It’s hard to comprehend just how many musical achievements Rihanna has tied her name to prior to her 25th birthday on Wednesday (Feb. 20). Aside from the dozens of hit singles, the Barbadian superstar is responsible for some of the most memorable moments in pop culture over the past seven years, from sold-out arena tours to amazing (and controversial) collaborations to bold artistic choices that no fan could have anticipated. Rihanna is constantly innovating, one album, one single, and one day at a time, and love her or hate her, she should be celebrated for that.
In honor of Rih’s 25th birthday, check out this breakdown of her 10 biggest music moments, from “Pon De Replay” to the #777tour. And after perusing this overview of her impossibly successful musical career, sound off on your favorite Rihanna moments in the comments below.
Rihanna Breaks Through with “Pon De Replay”
In 2004, 16-year-old Rihanna was an unsigned artist trying to catch the ear of the music world from her native country of Barbados. The highlight of her first demo tape was a reggae-infused dance track called “Pon De Replay,” “play it again” in Rih’s native Bajan Creole tongue. Rihanna auditioned the song in Jay-Z’s Def Jam office and impressed him enough to score a deal. A year later, “Pon De Replay” ascended all the way to No. 2 on the Hot 100 and spent 12 weeks in the top 10. Ironically, when Jay-Z first heard “Replay,” he feared, “when a song is this big, it’s hard (for a new artist) to come back from.”
“SOS” Marks Rihanna’s First No. 1 Hit
In 2006, Rihanna followed up her debut album “Music of the Sun” with a new record titled “A Girl Like Me.” It’s first single was the thumping, “Tainted Love”-sampling dancepop song “SOS” which replaced Rihanna’s reggae influence with a more traditional American club vibe. “SOS” went on to top the Hot 100 for three consecutive weeks, giving Rihanna her first No. 1 hit.
“Umbrella” Starts “Good Girl Gone Bad”‘s String of Hits
Rihanna introduced 2007’s “Good Girl Gone Bad,” her third studio album, with one of her most critically acclaimed songs and biggest breakthrough hits. The famed “Umbrella” video found Rihanna strutting her new, edgily cut tresses and defiantly working a stylish black umbrella into her dance routine while she and her ensemble got poured on. The Jay-Z collab bested “SOS” by staying atop the Hot 100 for seven weeks and opened the door to a string of high profile hits from “Good Girl,” including “Don’t Stop the Music” and “Shut Up and Drive.” Fans couldn’t get enough and a year later, the album was reissued featuring two more No. 1 hits: “Disturbia” and “Take a Bow.”
“We Found Love” Becomes Rihanna’s Biggest Hit Yet
By 2011 Rihanna’s love of dance music was no secret. In a collaboration with DJ/producer Calvin Harris she set a new standard for herself with the electrifying “We Found Love.” Deservedly, the single became the biggest smash of Rih’s career, topping the Hot 100 for a staggering 10 non-consecutive weeks in late 2011 and early 2012. EDM was starting to take over the charts and Rihanna was more than ready.
Chris Brown’s Controversial “Birthday Cake” Remix
The steamy, ultra-sexual “Birthday Cake” (“I know you wanna bite this, it’s so enticing,” Rihanna sings.) first appeared on Rihanna’s 2011 album “Talk That Talk” as a 78-second interlude. When a remixed, full-length version hit the Internet on Feb. 20, 2012 (to coincide with Rihanna’s birthday) a media controversy unfolded over its featured guest: Chris Brown. With Brown’s brutality to Rihanna at the 2009 Grammy Awards still fresh in fans’ minds, many cried foul. In an interview with Billboard, co-producer The-Dream set the record straight: “For me, it’s just music — two talented people doing a record together… The true thing really is to forgive, and you want to believe in people.”
Rihanna: Live In Concert, The First of Many Headlining Tours
After scoring a couple radio hits on her first two albums, Rihanna headed out on her first headlining tour. Dubbed “Rihanna: Live in Concert,” the trek ran across North America during the summer of 2006, and demonstrated Rih’s command of the stage at only 18 years of age. Of course, “Rihanna: Live In Concert” was the first of many impressive headlining runs, preceding the “Good Girl Gone Bad” world trek, “Last Girls on Earth” tour, “Loud” world tour and the upcoming “Diamonds World Tour.” Rih has also supported Jay-Z, the Pussycat Dolls and Kanye West live in concert.
Rihanna Sports Darker Shades on “Rated R”
If “Good Girl Gone Bad” was RIhanna’s breakout pop LP, its 2009 follow-up “Rated R” was a decidedly moody. It was led by the ballad “Russian Roulette” and buoyed by sneering singles “Rude Boy” and “Hard.” As the first Rihanna album to be released following her infamous pre-Grammys altercation with Chris Brown, “Rated R” was a starker look for the pop superstar, but still produced its share of inescapable hits.
Collaborations Fill Out Rihanna’s Music Resume
When all is said and done with Rihanna’s career, music fans will have to recognize the singer’s prolific — and powerful — penchant for turning unexpected mash-ups with other artists into bold, often chart-topping hits. As a featured artist, Rihanna has helped artists like T.I. (“Live Your Life”), Eminem (“Love The Way You Lie”), Jay-Z (“Run This Town”), Coldplay (“Princess of China”) and Drake (“Take Care”) create some of their most immediate songs to date, while her collaborations with Calvin Harris (“We Found Love”), A$AP Rocky (“Cockiness (Remix)”) and Young Jeezy (“Hard”) have assisted her solo career immensely.
Britney Spears Joins Rihanna for Billboard Music Awards Kick-Off
Following an extended televised hiatus, the Billboard Music Awards returned in style in 2011 when Rihanna took center stage to open the ABC awards show with her hit “S&M.” But that wasn’t all: minutes later, Rih was joined by Britney Spears for a surprise collaborative performance, one of the few awards show appearances by the elusive pop princess. Rihanna has dazzled at other awards ceremonies, but the 2011 BBMAs was one of her most exhilarating performances to date. Thanks Brit!
Rihanna Travels The World on the 777 Tour
For the release of her seventh studio album, “Unapologetic,” Rihanna plotted one of the most ambitious tours in history: the 777 tour visited seven countries in seven days last November, with a plane full of fans and journalists along for the ride. Although the flight was a bit more controversial than planned, with journalists highlighting their lack of access and sleep (among other problems) in ongoing reviews, the trek once again kept Rihanna in the spotlight ahead of an album release, and another No. 1 song on the Hot 100, this time for “Diamonds.”