Earlier this summer, Billboard was called out for labeling Ariana Grande “a gay icon of her generation.” Understandably, Grande identifies as a straight woman but that shouldn’t disqualify her as “a gay icon.” Over the decades, gay icons — including Donna Summer, Cher, Britney Spears, and Whitney Houston — have been straight women who have evoked a confidence for their LGBTQ fan base and shed light on the issues existing with in that community.
In a way these pop divas have acknowledged a large demographic who consistently supports their careers. No matter the orientation, any ally (especially in this trying day and age) should be embraced for their contributions — as long as they stand behind authentically supporting us and our rights.
Another icon deserving of this title is none other than Rihanna. Our “Black Madonna” effortlessly showcases how to live life to the fullest (and does it on her own accord), which is the pure embodiment of a gay icon. Here are five essential ways she’s provided her LGBTQ fans the confidence needed to live their lives freely.
Her Outspokenness Against Anti-LGBTQ Laws
Consistently making waves in her humanitarian role, Rihanna has also spoken out against discriminatory policies that have served to cripple LGBTQ rights stateside and internationally. Back in 2014, the Sochi Winter Olympics held in Russia caused major controversy, as news outlets and athletes worldwide acknowledged the hosting nation’s anti-gay propaganda laws. Rihanna joined a list of celebrities who wore a Principle 6 t-shirt speaking out against the Russian government’s hatred for LGBTQ individuals.
In 2015, Rihanna followed up that action by yelling “f–k that sh-t” in the middle of her headlining concert for the NCAA March Madness Finals being held in Indianapolis. Mike Pence — the current U.S. Vice President — signed a law while serving as governor of Indiana allowing businesses to not serve LGBTQ customers if they felt it violated their religious beliefs. Rihanna’s rebuttal fittingly came in during a performance of “Live Your Life.”
Her Companionship For LGBTQ Fans
Rihanna’s radiating confidence has been passed off to her truest followers, and she’s found herself in a mentor role. In April 2016, she privately helped a gay fan come out to family and friends. When he reached out to her on Twitter, her central message was “to be who you are.” Along the course of his journey, Rihanna would gradually check in and offer more advice. She has also served as a digital (and streaming) shoulder to cry on for her heartbroken fans helping them to move on from their complicated relationships woes.
Her Fashion Sense
There’s plenty of reason to call Rihanna a fashion icon. The red carpet is her basketball court and when she’s given the opportunity she always scores. Interestingly enough, Rihanna’s been a consistent fan of balancing androgyny with “feminine beauty.” One day she can be spotted wearing an oversized men’s jacket with Timbs, and the next she can be seen in a frilly pink gown at the Grammys. The shapeless looks and silhouettes in her Puma x Fenty collaborative effort also adds to the current resurgence of genderless clothing in the fashion community.
Her Clapbacks, Shade, And Fearless Attitude
“The shade of it all” whenever the Internet is graced by the BadGal’s “RIHplies” (otherwise known as the singer’s signature clapbacks). RIHplies usually come from RiRi whenever there seems to be a critic judging her life decisions — all encompassing her “fearless attitude.” Whenever Rihanna wants to do something, she does it for her fulfillment — something highly admirable with a group that faces constant criticism and discrimination. It really explains why she’s so lovable in the GIF world.
Her LGBTQ Friendly Discography & Music Videos
To quote a previous Billboard article about DJs taste-making at LGBTQ nightclubs and bars, one DJ specified that “Rihanna and Beyoncé almost unanimously unite the dancefloor.” And looking back, this comes as no surprise. Very frank in its title, LOUD is probably Rihanna’s most gay icon record. Chock full of dance-pop anthems, Rihanna’s fifth studio album is a gay-haven including Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits “Only Girl (In The World),” “What’s My Name,” and “S&M” (with a surprise Britney Spears feature on the remix). Not to mention her extensive catalogue of twerking and bounce jaunts: “Pour It Up,” “Rude Boy,” and “Work,” just to name a few.
Rihanna also manages to bend gender roles and sexuality in her music making it inclusive for all her fans. Her sixth studio album Talk That Talk saw the singer in a very androgynous role referring to both private members of the human anatomy interchangeably. Its track “Cockiness (Love It)” featured double entendres “suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion,” while she assumed the role of a man in the bonus cut “Red Lipstick.” And we can’t forget her musical same sex trysts: Rated R’s “Te Amo” where she addresses a woman’s romantic feelings for another and her Shakira-aided “Can’t Remember To Forget You.”
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