The Definitive Guide To Rihanna’s Music Video Style

From party gyal to post-apocalyptic soldier and back again.

February 03, 2015

Today we got our first Rihanna music video in over a year, and it's hard to articulate just how much we've missed our girl. Her presence and style in the "FourFiveSeven" video are as powerful as they've ever been (powerful enough, even, to articulate all angst you've ever felt in GIF form), so we wanted to scroll back through Ri's videography to see how we got this far. When Ri broke down her look for "FourFiveSeven" she called it "iconic—like the fucking Beatles": an assessment that applies to more than one of her videos. A comprehensive look at Rihanna's sartorial spectrum, below.

"Pon de Replay" (2005)

In a gold sequin super-cropped top, sneakers and baggy jeans, Rihanna was the epitome of the pop island teen princess.

"SOS" (2006)

A series of slinky, colorful costume changes paired with flat-ironed hair, Island babe bronzed skin, and door knocker earrings.

"Unfaithful" (2006)

Red hair and bangs marked the beginnings of Rihanna's chameleon style, but sartorially she kept it simple: yet another slinky black dress and, for lounging, an oversized men's dress shirt.

"We Ride" (2006)

"We Ride" represented a more chilled-out Riri: hanging out with her friends, rolling around fully clothed in the surf like she's shooting for Sports Illustrated, and lots of casual cleavage.

"Umbrella" (2007)

The first single from Good Girl Gone Bad, the "Umbrella" video showcased a more artistic Rihanna: dramatically lit, clad in slick ensembles in black and white, and, at one point, completely nude except for a thick layer of silver paint.

"Shut Up and Drive" (2007)

Acting as the polar opposite of her "Umbrella" persona, Rihanna struts around a garage in a slashed-back white tank, stripe-painted jeans, and a Charlie's Angels-esque motorcycle jacket with booty shorts. It's cheesy as all hell, but what do you expect?

"Don't Stop The Music" (2007)

Rihanna forsakes garish costume changes and clunky jewelry for a single paired-down look: a black tube dress with a cut-out and bow detail that sent fans scrambling to cop DIY or knockoff versions.

"Take a Bow" (2008)

With lots of soulful close shots and a dramatic black pixie cut, "Take A Bow" precipitates the unvarnished Rihanna of "Stay." In 2008, though, she was still heavily made-up: loads of gold jewelry, tight black outfits, and a red lip that says I'm the kind of bitch that will set your clothes on fire if you cross me.

"Disturbia" (2008)

At this point Rihanna had the world wrapped up around her little finger, and she knew it. In the "Disturbia" vid, she offers up darker imagery than ever before, matched by a spiky pixie cut, the Black Swan version of a smoky eye, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Sia wig.

"Rehab" (2008)

A return to her Island gyal roots in a floral green bikini.

"Wait Your Turn" (2009)

Two words: fashion eyepatch.

"Russian Roulette" (2009)

Another grainy joint with disturbing, isolated imagery, Rated R clearly had Rih going through some shit. There's only a couple of looks in the "Russian Roulette" video, but the most memorable is definitely the grey onesie with a hood and no front.

"Hard" (2009)

The Rihanna who wouldn't hesitate to set your shit on fire is back, and this time she's traipsing through a desert in full military mode. Half Desert Storm and half Mad Max, Ri gears up for battle in avant-garde armour (including a bra made of bullets), slathers herself in mud and grinds on a tank.

"Rude Boy" (2010)

The trippy technicolor video for "Rude Boy" (directed by Melina Matsoukas, also responsible for "Hard" and "Rockstar 101") has Rihanna back on the dance floor. Her hair is cut short and worn blonde and curly—all the better for sweaty dancing—and there's a lot of dancehall queen inspiration to go around. Our favorite ensemble involved fringed booty shorts in red, green, and yellow.

"Rockstar 101" (2010)

The final installment of Rihanna's "I'm back, bitch" trilogy with Matsoukas, the "Rockstar 101" video is just as aggressive as its predecessors. Rihanna is by turns painted like a panther, covered in studded chains, and dressed up like Slash.

"Only Girl (In The World)" (2010)

By this time Rih was fire engine-red, but for the "Only Girl" video she cut the hue's boldness with soft floral backgrounds and fuzzy blue sweaters, and then amped it up in scarlet-washed field shots. That blue cropped sweater/white tennis skirt/white garter combination forever.

"What's My Name" (2010)

In the sugary-sweet video for her duet with Drake, Rihanna kept the good things from "Only Girl" going: soft red curls, fuzzy blue sweaters, and traffic-stopping bustiers.

"S&M" (2011)

Loads of Rihanna videos deal with her turbulent relationship with fame, but "S&M"'s imagery confronts it most directly. Trapped behind cellophane and clad in a newspaper-print gown Rihanna struggles to escape while ball-gagged reporters scrawl notes like "daddy issues?" These scenes are interspersed with Rihanna in a more dominant role, wearing exquisite latex outfits and all variety of bondage gear.

"Cheers (Drink To That)" (2011)

This compilation of home videos and fan videos showed a softer, more personal side of Rihanna. Shots of your girl playing air guitar at the dinner table, swimming, and wilding at Carnival gave her fans an even deeper look into her life. <333333.

"We Found Love" (2011)

Rihanna's style in the mega-hit's video didn't get as much attention as its storyline: Rihanna acting out a tumultuous relationship with an unmistakable Chris Brown lookalike. The vulnerability and pain she demonstrated here (as well as that submerged bathtub shot) set the scene for the "Stay" video.

"You Da One" (2011)

Rihanna's platinum bob and graphic cage-accented outfits complement the chiaroscuro lighting scheme and crisp imagery. Plus, she proves she can do an admirable crotch grab in a wide array of shorts.

"Diamonds" (2012)

"Diamonds" is where Ri finally unleashed a rawer, deeply emotional persona. What might have been a colorful party vid in earlier Rihanna years has been subdued into a tragic tumult of visuals. There are few clothes to speak of here, but Rihanna commands the camera with her half-shorn hair, bare shoulders and tattoos on display.

"Stay" (2013)

Arguably the mother of all Rihanna videos. Wearing nothing but a giant diamond stud and white acrylic nails, Rihanna, naked and makeup-free, shivering in a clawfoot tub, redefined what a pop music video could be.

"Pour It Up" (2013)

Rihanna may have bared it all for "Stay," but in true Ri fashion, she quickly swung to the opposite extreme. The "Pour It Up" video was a portrait of indulgent excesses: Rihanna rocks bright red matte lipstick, a platinum blonde wig, a jeweled bra, and an emerald choker which she pairs—of course—with denim cutoffs. Rihanna revisits her early affinities for fishnets and layered chunky jewewlry, all in a surreal, sexy underwater setting.

"What Now" (2013)

Smoky eyes, long, spiky black bangs, a heavy black cross around her neck: the frenetic "What Now" video has a lot going on visually but Rihanna's style is simple: a nude slipdress that fits her like a glove accessorized with lots of heavy silver jewelry.

"FouFiveSeconds" (2015)

It's been a long, long wait since we've gotten our last Rihanna video, but it was all worth it. Rihanna steals the visuals for her track with Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney, back in her black and white element. Rihanna rocks baggy jeans and an oversized denim work jacket secured with too-big worn leather belt but the massiveness of her clothes don't dwarf her. With her hair slicked back, her skin dewy and natural, and the kohl smudged under her eyes like she's just been crying, Rihanna's powerful voice and swaggy movements electrify the whole song.


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The Definitive Guide To Rihanna’s Music Video Style