Rihanna has grown into such a mammoth empire that many forget that her dominance began with music, and her hits run deep. After hopping on the scene with 2005’s Music Of The Sun, she’s raked up 14 No. 1 singles, nine Grammy wins and is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Over the past 16 years, Rihanna has transformed into an icon not just within the music sector, but pop culture as a whole.
Whether she’s breaking multiple Billboard chart records, becoming the first Black women to oversee a luxury fashion brand under LVMH, acting alongside film greats like Steve Martin and Sandra Bullock, giving back to her community as a fierce philanthropist, founding a groundbreaking makeup and lingerie line that both created a snowball effect of inclusivity, or just wholeheartedly being her silly Pisces self on social media, it’s crystal clear that — as she stated on 2009’s prophetic “Hard” — Rihanna’s reign just won’t let up.
As a reminder of Rihanna’s massive, genre-bending and innovative discography, we present a ranking of our favorite songs.
50. “We Ride” (A Girl Like Me, 2006)
Rihanna is best known for her high-energy chart-toppers, but sometimes you’re just craving a laidback groove. That’s where “We Ride” comes into play. One of her more relaxed singles, the delicate guitar strings, and girly lyrics will remind millennials of their ‘00s puppy love encounters and writing hearts around their crushes’ names in high school textbooks.
49. “Te Amo” (Rated R, 2009)
Rihanna was becoming a bonafide sex symbol upon Rated R’s release and she lured just as many women under her spell as she did men. For “Te Amo,” the singer muses about an unrequited love she painfully yearns for from a female beau. The lyrical romance is heightened by a Latin-inspired melody as well as a passionate music video starring French supermodel (who was a former Victoria’s Secret angel) Laetitia Casta, who is just as breathtaking as Rihanna herself.
48. “Willing To Wait” (Music Of The Sun, 2005)
Rihanna has many inspirations, from Whitney Houston to Bob Marley. But “Willing To Wait” is all Janet Jackson. It is a modern take on the icon’s “Let’s Wait Awhile” from the 1986 classic Control, as Rihanna upholds her promise of abstinence while simultaneously teasing her longing to be intimate. And her vocals (around 17 years old at the time) are surprisingly mature for this being on her debut album.
47. “Kisses Don’t Lie” (A Girl Like Me, 2006)
Despite still being in her late teens at the time, Rihanna possessed the maturity of a conflicted lover on “Kisses Don’t Lie.” One of the more minimal tracks from her sophomore album, the then-budding singer toes the line between her island roots and a more decisive pop sound. The deep cut borrows from classic roots reggae, with the bass commanding center stage as the electric guitar’s flicks give the track a modern edge. All it’s missing is an ice-cold Red Stripe beer.
46. “Nothing Is Promised” with Mike Will Made-It (Ransom 2, 2017)
Women rappers have risen again as the genre’s dominant force over the past few years, and even the top R&B ladies joined the fun. Just like Beyoncé, Rihanna can out-rap a lot of your faves. On “Nothing Is Promised,” she adopts Future’s distinct warbled flow, who serves as the song’s co-writer. But rather than being his equal, Rih takes her previous collaborator’s words and shapes them into her own. She transforms into the cockiest ATL gangsta while assuring “Imma never put a n***a above this money”.
45. “No Love Allowed” (Unapologetic, 2012)
Rihanna stuffs pockets of her Caribbean heritage in all her albums, but this Unapologetic deep cut often gets overlooked. While most of her reggae or dancehall-inspired tracks are fused with other sounds, “No Love Allowed” keeps things rugged and true to the roots. It’s a bare-bones midtempo that finds the singer pushing her lilting Bajan accent to the forefront while looking back on one-sided love: “Hand inna di air as he waved me goodbye / He seh he care, but no tears in his eyes”.
44. “Rehab” (Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)
Okay, let’s get the obvious out the way now: Justin Timberlake and Timbaland clearly tried to recreate the magic that’s “What Goes Around…Comes Around.” The pair just worked together on FutureSex/LoveSounds just a year prior, and extended the lovesick sound to Rihanna. But while the mournful melody remains nearly the same, it’s Rih’s vocal delivery that makes “Rehab” all her own. She sounds mentally and emotionally exhausted from her relationship’s toll. In the video, all Timberlake can do is play in the background and give Rih control to steer her side of the story.
43. “Get It Over With” (Unapologetic, 2012)
One of her most underrated tracks, “Get It Over With” is a downtempo clouded by weed smoke crafted by frequent collaborator and songwriter James Fauntleroy. As humans, it’s natural for us to keep the darkest corners of our emotions bottled inside. But here, in her most delicate tone, Rihanna assures the storm will only pass if “you just f*cking rain” and let it all out. It’s a shame the song is tossed at the very end of Unapologetic, leaving its presence a hidden gem only to be cherished by diehard fans.
42. “Woo” (ANTI, 2016)
Rihanna revisits the darkness found on Rated R with “Woo,” but rather than feeling mournful, she’s angry out of spite. Featuring credits from Travis Scott, The Weeknd, The-Dream, Hit-Boy, and Jeremih, Rihanna spits out furor atop a production that’s just as acidic as her words, which are directed at an ex-lover and his new fling: “Too bad she’s just eating off your dreams / Let me know when you’re ready to bleed.” Yikes.
41. “Sell Me Candy” (Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)
We’ve all experienced a summer love, where a girl or guy’s allure was too contagious for you to shake off. “Sell Me Candy” summates that sticky-sweet feeling, from Rihanna’s girly tone to Timbaland, Makeba Riddick, and The-Dream’s blissful hodge-podge of hip-hop, pop, R&B, and electronic melodies. The singer assuring that “The shawty that you’re rocking is nothing like me / You’re selling me a fantasy that I wanna explore” will induce a tingling sensation.
40. “Birthday Cake” (Talk That Talk, 2011)
Man, that Rihanna is such a tease! When the original “Birthday Cake” appeared on Talk That Talk, fans were clamoring for her to release a full version. And she obliged with a controversial surprise: the minute-long interlude was transformed into a full-fledged sweet tooth’s paradise with her former flame Chris Brown (the pair briefly reunited following Talk That Talk’s release) as the guest star. But the negative press surrounding the remix didn’t faze Rihanna, as she continued to taunt and flaunt with lyrics like “It’s not even my birthday but he wanna lick the icing off.”
39. “Wait Your Turn” (Rated R, 2009)
Following the frightening domestic violence incident, Rihanna emerged as a cockier, sexier, and more vulnerable woman on Rated R. And the swagged-out, dubstep-riddled “Wait Your Turn” was her call to arms. The opening lyrics were all the proof you needed that the baddest Bajan bitch was back: “I pitch with a grenade, swing away if you’re feeling brave / There’s so much power in my name / If you pop off and you say it stadium gon’ do the wave.”
38. “Skin” (Loud, 2010)
Rihanna’s Loud album is mainly comprised of club-ready dance jams, but she slows things all the way down on “Skin.” Here, she lures listeners into the bedroom as she gives instructions on just how she likes to be pleased. Rihanna takes as much control between the sheets as she does in the boardroom, as she moans, heavily breathes, and purrs atop an electric guitar climax. The millennial pop star reveling as a dominatrix surely made Madonna and Janet Jackson proud.
37. “Rockstar 101″ featuring Slash (Rated R, 2009)
Rihanna unleashed the remains of her pent-up aggression on the growling “Rockstar 101,” where she convinces the world that she’s no longer the Pop Star Next Door. No, she wants to be a black guitar-wielding rockstar and called upon the guitar icon himself — Slash of Guns N’ Roses — for a stamp of approval. Many didn’t take Rihanna seriously upon the song’s release over a decade ago, but now the multi-hyphenate doesn’t have to prove how much of a badass she is.
36. “Cockiness (Love It)” (Talk That Talk, 2011)
Only Rihanna can make cunnilingus sound gangsta. On this Talk This Talk single, the singer is boldly talking that talk. Atop Bangladesh’s frenetic production, Rihanna goes full dominatrix as she explicitly details how she wants her sex slave to perform: “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion.” But the track doesn’t take itself too seriously, as Rih flips between cheeky taunts, an entire ‘90s dancehall queen verse, and a coquettish chorus. ASAP Rocky later hopped on the official remix, foreshadowing the pair’s magnetic energy that has now blossomed into Hollywood’s hottest relationship.
35. “Half Of Me” (Unapologetic, 2012)
At this point in her career, Rihanna’s every move was picked apart by critics and so-called fans alike. She addressed the building pressure on “Half Of Me,” calling upon British singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé to help let the emotional curtains fall. She urges that there’s two sides to every story. Emotions rise as the song continues, with Rihanna hoping that naysayers don’t assume they know who she really is based on what they see in the media: “I guess the kind of songs that I’ve been singing make it seem as if I’m always winning / But you saw me on a television.”
34. “Hate That I Love You” featuring Ne-Yo (Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)
Ne-Yo was the songwriter du jour of the late ‘00s, with his dreamy POV on romance taking over charts and radio. He often bestowed his magic on Rihanna, and “Hate That I Love You” is one of their better outcomes, which borrows the catchiness found on Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” and “Sexy Love.” It’s a soothing, breezy midtempo R&B that finds the pair being confounded by love’s unwavering grip. When a relationship is just too good to be true, bittersweet emotions often arise. But rather than it becoming hostile, Rihanna and Ne-Yo make it oh-so-innocent.
33. “Phresh Out The Runway” (Unapologetic, 2012)
David Guetta trades EDM for trap on “Phresh Out The Runway,” as the artist joins The-Dream to produce one of the noisest tunes in Rihanna’s discography. The singer’s swagger is on a hundred, thousand, trillion as she boasts about her ever-growing wealth and exclusive access to expensive goodies — from Givenchy heels to Bvlgari jewelry. The song is forever linked to her unforgettable appearance at the 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, where she strutted on the catwalk fiercer than the models themselves.
32. “Close To You” (ANTI, 2016)
“Nothing but a tear, that’s all for breakfast / Watching you pretend you’re unaffected,” Rihanna murmurs in the opening lines of one of her most heartbreaking ballads. Similar to 2012’s “Stay,” “Close To You” is a gripping piano-led reading of the singer’s diary, as she hesitates to let go of a relationship that has long withered away. She brings her raw emotions to the forefront, making it the perfect closer for an album that was all about the twists and turns of love.
31. “Take A Bow” (Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded, 2008)
Every female pop singer needs a “kick ‘em to the curb” anthem for the ladies, and “Take A Bow” encapsulates just how fed up we were at one point. It literally borrows the formula of Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” that was released two years prior, both sharing the same credits of Ne-Yo and Stargate. But the unfazed sarcasm and bluntness — “You look so dumb right now” — are all Rihanna.
30. “Desperado” (ANTI, 2016)
Rihanna goes on the run with her lover on “Desperado,” one of the edgiest songs to date. She grapples with remaining a lone wolf or following love through the rockiest trenches, and that tension is heightened by the chilling synths and the rumbling interpolation of Banks’ 2013 “Waiting Game” single. Rihanna’s smoky tone and clipped syllables are more sinister spaghetti Western antihero than a famed pop star, and it’s a shame that Quentin Tarantino didn’t get hold of it for a short film.
29. “What Now” (Unapologetic, 2012)
“What Now” begins deviously unassuming, with Rihanna tapping into her inner lost child as she tries to find answers in her life. But once the chorus hits, she can no longer conceal her impatience with impassioned belting. The melodic contrast feels like an emotional purge, with the singer pounding the walls that slowly enclose on her as the drums come crashing down.
28. “Cold Case Love” (Rated R, 2009)
Co-written by Justin Timberlake and James Fauntleroy, “Cold Case Love” plays out more like an intense short drama than the penultimate track from Rated R. She compares her tumultuous relationship to a crime scene, as the instrumentation gently builds from ghastly organs and piano to bombastic violins, heart-pounding drums, and a wailing electric guitar. When Rihanna broods, “Release me now ’cause I did my time of this cold case love,” you can almost hear the tears flowing in the studio. Rihanna’s willingness to display her unguarded self during the worst time in her life is what makes her an artist.
27. “Break It Off” featuring Sean Paul (A Girl Like Me, 2006)
The idea of “Break It Off” is pretty straightforward. Built on Jamaican producer Don Corleone’s “High Altitude” riddim, its main purpose is to usher you on the dance floor, which is what Rihanna quickly mastered on her sophomore album. And for an extra dose of booty-shaking energy, she added Sean Paul to the mix. The result is a lively dancehall jam that’ll make you sweat until the club lights turn on. Now, let’s hope that Rihanna’s new album delivers authentic dancehall features just like this.
26. “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” (Unapologetic, 2012)
A majority of Unapologetic displays Rihanna’s growing “zero f*cks given” attitude, but songs like these showcase a much somber artist. One of her longest ballads, it is an autobiographical tale about her previous crash-and-burn relationship. On “Love Without Tragedy,” she reflects on how they were the dream couple that unexpectedly came tumbling down: “You used to be this boy I loved and I used to be this girl of your dreams / Who knew the course of this one drive injured us fatally?” The intense electronic melody soon mellows out into a twinkling synth for “Mother Mary,” which finds Rihanna on her knees begging for some insight. At this point in her life, she was seemingly searching for a direction that’ll lead her on a path of righteousness. Looking back, it seems like she’s now found the answers.
25. “SOS” (A Girl Like Me, 2006)
After easing into music with previous singles “Pon de Replay” and “If It’s Loving That You Want” from her debut album, Rihanna busted down pop’s doors with the explosive “SOS.” Sampling Soft Cell’s 1981 classic “Tainted Love,” the singer is head over heels in lust as the stomping beat amplifies her passion. “SOS” may not have been Rihanna’s first single, but once it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three consecutive weeks, it became her grand entrance into pop stardom.
24. “Wild Thoughts” with DJ Khaled & Bryson Tiller (Grateful, 2017)
Rihanna has long delivered sultry bops, but “Wild Thoughts” showcased just how grown and sexy she’d become. Constructed around a sample of Santana’s 1999 “Maria Maria” chart-topper, it has “summertime” written all over it. The instantly recognizable guitar melody along with Rihanna’s low, velvety vocals make an intoxicating combination. Her presence is so alluring that you nearly forget that Bryson Tiller also appears on the track.
23. “Same Ol’ Mistakes” (ANTI, 2016)
Leave it to Rihanna to cover your song better than yourself. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker previously described “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” 2015’s Currents closer, as “the final battle between optimism and pessimism.” And Rihanna’s version brings that mental tug o’ war to soaring heights. It’s a carbon copy of the original, but she transforms it into even more of a psychedelic trance. Tossing in a karaoke session on an album is a bold choice for any pop star, but that was the entire definition of ANTI. Rihanna wanted us to expect the unexpected, and we remain mesmerized.
22. “G4L” (Rated R, 2009)
For every vulnerable track on Rated R, there was a cold-shouldered one not too far behind. “G4L,” standing for “Gangster For Life,” finds the singer becoming a Bajan made man as she promises to protect her family — and her fans — by any means necessary. “We’re an army / Better yet, a navy / Better yet, crazy” she claims with her gun cocked in the air, officially giving a name to her fanbase. It is a grimy #Navy anthem that dabbles in dubstep (courtesy of British electronic masterminds Chase & Status) and haunting drum beats that sound just as menacing as Rihanna herself.
21. “Fire Bomb” (Rated R, 2009)
When placed in the context of Rated R‘s autobiographical theme, the meaning of “Fire Bomb” is all the more heartbreaking. Rihanna wants her ex to burn just how he burned her, but her need for revenge is more desperate than evil. “I just wanna set you on fire so I won’t have to burn alone,” she utters atop a production that sounds like a speeding car just seconds away from crashing. You just hope she jumps out before it’s too late.
20. “Watch n’ Learn” (Talk That Talk, 2011)
Ask any longtime Rihanna fan what their favorite deep cut is, and the majority of them will point to “Watch n’ Learn.” She goes full dancehall queen here, celebrating the physicalities of sex while giving her a man a lesson in pleasure. And she clearly wants to cover all bases, going from the bed to the floor to the couch. Its irresistible melody and raunchy lyrical winks (“Imma do it ‘till you can’t take no more / Till my lipstick ain’t up on my face no more”) will have you calling your boo for a quickie. Or your sidepiece — we won’t tell.
19. “Pon de Replay” (Music Of The Sun, 2005)
The song that started it all. “Pon de Replay,” Rihanna’s debut single, introduced the world to what would soon become her signature charm. The club anthem stays true to her Bajan roots with the dancehall-pop fusion melody (which she hasn’t left behind to this day) as well as catchy pop sensibilities (“You want to groove? Imma show you how to move”). Sure, it sounds a bit dated now. But once that thumping bassline kicks in, you won’t be able to fight the urge to rush to the DJ and demand that they turn the music UP!
18. “S&M” (Loud, 2010)
Rihanna is often the dominatrix in her music, but on “S&M,” she switches roles to be the ultimate masochist. On the bouncy electro-pop single, she goes from good girl gone bad to a fetish-loving hedonist: “Sticks and stones may break my bones / But chains and whips excite me.” Pop predecessors like Madonna and Janet Jackson have dabbled in BDSM, but here Rihanna makes the kinkiness adorably playful. And in the risqué video that got banned in 11 countries, she brilliantly flips the bondage theme to target reporters (she walks Perez Hilton on a dog leash) who get off on criticizing her every move.
17. “Diamonds” (Unapologetic, 2012)
Rihanna is a sonic chameleon, adapting to any sound thrown at her in the recording studio. For “Diamonds,” she puts on her best Sia impression as her vocals soar above the power ballad’s synths. It’s her voice that actually saves the song, as her near-tangible passion overcomes the cliched lyrics. Still, the song is home to one of her more definitive statements: “I choose to be happy.” But her delivery feels like she’s trying to convince herself of such, making “Diamonds” all the more beautifully tragic.
16. “Hard” featuring Jeezy (Rated R, 2009)
Cocky Rihanna is the best Rihanna, and she was surely feeling herself on this Rated R single and seemed to be hard bent on proving she was much more “brilliant, resilient” than the domestic violence incident implied. The singer faced adversity head-on while simultaneously thanking her fans and shutting down bloggers talking trash in the process: “They can say whatever, I’ma do whatever / No pain is forever.” Jeezy makes an appearance towards the end, giving the rap-driven “Hard” even more of an edge. In the army-themed music video, Rihanna officially established herself as pop’s commander-in-chief.
15. “Bitch Better Have My Money” (non-album single, 2015)
Beyoncé said it best: “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.” But a year prior to the release of “Formation,” Rihanna was anything but gracious. The explicit title makes it very clear: don’t ever try to cross Rihanna when it comes to her coins. Presented as a club anthem, “Bitch” has a deeper message where she’s allegedly addressing a former accountant who almost made her go bankrupt twice. With credits from Bibi Bourelly, Travis Scott, and Kanye West, it’s Rih’s best thug-nasty trap tune. She’s the ultimate sh*t talker here, spitting braggadocio lyrics from “Ballin’ bigger than LeBron” to “Turn up to Rihanna while the whole club f**kin’ wasted / Every time I drop by, I am the only thing y’all playin’.” The torturous self-directed video takes it to a cinematic level, stuffed with cult film references (Carrie, Natural Born Killers, Thelma & Louise, Pulp Fiction) and Hollywood guest stars (Eric Roberts and Mads Mikkelsen) that provide the ultimate shock value.
14. “Stay” featuring Mikky Ekko (Unapologetic, 2012)
It’s a rare moment when Rihanna removes her pristine pop star armor, and for “Stay” she strips all the way down — literally. With only a stark piano to prop her up, the singer’s distinct tone is void of unnecessary histrionics as she allows it to crack, wail, and whisper. She’s completely unashamed in her honesty, pleading for her lover (based on the single’s cover art, was Brown at the time) to stick by her side. Then-newcomer Mikky Ekko is the perfect partner here, with his falsetto elevating the ballad’s tenderness.
13. “We Found Love” featuring Calvin Harris (Talk That Talk, 2011)
By 2011, Rihanna had already poured a great deal of her heart out through her music. But upon the release of “We Found Love,” that vulnerability catapulted her career to new heights. She somehow managed to transform painful memories into a world-shaking, utterly inescapable (it’s her longest-running No. 1 at 10 nonconsecutive weeks) four-on-the-floor dance-pop smash. The formula is almost stupidly simple: have a repetitive chorus (something she’d later repeat with fellow chart-topper “Diamonds” a year later), call upon Calvin Harris for sonic euphoria, and create a music video that becomes iconic due to its controversy. The Melina Matsuoka-directed video is actually stronger than the song itself, showing Rihanna and her beau hopelessly going through the motions of a toxic relationship that mimicked her past.
12. “Pour It Up” (Unapologetic, 2012)
It was only a matter of time until Rihanna delivered a strip club anthem, and who better to call on than Mike Will Made-It? The Atlanta hitmaker, who was fresh off producing Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” teamed with the singer. “Pour It Up” has quite an eerie and cold production that feels like it’s made to play at seedy basement parties despite its mainstream gloss from ruling hip-hop/R&B radio. In the music video, Rihanna sits comfortably in two roles in the music video, playing the boss and the dancer, as she tosses dollar bills just as rapidly as she does shaking her ass.
11. “Don’t Stop The Music” (Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)
Rihanna does club anthems incredibly well, and “Don’t Stop The Music” is a Eurodance thrill. “I gotta get my body moving, shake the stress away,” she muses with a hunger to let loose. She invites partygoers to thrust, fist bump, and shimmy until the sun comes up. But don’t accept if you can’t keep up, because it’ll have your heart racing and dripping in sweat for all four minutes. By the time the stellar sample of Michael Jackson’s 1982 classic “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” (whose iconic “Mama-say, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa” borrows from Cameroonian jazz artist Manu Dibango) kicks in towards the end, you have to catch your breath before returning to the dance floor.
10. “Loveeeeeee Song” featuring Future (Unapologetic, 2012)
Rihanna and Future’s team-ups throughout the years are quite underrated, and this Unapologetic single is their strongest offering. The Atlanta rapper’s signature warbled drawl is offset by the singer’s honeyed and downright sexy tone as she yearns to be drowned in affection. But being the confident woman she is, she also reminds her lover that she’s a trophy (“Why window shop when you own this?”). Act fast though, before she moves on to her next suitor.
9. “Only Girl (In The World)” (Loud, 2010)
For being the lead single to Rihanna’s Loud era, it surely delivered on its title. “Only Girl (In the World)” is an exuberant track that cut through the Guetta effect that was overthrowing pop music at the time and continued her No. 1 winning streak in 2010 (the others being “Rude Boy,” “What’s My Name,” “S&M” and “Love The Way You Lie” with Eminem). It was fun hearing Rihanna so vibrant and girly, a 180-spin from the bleakness that consumed Rated R. This time around, she was blossoming as the reigning queen of festival EDM.
8. “Needed Me” (ANTI, 2016)
“Didn’t they tell you I’m a savage? / Fuck a white horse and a carriage / Bet you never could imagine,” Rihanna stresses through gritted teeth. “Needed Me” is produced by DJ Mustard, who takes a break from his trap stompers to deliver haunting, loosely wounded trip-hop. Overflowing with dozens of “bad bitch” Instagram captions, Rihanna gave women everywhere a confidence booster while shattering men’s egos in the process. If you needed yet another reason to leave that f*ckboy behind, give this song a few plays as you transcend into a self-empowered woman who can throw away immature men as quickly as she changes her Fenty Beauty lip gloss.
7. “Rude Boy” (Rated R, 2009)
“Rude Boy” sticks out like a neon thumb on Rated R, briefly escaping to a fantasy island far away from the emotional rollercoaster the singer was going through at the time. It’s a delicious summer banger, with Rihanna being a total flirt on the dancefloor and in the bedroom (“Come here rude boy, boy, is you big enough?”). It’s one of her catchiest dancehall and ragga-driven tunes to date, with the music video capturing both genre’s vibrancy. Rihanna allegedly had to fight for “Rude Boy” to become a single, and we’re so glad she did. Her innate ear for hits led the song to become the sole No. 1 from Rated R.
6. “Umbrella” featuring Jay-Z (Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)
“Umbrella” was Rihanna’s reintroduction to the world that brushed off any thought that she would get stuck as a flimsy girl next door. Jay-Z may have crowned her “Little Miss Sunshine,” but she reemerged with a newfound edge. From the buzzy “ella, ella, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh-eh” refrain to the triumphant hi-hats and that persuasive voice that assures that everything is going to be alright, “Umbrella” had all the elements to become iconic. And it was just that, scoring her first Grammy win and topping multiple charts worldwide. Multiple countries even blamed the song for causing torrential downpours. What other pop heavyweight has the power to control the weather?
5. “Love On The Brain” (ANTI, 2016)
Rihanna has never been shy to experiment with various genres, but no one could’ve predicted the day when she mastered ‘50s doo-wop. On “Love On The Brain,” she free falls into an addicting, undying, and slightly unhinged romance. She flows effortlessly between a controlled falsetto to a full-bodied, whisky-swigging growl, taking influence from Amy Winehouse, Etta James, and Sam Cooke to deliver her vocal best. Rihanna completely lets herself go and allows the music to take control of every inch of her emotions, not caring if her voice happens to crack. Flaws add to the song’s charm, just how ‘50s girl groups and jazz club singers did in the good ol’ days. Those imperfections they dare to show are more significant than the song itself, stripping a once-untouchable artist to their most human form.
4. “Work” featuring Drake (ANTI, 2016)
In the 2010s, tropical house quickly trickled into mainstream pop, from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.” Somehow Rihanna’s “Work” got caught in the mix. Critics forgot just how rooted the singer is to her Caribbean background, yet the song was initially whitewashed. Many branded as it tropical house rather than dancehall, and called Rihanna’s lyrics “gibberish” instead of taking the time to understand the Jamaican dialect patois. It wasn’t as if dancehall was a foreign concept in popular music, from Shabba Ranks in the ‘90s to Sean Paul and Shaggy in the ‘00s. Even Rihanna made her debut riding on a dancehall riddim, and continued praising the genre right up until “Work.” She even called upon the Jamaica-obsessed Drake — who would drop dancehall and Afrobeats-inspired tracks like “One Dance,” “Controlla,” and the Rihanna-assisted “Too Good” on Views just a few months later — and co-writer/future OVO collaborator PartyNextDoor to help bring the song to life. The end result is a hypnotizing slow burn that had women everywhere giving their ex-flames one last whine on the dance floor, just as Rihanna did with Drake in the bashment-style video.
3. “Man Down” (Loud, 2010)
Bob Marley is one of Rihanna’s biggest inspirations, and she did his Wailers 1973 “I Shot The Sheriff” classic justice on “Man Down.” It’s a grim tale of self-defense, with the singer letting her heavy Bajan accent fly, drilling in the authenticity of the ragga-inspired single. The controversial video heightens the cinematic storytelling where Rihanna takes vengeance on an aggressive club-goer who sexually assaulted her, pulling out her trusty Peggy Sue in broad daylight. She frantically runs away as a fugitive, while expressing tearful remorse to her mother. The song grows more confessional, with the sirens wailing as Rih’s accent grows thicker and guttural (“Why did I pull di trigger, pull di trigger, pull di trigger–BOOM”). The singer would utilize guns in later videos, but its use in “Man Down” is her most haunting.
2. “Kiss It Better” (ANTI, 2016)
“Man f**k your pride!” Rihanna yelps on “Kiss it Better,” forcing you to take down all emotional guards. The woozy ‘80s power ballad explores destructive love that is nearly slipping through her fingers — and she won’t let go even if it feels like crack. She pleads for reconciliation in hopes that sex will be the broken relationship’s cure. It’s a stunning Prince tribute (that dreamy electric guitar) with a splash of TLC’s 1994 “Red Light Special” (the sensuous vocals), but the intimacy is all Rihanna. In an ironic twist, Rihanna’s the singer’s wish for sunshine on “Kiss It Better” was answered: the ANTI single was later given new life after producer/DJ Amorphous paired it with Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” in a jovial mash-up, which was then sampled on Fat Joe’s 2021 single “Sunshine (The Light).”
1. “What’s My Name?” featuring Drake (Loud, 2010)
The beauty of Rihanna’s music is that it taps into the better memories of nostalgic love, recalling when you gazed upon your first middle school crush in the hallway, stumbled in too-high heels at your senior prom or awkwardly having your first kiss after gym practice. “What’s My Name” is the embodiment of that blissful naiveté. Despite being released at the start of winter, the tune is best paired with short-shorts and rum punch, with the wind running through your hair as the sun kisses your tanned skin. In their first of many collaborations, Rihanna provides the flirty come-ons that have Drake whipped to the point where he’s spitting goofy lyrics (“The square root of 69 is eight something, right?”). “What’s My Name” has everything we’ve come to love about Rihanna: her admirable charm, her “are they/aren’t they” guest features teasing her love life, the masterful dancehall-meets-pop fusion, the ease of scoring No. 1 hits with a toss of her hair (then colored a fire-engine red), the “Oh na-na!” catchiness, and her all-around infectious sincerity. And she still has us saying her name over a decade later.