a thing she can just DO. We see you, Rihanna. We see you pretending like it's normal to have a supermodel (or Drake) for a partner. We see you getting a stick and poke while high on drugs and not getting an infection. We see you shoving an entire packet of cigarettes into Dudley O'Shaughnessy's mouth and lighting them all at once. We see your bright red weave that was always one synthetic hair bow away from being a new rave fashion crime. We see it all and we are both jealous and thrilled that you managed to make all of this work in 2010.
RIHANNA AND DRAKE RIHANNA
Appears in: "What's My Name?" / "Take Care" / "Work" / "Too Good".
In the future, when everyone has Segway wheels instead of feet, and when we communicate only via physical emojis which we spit out of our mouths, the story of Drake and Rihanna will be studied in schools as a classic 21st century love story. It's a love story that started with a music video tetralogy that spans six years ("What's My Name," "Take Care," "Work," "Too Good"), and it ended with Drake declaring his undying love on the VMAs stage like your weird cousin with the soul patch, prompting nothing but an eye roll and an appreciation dab from Rihanna. Listen kids: if someone dabs at you when you tell them you've been in love with them for 10 years, it's probably not meant to be, I'm sorry.
ALWAYS ON HOLIDAY RIHANNA
Appears in: Holiday Rihanna doesn't appear anywhere in particular, she just is.
I have a theory that there are two physical incarnations of Rihanna: one who has to toil away in the studio to create eight best-selling albums, attend the never-ending carousel of award shows, and answer questions from the likes of Ellen and Oprah, and the other who literally just lays in the sand at all times, like a sexy human turtle in a bikini, only occasionally taking breaks to get turnt in the ocean or top up her white wine spritzer. How else do you explain the existence of Always On Holiday Rihanna, other than that or Bernard's watch?
IN LOVE WITH SHAKIRA RIHANNA
Appears in: "Can't Remember to Forget You" and became fuel for argument when those rumors flew around that she was possibly maybe dating Cara Delevingne just because they saw a few basketball games together. For fuck's sake, can't women just be friends who are sexy side-by-side.
Being in a relationship with Shakira looks so much fun. All you have to do is roll around on a mattress in stilettos while rubbing each other's knees, communicate telepathically with your butt cheeks through a wall, and smoke cigars while tossing your hair about a lot. This Rihanna persona doesn't last long—3.25 minutes to be exact—but it's way less dry than RiRi and Drake, aka the Barry and Janine from Eastenders of R&B.
RIHANNA WHO MURDERS PEOPLE
Appears in: "Man Down" / "BBHMM" / "Needed Me".
Rihanna has not murdered people once, not twice, but thrice—which I'm sure technically makes her a serial killer, but I'm not here to pass judgement *files nails*. She first did a murder in "Man Down" when she shot a dude in the head because revenge, she second did a murder in "BBHMM" also because revenge, and she third gets her murder on in "Needed Me" which I presume was also because revenge but I'm not sure. Yes murder is considered problematic in certain circles, but I feel like revenge makes it fine, right? Also, have you seen the peachy rubber dress she wears in "BBHMM"? The see-through raincoat with the fur trim? The thigh high brown VETEMENTS boots? Have you seen the icy sheen of her bob in Harmony Korine-directed visual "Needed Me"? Murderous Rihanna is the most stylish Rihanna of them all. I aspire construct looks like murderous Rihanna!
HIGH AF RIHANNA
Appears in: Hundreds of tabloid articles and since-deleted Instagram videos.
There are many incarnations of High AF Rihanna. There's the High AF Rihanna that gets papped rolling joints at Coachella or Carnival or in Hawaii or literally anywhere human persons go to turn up. There's the High AF Rihanna we see on Anti who channels weed and love and sex into a late night iMessage sesh hotter than Barbadian summer. Then there's the High AF Rihanna who sits at home browsing Instagram, uploads a happy 420 video, double taps a picture of her uploaded by a fan account without reading the caption and accidentally starts a war with the Beyhive. All are fantastic.
Appears in: Everywhere
Shady-Ass Rihanna has the ability to make your soul dry up and wither like an old dead leaf with a singular eye roll. You can find her anywhere and everywhere: on Twitter, where she's serving it up to the likes of Ciara and TLC; on Instagram, where she's literally sweeping away the basics; or on the street, where she's a walking talking side eye waiting to be converted into a reaction GIF. Shady Ass Rihanna is the Rihanna we all wish we were after the fact; you know when someone comes for you and all you can do is make a shocked "O" shape with your mouth and quietly shuffle backwards, then you think of all the things you should have said later. Not everyone was born with the screwface Shady-Ass Rihanna was blessed with, which is why she ranks so highly on this list.
Appears in: "S&M" / "Pour It Up" / "BBHMM".
NSFW Rihanna is for all the times she's showed up to a formal function wearing nothing but meticulously placed crystals and fur. For all the times she got banned from Insta for posting photos of her nipples, so she posted them on Twitter instead. For when she drags a gagged Perez Hilton around on a leash and sings about how she's well into whips and chains. For when she makes an entire music video that consists of repeatedly thrusting her vagina onto some dollar bills. For when she rolls a fat off blunt in public and looks at you like, "What?" NSFW Rihanna is the Rihanna we secretly all wish we could all be if we weren't so awkward and English and had jobs as pop stars instead of making spread sheets or doing socials for brands or whatever it is we all do.
TOE SOCKS RIHANNA
Appears in: Rihanna's line of premium comfort toe socks.
OH DAMN SHE SANG THAT RIHANNA
Appears in: Anti / various music awards show performances.
Over the years, Rihanna has evolved from pop star to performer, like a butterfly you'd see in the garden to one you'd see flirting atop a mountain range in a David Attenborough documentary. From Music of the Sun to Anti, there has been a gradual evolution from "bangers for pashing in the club" towards "slowjams for fuckin' at home." With the focus entirely on her voice and personality Anti is the first album to give off the impression that Rihanna cares about the songs in a deep way, like that tiny monkey she was seen bottle feeding on a beach. Yes, we all enjoy the vocally imperfect dance-heavy performances where she bounces out of a helicopter dressed like Lil Kim via Ghost World but, fair fucks, she has been singing the shit out of things lately. Her performances at the VMAs and Billboard Music Awards this year were so sickening they garnered comparisons to Whitney Houston, but that's not fair is it. Nobody can be Whitney. Rihanna is Rihanna and right now she is serving us more soul than a Dementor's buffet.
FEELING HERSELF RIHANNA
Appears in: Life.
If I had a penny for every time Rihanna put a candid shot of her arse on social media I would be as rich as Nicolas Cage before he blew his fortune on shrunken heads and haunted mansions. Mariah Carey has perfected the art of being so fine that you have no choice but to bask in it perpetually whilst sort of pretending like you're not aware. But Rihanna is aware. Rihanna knows you know she knows. Somewhere between re-uploading gifs of herself looking casually incredible while eating popcorn and adding the hashtag "saucy" to videos of her grinding on a transparent surface, Rihanna has achieved a level of blasé self-appreciation the rest of us can only aspire to. She represents the next evolution of mankind, where we all love our nipples, embrace our pettiness and burst out of the womb like this.
(Lead image by Marta Parszeniew)