When I first heard Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay,” I was at a sleepover and we were watching MTV in my friend’s basement. We stared with intense fascination as the then unknown 17-year-old shook her hips back and forth, rocking the shit out of low-rise denim and a sparkly bra top. RiRi marketed herself as a “Good Girl Gone Bad,” a party girl with a free spirit, which was v scandalous in my sheltered, suburban eyes—but I couldn’t look away. When Rihanna came out with more songs following the success of her debut album “Music In The Sun,” I was curious to see just how far she would go producing hit after hit. Eleven years later, I’m more a fan of Ri’s than ever.
This Sunday, Aug. 28, the singer will receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2016 MTV VMAs. Previously received by Beyoncé and Kanye West, this is one of the highest honors of the awards show, reserved for dynamic artists “who have made a profound effect on the MTV culture.” As someone who has been with RiRi since the beginning when she was wearing sequined vests, dating garbage-human Chris Brown and singing about partying non-stop over heavy dance beats, I’ve watched her transform into a fashion-forward and cutting edge artist who can tackle multiple music styles. Ri’s last album “ANTI” earned her utmost respect in the R&B industry, as she blew fans away with her robust voice, sultry beats and of course, some of her best music videos that are a pure form of art.
So for all the haters (I see you ????) who are saying that RiRi isn’t worthy of or established enough in her career to earn the Video Vanguard Award, I’m here to remind you why this queen is absolutely deserving of this honor.
1) Her music videos are always on point.
From “Bitch Better Have My Money” to “Needed Me” to “Work,” Rihanna tells a story through her beautifully-shot music videos. Whether she’s kidnapping the wealthy wife of an accountant, smoking weed, shooting guns or twerking on Drake, her videos never fall short of entertainment value. Over the years, they’ve become much more cinematic and edgy, but her older videos also show just how much of an “unapologetic” badass she is.
2) She’s collaborated with other chart-topping artists like Calvin Harris and Drake
She’s put out two ultra-successful songs (and music videos!) with EDM mastermind Calvin Harris—their most recent hit “This Is What You Came For” is one of the most streamed songs of the entire summer. Ri has also worked closely with Drake, and anyone with eyes can see their chemistry comes to life in the form of music.
3) She’s grown up as a person and as an artist, which is reflected in her music
If you watched the 2016 Billboard Awards, you definitely remember Rihanna taking the stage in a green fur stole and smoothly belting “Love On the Brain.” She hit those raw notes with passion and it was literally unbelievable. Sure, Ri got her start with produced pop hits, but “ANTI” showed that she was capable of going full on R&B with a retro vibe. While she still owns the “badgal” image, Rihanna has earned the respect in the industry to embrace it. Everything from her enviable twerking skills and her elaborate omelette dresses deserve to be taken seriously because of her immense talent.
As Rihanna has grown up over the past decade, her music has also taken a more honest shift. In “ANTI” she plays on the intimacy of sex and relationships along with betrayal and emptiness, which is relatable and refreshing to listeners.
4) She’s confidently RiRi
ANTI” might have been a change for Ri sound-wise, but that doesn’t mean she made the album to conform to new music standards or fit a certain image. If there’s one thing Rihanna has taught me, it’s to just own who you are. Don’t apologize for being you. The Barbadian beauty is always breaking the rules and testing the limits when it comes to fashion, music and art. Even though most of her music videos are verrrry controversial, she’s making a statement by inspiring us to be a badass and think outside of what’s “normal.”
That’s why when Rihanna is presented with the Video Vanguard Award at the VMAS, I’ll be waiting for her to take a bow.