Rihanna's 'Unapologetic': The Billboard Cover Story
Every November for the past four years, Rihanna has released a million-selling album. Will "Unapologetic" be her first No. 1?
Tuesday, Nov. 6, wasn't just Election Day for Jay Brown. It was also the day the Roc Nation president/co-founder had to hand over the final cut of
"She's been very vocal about where she stands and where she feels"
Statistically, Rihanna is an anomaly for someone who turned 24 in February. She has sold 8.7 million albums in the United States and a staggering 58 million digital songs as a lead artist, according to SoundScan. On the Hot 100, she's had 11 No. 1 singles, tying her with Whitney Houston for most chart-toppers. Should "Diamonds" become her 12th No. 1, she'd tie with Madonna and the Supremes in fourth place behind the Beatles (20), Mariah Carey (18) and Michael Jackson (13) for most No. 1s in Hot 100 history. She also has six Grammy Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, five American Music Awards, 18 Billboard Music Awards and the hard-earned title of Facebook's most-liked public figure with 62 million likes also to her name.
"Rihanna is a global superstar without equal," says Barry Weiss, chairman/CEO of Island Def Jam Music Group and Republic Records. "Her vision and passion for her craft, her unmatched work ethic, her impeccable taste and artistry, her fearlessness and preternatural ability to move the culture, inspire and remind us why we are lucky to be in this business."
Yet one distinction she's yet to claim is a No. 1 album in America, despite coming close with Good Gone Girl Bad, which reached No. 2 in 2007. "It'd be great if she gets one, but she's broken every other record out there just about," Brown says with a shrug. "The process is to make good music, and when you make good music, everything plays itself out. It's great that people take it tastefully and piece by piece and they're still buying. It's about the marathon, not the sprint."
And Rihanna's rekindled friendship with Chris Brown has also kept her under heavy public scrutiny, which didn't help matters in February when a pair of remixes of the former couple's current singles "Turn Up the Music" and "Birthday Cake" were released as surprise duets. Though neither was released commercially, both took off at radio despite early backlash. "'Birthday Cake,' that was a moment in time. It was a viral, consumer-driven reality," Bartels says. "Ultimately Rihanna drives her creative vision. Our job is to take that and support it in the marketplace. She's been very vocal about where she stands and where she feels."
Island Def Jam's Thiam says the Brown duet "Nobodies Business" is a leading candidate for Unapologetic's second single, but the label team "always takes the approach of putting the record out, getting feedback and letting people decide where to take it from there. There's a lot of big records on the album, but we want the people to decide what they want to be next."
Ultimately, Roc Nation's Brown will measure the success of "Unapologetic" not in units but in the way that it enhances Rihanna's global status.
"She's in a phase where she's going from being cultural to iconic. It's good for her to do her own thing and not do the norm and stretch a little," Brown says. "She knows that her fans love her being honest about who she is, and that's why she named the album that way-she's not going to apologize for who she is."