By Da'Shan Smith
As a stan, there often come moments of asking yourself, "How did I get to this point?" As explored by MTV News earlier this year, sometimes as super fans, we tend to do uncharacteristic things to gain a social connection outside of reality. For example, on Friday (October 11), I found myself lugging The RIHANNA Book across New York City's intricate subway system, believing it was possible to carry 14.8 extra pounds while tipsy off unlimited glasses of Armand de Brignac's Ace of Spades champagne.
Three hours prior, I anxiously stood in line outside the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to attend the exclusive launch party for Rihanna's 504-page visual autobiography. Hundreds of other Rihanna stans and I witnessed a crew unloading long brown boxes. "Those must be our books!" exclaimed a fellow Rihanna Navy member. "I just want to meet her," answered back another. "I heard she smells good."
With the Guggenheim adjacent to Central Park on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the atmosphere felt swanky enough to be from Gossip Girl. Peering into the windows, stans snapped pictures of the brightly lit inside — the Luxury Supreme edition of The RIHANNA Book (retailed at $5,500) situated center stage on a white block. Before we each walked through the doors of the museum, our phones were locked inside pouches that needed to be unclipped like a security tag on retail clothes.
To have this moment, I had to pay $150 for the book on a private Eventbrite link, plus an additional $24 for entry-fee taxes. While costly, the purchase was a no-brainer: Though I have some random Rih visual moments saved on my phone, it was nice to own those images in hardcopy form.
The RIHANNA Book is monumental because it capitalizes on Kim Kardashian's 2015 book of selfies, Selfish, as well as Beyoncé's scrolling portal of unreleased pics on her personal website. However, in all its 504-page glory — spanning her childhood in the Barbados, four distinctive album eras since 2010's Loud, her rise as a fashion mogul, and vacation candids — this piece elevates that conversation, reminding readers that Rihanna is the de facto queen of Instagram, 2010s fashion blogs, and celebrity media, as well as Tumblr favorites. Set forth in this literature, Rihanna is arguably the most visually groundbreaking artist and celebrity of her generation — the ultimate blueprint of coolness and relatability.
Inside the Guggenheim, '90s hip-hop and R&B (Mariah Carey's remix of "Fantasy" featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard), as well as trap from today's hitmakers (Travis Scott, J. Cole, and Young Thug) blared. At one point, during Popcaan's "Everything Is Nice," I found myself busting a whine alongside a sharply dressed member of the Navy. "Unique, I can't wait for her to release her reggae and dancehall album!" I exclaimed, foolishly believing that since our phones were confiscated, Rihanna might announce something related to her long-anticipated ninth LP or possibly sneak in a new music snippet.
Of course she didn't, and her elusive album still remains a mystery (much to the Navy's chagrin!). But Rihanna herself was not: She entered about 30 minutes before the party's end, after posing on the red carpet. Dazzling in a leopard-print dress designed by Yves Saint Laurent for their 2020 spring collection, Rihanna walked in to Konshens's "Bruk Off Yuh Back." While other attendees flocked to swarm Rihanna upon her arrival through the Guggenheim's front door — creating a sea that embodies the core of the Navy — I stayed close to the DJ booth. I had already met Rihanna in 2012 during a CD signing of Unapologetic upon her 777 Tour, a career-defining moment highlighted in The RIHANNA Book. I felt an inverse duty as a stan not to overwhelm her. And my main concern had been about that damn album; almost four years since 2016's Anti is too long of a wait, and after four glasses of Ace of Spades, I had become a Rose McGowan "imagine how tired we are" meme populating Stan Twitter.
Instead of meeting Rihanna, I got the opportunity to realize I was not only a stan of hers but also core people that influenced her career. Roughly 10 minutes into entering the museum, I stumbled upon her stylist Mel Ottenberg, who helped design some of her most iconic Met Gala looks. Never one to be starstruck, I was still at a loss for words as I instantly recognized his face and denim attire. We briefly spoke as I kept apologizing for not having more to say than, "Oh my gosh, I'm fanguying right now!"
Roughly an hour in, I saw Rihanna's BFF, and one of the principal photographers for the book, Melissa Forde. When I interviewed her back in 2017, I was super nervous, but her vibes were welcoming, and I wanted to make sure to highlight her specific talent. During that interview she told me she was proud to see more black journalists in the field, and as I told her I was covering Rihanna's book launch for MTV News, she high-fived me.
Rihanna finally held the microphone at the end of the party. Aptly standing on the museum's 96-foot spiral staircase — next to the words "Artistic License" — the star thanked her team, including Melissa, her manager Jay Brown, and the team of the book's publisher, Phaidon. She called this new endeavor of her career "a work of art," casually noting how fitting it was to be premiered at a historic museum like the Guggenheim. Her voice sounded high-pitched over the microphone, emphasizing her genuine excitement for this visual moment in history.
While toting The RIHANNA Book from the party, I ended up on the platform of the 6 train at the nearby 86th street stop. Near-sighted by the ingestion of luxurious champagne, I spotted a few other people holding a black briefcase-like box. I shouted, "RIHANNA NAVY!" to which fellow stans gleefully held up their books like championship belts. Other passengers didn't understand, but we deserved that moment.
It didn't hit me how impactful this gift had been until later, after a night of clubbing. When I retrieved the book from coat check, the staff member and security (who Stan Twitter would have labeled "locals," those not as infatuated with the intricate details of celebrity life) were both puzzled by what the mysterious black case had held. "I'll show you," I said. They immediately wowed as I unveiled the cover of Rihanna's face portrait on the front cover, her name inverted with a strikethrough font. I flipped through random pages on the verge of tears: "This is an amazing gift! I attended the launch party for this!" As we collectively encountered pics of her chilling on a yacht, I spewed, "We grew up with her!"
Before going to bed that night, I dove deeper into the evolution exhibited through the 504 pages, eventually crying at a spread on pages 84 and 85 of her posing next to a "G4Life" hat, which references her 2009 Rated R deep cut "G4L," the song that monikered the Navy its fan base title.
About 20 pages prior, there's a letter addressed to us, her core stan base, handwritten at the time of her 777 Tour: "As we continue this journey together, we'll write new stories, share more laughs, meet new people, tell more stories, in faith in hope and take not one moment for granted." After my experience at the launch party and after, that became yet another personal stan lesson well learned and well earned. Being a member of the Navy is a code of honor — our Petty Officer-turned-Commander in Chief unapologetically showed the way.