The last time Rihanna graced the cover of Paper Magazine it was 2007, the same year she retooled her image to the one we’ve all become so familiar with by now–the one best described by her Instagram handle, @badgalriri. It was the year that the fittingly titled Good Girl Gone Bad came out, and suddenly the Barbadian pop star possessed an edge no one had previously noticed on 2006’s A Girl Like Me or 2005’s Music of the Sun. But before this predilection for “hardness,” Rihanna was very much the R&B “good girl,” a talisman of froth and good times highlighted on tracks like “Pon de Replay” or even a cautionary tale against infidelity with songs like “Unfaithful.”
Her sudden shift toward a persona of depravity and disorder is now the stuff of her legend–being battered by Chris Brown and dumping “nice guy” Drake all too quickly years later only adding to the lore. And though everyone accepts and even encourages this tendency toward “wickedness” (see: the “Bitch Better Have My Money” video), no one seems to have the inclination to ask how much of it, really, is played up for the purposes of being an entertainer.
Paper Mag’s #BreaktheRules issue is a theoretically tailored theme for someone like Rihanna, who has no shame about bringing a bejeweled flask to the Grammys or baring all in a see-through dress to accept a Fashion Icon of the Year award. But the photos contained within the spread (reminiscent of the “What’s My Name?” video in terms of that gas station-y/convenience store backdrop) feel all too pat in their assertion of “badness.”
In some photos, RiRi offers us a green-tinted punk hairstyle that looks like a better version of the one James Franco sported for a certain episode of Freaks and Geeks, paired with a vibrant pink and orange fur coat or netted yellow top. In others, she looks blase behind the counter of the bodega with a long purple ponytail and a denim jacket. Then there’s the image of her with a backwards orange baseball cap and an oversized green and orange shirt as she meanders by the refrigerator section. What it all serves to spell out is Rihanna’s so-called thuggery. And yes, she has a definite “I don’t give a fuck” aura, but she’s certainly not the type to write a diss track with the same passionate ire as, say, Nicki Minaj.
The cementing of her reputation by Paper Magazine is all very well and good for selling more magazines, but it tends to be the case that the more you insist you are something, the less you actually tend to be that thing. So perhaps Rihanna is just a well of mushy emotions behind that “so hard” facade. Only time will tell.