GG‘s Number Ones column reviews every Billboard Hot 100 #1 single of the last 10 years.
At 22 Rihanna had already enjoyed half a decade of chart-topping hits. But 2010, the year which followed her brutal beating by Chris Brown, was different. Here her career leapt into overdrive. In February she landed her sixth No. 1 US single with Rated R‘s ‘Rude Boy‘. A guest vocal on Eminem‘s ‘Love the Way You Lie‘ took her to the top again in March. In October she enjoyed her seventh hit with Drake collaboration ‘What’s My Name?‘ from fifth album Loud. By this point, there was no stopping her. Two weeks later she returned. This time with ‘Only Girl (In the World)’.
Rihanna v. Rihanna
How ‘What’s My Name?’ and ‘Only Girl (In the World)’ came to compete with one another for the top place in the charts is an interesting story. ‘Only Girl (In the World)’ was actually released before ‘What’s My Name?’. As the lead single from Loud, ‘Only Girl’ had arrived in September but failed to top the US Billboard 100 singles chart.
The release of ‘What’s My Name?’ followed in November. Then something that had never happened before in the history of the US charts occurred. Boosted by the full release of Loud ‘Only Girl’ lept back up the charts to Number One. This made Rihanna the first woman to ever enjoy four chart-topping US singles in a single year.
The single cover of ‘Only Girl (In the World)’.
Rihanna’s Journey to Stardom
Already a superstar Rihanna’s status had been building for several years. Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, she was raised in Barbados, a small island in the Caribbean. Much of the raw emotion fans would later experience through her music came as the result of a difficult childhood. Rihanna had an estranged relationship with her father, Ronald Fenty. It stemmed from his struggles with alcoholism and crack cocaine addiction.
Her parents divorced in 2002. A year later she formed a girl group. After catching the eye of two record company executives while they were vacationing in Barbados Rihanna was invited to audition in front of record label’s Def Jam’s president Jay Z. He signed her that very day, refusing to let Rihanna and her managers leave the building until the contract had been signed. “Her eyes told me she was a star“, Jay Z would later recount.
Rihanna completed her debut album Midnight Sun in 2005. The album’s lead single ‘Pon De Replay’ would be Rihanna’s first chart-topping hit, reaching Number Two in the US charts. Rihanna’s soulful voice and personal charisma set her apart from her contemporaries. Her second album A Girl Like Me was released less than a year later gave Rihanna her first Number One single with ‘SOS’. In 2008 a 20-year-old Rihanna showcased her darker side with her best known single ‘Umbrella’.
Chris Brow Savagely Beats Rihanna
Then in 2009, her life was forever changed. Following a heated argument with boyfriend Chris Brown over a text message from another woman, Rihanna was brutally beaten. So severe was Brown’s attacked a bloodied and battered Rihanna had to be admitted to a near hospital. News of Brown’s misconduct alongside a leaked image of Rihanna’s badly beaten face shook the world.
While Rihanna was emotionally devastated the incident boosted her fame to unprecedented heights. Rihanna’s darkest album Rated R was recorded in the aftermath of the attack. The album brought listeners into Rihanna’s mindset after her horrific experience with domestic violence. Which leads us back to…
‘Only Girl (In the World)’ Presented a New Rihanna
‘Only Girl’ was the first single from Rihanna’s fifth album Loud. It made clear to the world that Rihanna had reinvented herself once again. Gone her dark and moody themes. Rihanna was bright, exciting, playful and vibrant. Yet this was more than to a return to pop roots.
‘Only Girl’ was uplifting. Rihanna was still bleeding with emotion but unlike the brooding Rihanna of Rated R, she didn’t take herself too seriously. While it didn’t shy away from being sensual, she celebrated independence and being in control. Although she had been battered and beaten, Rihanna was no victim.
‘Only Girl (In the World)’ was different to anything Rihanna had released before. “I didn’t want to go backward and remake Good Girl Gone Bad,” Rihanna shared at the time of Loud‘s release. “I wanted the next step in the evolution of Rihanna, and it’s perfect for us. You guys are always defending me, so now you’ve got some great songs to justify it.”
Norwegian production duo Stargate had worked with Rihanna since her early hits. Most famously they assisted her in bringing ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’, ‘Hate That I Love You‘ and, ‘Rude Boy’ as chart-topping hits. Alongside other key members of Rihanna’s creative team, they eagerly embraced her new direction. With ‘Only Girl’ Stargate again flavoured Rihanna’s larger than life vocals. They combined her personality with playful European dance-pop alongside the pair’s childhood passion for hip and R&B. The results spoke for themselves. ‘Only Girl’ was a hit in 16 countries.
What Came After ‘Only Girl (In the World)’
Following the success of ‘Only Girl (In the World)’, Rihanna continued to produce record-breaking albums and singles. In 2016 she released the now-iconic Anti. After this, her output would slow. From this point onward she only made sporadic guest vocal appearances while temporarily retiring from music to focus on her multi-million dollar fashion empire. Fans were pleasantly surprised in early 2020 when Rihanna returned to lend vocals to PartyNextDoor single ‘Believe It’. It was the first time the world had heard her sing in three years.
Larger Than Life Itself
Jay Z once described Rihanna as being a pop star whose personality was bigger than the song she was singing. With a distinctive vocal personality and natural charisma, Rihanna quickly proved to the world she could hold her own amongst pop music’s very best. As the times changed so did she.
By the time of Loud, Rihanna became bigger than her pop star persona itself. Loud signalled a shift in tone in modern pop music, one Rihanna so wholeheartedly embraced. Eventually seemed she was no longer sailing in the winds of her times, but leading culture itself. Following the release of Anti, it feels as Rihanna became bigger than the world of music itself. With her Savage x Fenty brand putting an end to traditional fashion houses like Vicotria’s Secret decades-long hold on the lingerie market while she makes forays into makeup, beauty and athleisure, Rihanna seems poised to repeat her successes in the world fashion.
‘Only Girl (In The World)’ Peak Chart Positions
US/Billboard: #1 (27 weeks on chart)
Australia/ARIA: #1 (30 weeks on chart)
UK/Official Charts Company: #1 (46 weeks on chart)
Rihanna's 'Only Girl (In the World)'8
4th No. 1 in 2010
'Loud' is underrated
She's on hiatus