In 2009, when Rihanna declared “I’m a rock star,” it seemed like a stretch (even if she did get Slash and Travis Barker to give her a few pointers on the subject). After all, though she’d recently dirtied up her image with the Rated R album, RihRih was still the girl best known for songs like “Umbrella,” “SOS” and “Pon de Replay” … three hits that, while omnipresent, rocked about as hard as Death Cab For Cutie at an NPR convention.
Fast forward three years, however, and that statement seems strangely prescient. Because at the end of 2012, Rihanna is basically the last rock star standing. This was, of course, due in no small part to the continued de-fanging of rock itself (the year’s biggest-selling bands? Mumford & Sons and Fun.), though really, over the past 12 months, Rihanna has given the Axls and Diamond Daves a genuine run for their money. Hers was a year of audacious attitude, salacious singles, extreme excess and downright defiant deeds … she did what she wanted, with whomever she wanted, and didn’t give a single, solitary f— about any of it. She flaunted her blunt-rolling abilities, posed nude more times than we can possibly count, re-connected with her controversial ex and led 150 journalists on a seven-day death-march around the globe. Shoot, she even found time to release Unapologetic , an album that, in hindsight, seems like a mission statement.
In short, while so many shrank from the spotlight, in 2012, Rihanna not only embraced it, she bent it over and made it her bitch. They say that being a rock star is all in the attitude, and if that truly is the case, well, then there was no one who flashed more attitude (amongst other things) than she did. Which is why she stood head and shoulders above everyone else.
She rang in the year riding high with “We Found Love,” which dominated the tail-end of 2011, and held firm for the first part of this year (the song was #1 on the Hot 100 for the last 8 weeks of ’11, then returned to the top spot for two more weeks in January ’12). That was due, in part, to the accompanying video , a over-the-top ode to booze and pills that packed more visceral thrills than anything Gaga or Katy could have cooked up, not to mention any so-called rock act. She’d release less scandalous singles, too — compared to “We Found Love,” “Diamonds” is downright demure — though her decision to drop a remix of “Birthday Cake,” featuring former flame Chris Brown (who, you are probably aware, plead guilty to assaulting her in 2009) certainly shocked folks more than a few scenes of smoking pot.
With that move, Rihanna served notice that she would defiantly be doing things on her terms, and though she and Brown would publically deny they were once again an item, their respective Instagram accounts certainly suggested otherwise . In fact, Rihanna seemed to delight in tweaking her detractors, publically embracing Brown at the Video Music Awards, and making their relationship a central theme on her Unapologetic album … most notably, the bold duet “Nobody’s Business,” which featured the pair cooing lines like “You’ll always be my boy, I’ll always be your girl” and “Your love is infectious, let’s make out in this Lexus.” The message was undeniably clear: I don’t care what you think.
In a lot of ways, that proved to be Rihanna’s motto for the year. She posted photos of herself exhaling thick plumes of (supposedly) marijuana smoke on her Instagram, posed nearly nude on the cover of Esquire (and just as nearly nude on the cover of Unapologetic ) and added to her impressive tattoo collection with a large portrait of the goddess Isis beneath her breasts. Oh, and then she organized the whirlwind “777 Tour,” which was marred by lengthy delays, open revolts by the assembled journalists and complete lack of access to the star herself (of course, at the conclusion of the trip, Rih declared “I’d do this again.” )
And sure, you could chalk all of that up to bad behavior or unchecked attitude, but aren’t both of those things essential parts of being a real rock star? Compare everything Rihanna did over the past 12 months to any of her contemporaries, and see if you can find anyone who comes close to matching her resume. In a time when a star’s every move is covered and analyzed, Rih didn’t shy away from expressing herself, acting out, getting loud or living her life … she may not be Axl Rose, but she’s the closest thing we’ve got to him. And while that fact might be depressing to some, consider this: Rihanna went from squeaky clean pop star to down and dirty Rock Star in just three short years. At this point, the sky truly is the limit.
Is Rihanna really the Rock Star of the Year? Let us know in the comments below.