All Hail Rihanna, The Queen Of Reinvention

The embodiment of wearing what you want, when you want

by Anne T. Donahue

Now that a full day has passed since Rihanna dropped her video for “Kiss It Better,” we’ve had enough time to sit, think, reflect, and aspire. (I decided once and for all that I’m going to buy a power suit).

Which is to say: it’s great. The pairing of the song’s electric guitar and the video’s #sensual #imagery evokes the majesty of an early-to-mid nineties perfume ad (in the best way), as Rihanna once again lends herself to a narrative that celebrates glamour, sexuality, and self-expression. But despite the singer being no stranger to any of those three things, “Kiss It Better”—shot in black-and-white and alongside a wind machine—showcases her ability to demonstrate them in new ways.

Where “Work” was a terrific homage to nights out and her dynamic with Drake, and “BBHMM” established Rihanna as a cinematic boss, her latest venture sees her declaring herself as a woman entirely in control of her sexual manifesto. Arguably, it’s the NSFW equivalent of a story-changing soap opera love scene; it’s romantic, over-the-top, and beautifully lit, as well as reflective of the character Rihanna would like to be right now.

And nobody decides their own destiny the way Rihanna does. But while reinvention is clearly a currency in pop, most of the industry’s biggest and brightest tend to follow a distinct set of rules while establishing how they’d like us to see them. Reinvention tends to accompany new albums (Madonna), solo careers (Beyoncé and Gwen Stefani), and the assertion of talent and maturity in the wake of adulthood (Miley Cyrus), so we can usually bank on every new look and/or new sound being accompanied by a footnote of, “This is who I am now! Deal with it!”

And this is reasonable, since we all like to reinvent ourselves, and tend to do so pretty consistently. Which is also why I think we tend to gravitate toward artists in the wake of their reinventions, responding to their underlying message of “you can look like this too” with the purchase of their makeup lines or favorite brands or singing the praises of their red carpet choices while rolling our eyes at the ones from last year. In that sense, the state of reinvention in pop music is a little bit like high school: the cools drop a trend, monopolize another one, and we follow suit because Cady Heron wore army pants and flip-flops, and now so will we.

But Rihanna has never subscribed to that mandate. She has never declared “I am not the woman I used to be,” nor side-eyed her past self for her aesthetic choices. She is constant in that she changes constantly, and she does it without effort. As proven by her most recent videos, she follows only the aesthetic rules she wants to follow—and as proven by our admiration for her recent sheer tops and oversize blazers, we’re thirsty for a hero who does exactly that. (Even if they’re wearing something we might not wear ourselves—at least, yet.)

That’s because Rihanna is true punk. Her style is chaos. It changes without warning, rolls its eyes at “who wore it best,” and is defined by the person Rihanna decides to be in that moment, and not for who she signs on to be for an entire press tour. The singer’s recent two-piece pastel outfit was in direct contrast to what we saw in “Kiss It Better”—which was a stark, minimalist dream. But on the flip side, she also cloaked herself in black on Wednesday, appeared in a promo yesterday wearing only a pair of jeans (like, as an outfit) on Thursday, and spent Monday in a green tracksuit with fur sleeves. Read: Rihanna wears what Rihanna wants because, for her, every day prompts reinvention.

Which is how the most authentic reinventions work. As people, we never stop growing, changing, evolving, and acquiring new and different tastes that we either cling to or end up discarding. So it’s unrealistic to look at reinvention as a block of time with a beginning or an end, or as something better or worse than what came before it (even though it’s easy). I mean, it’d be nice to pull a Christina Aguilera and go from Stripped to the forties-inspired “Candyman.” It’d be fun to go from hatching out of an egg like Lady Gaga to singing alongside Tony Bennett. It’d be interesting to go from ringlets à la Taylor Swift to an Anna Wintour bob. But real life is messier and less calculated. Most of my own reinventions have been in the wake of something bigger, and they usually happened because I didn’t have a choice. Most of us purge our old selves in an attempt to find the newer, better ones. Rihanna blurs the lines and validates every one of her versions.

And for that, she is the Reinvention Queen™. She’s the embodiment of aesthetic experimentation, of confidence, and of wearing whatever you want to wear whenever you want to wear it. She’s walking—and wearing—proof that reinvention doesn’t need to be a production, it can be simply a reflection of who you choose to be that day. And when you think about it, fashion is way more fun when you come at it from that angle anyhow. Because maybe today you’re a pastel suit. And maybe tomorrow you’re green lipstick. Either way, both are pretty great.