New Delhi: Leaping from playlists to front pages, Rihanna has made the transition from the cult pop star who has much of young, upper class urban India dancing to her songs to the global celebrity all of India can’t stop talking about or finding out more about.
Is she Rihanna or Reeyanna? What is her nationality? Exactly how popular is she? The questions on the Barbados-born US singer, who set the international ball rolling on India’s farm protests with her tweet backing the farmers, did the frantic rounds.
On Tuesday night, Rihanna, one of the biggest pop stars of the day, had many in a tizzy when she shared a CNN report over the Internet shutdown at the protest sites at Delhi border. “Why aren’t we talking about this? #FarmersProtest,” the 33-year-old singer tweeted.
Rihanna, who has frequently spoken out on issues such as LGBTQIA+ rights and racism, is the fourth most followed person, with 101.3 million followers, on Twitter after former US president Barack Obama and singers Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Her tweet on India’s farmers received hundreds of thousands retweets and likes.
It led to a wave of support for the farmers from several global celebrities, activists and politicians, including climate activist Greta Thunberg, American lawyer and US Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris, actor Amanda Cerni, singers Jay Sean and Hollywood tar John Cusack.
The Umbrella and Diamond singer also saw a jump in her Twitter following going from 100 million to 101.3 million in two days.
She was suddenly talk of town everywhere in India. The controversy triggered by tweet also evoked a strong response from the Ministry of External Affairs, which said the “temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments is neither accurate nor responsible.
Using the hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda that were used in the MEA statement, the government’s pushback found support from several top ministers, Bollywood and sports personalities.
And people who didn’t know or have any interest in her kind of music were overnight trying to find out more and listen more to understand more about the woman behind the tweet.
On the day she posted about the internet clampdown at farmers’ protest, Rihanna also spoke against the military coup in India’s neighbouring country Myanmar.
“My prayers are with you #myanmar!” the singer tweeted while sharing a post by Human Rights Watch.
Rihanna’s support to farmers’ protests and solidarity with the people of Myanmar isn’t a case of sudden activism.
She has been vocal about issues such as LGBTQIA+ rights, children education and racism since her teen years.
Born on February 20, 1988 in Saint Michael, Barbados, to accountant Monica and warehouse supervisor Ronald Fenty, Rihanna was just 18 when she created Believe Foundation to help terminally ill children.
In 2012, she launched the Clara Lionel Foundation, which supports and funds education and health programmes around the world.
She also became the first global ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education, using her voice to advocate for support for education programmes.
In 2017, the singer criticised fashion firms who hire models from minority groups as a “token” gesture.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted trans women over the years but I don’t go around doing trans castings! I respect all women. Whether they’re trans or not is none of my business.
“I don’t think it’s fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool. Too often I see companies doing this to trans and black women alike. There’s always just that one spot in the campaign for the token ‘we look mad diverse’ girl/guy! It’s sad!,” the singer, who owns the popular skin colour and gender inclusive cosmetics label Fenty, had said in response to a fan query on Twitter.
Rihanna was also among the major voices in showbiz when the US was rocked by protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May last year.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in April last year, the singer made an earnest appeal to her fans, saying that she isn’t working on her latest album as her prime focus right now is doing her bit in saving the world from the pandemic.
The Grammy winner, one of the richest musicians ever with a net worth pegged at USD 600 million, was one of the first famous personalities who pledged support towards the relief efforts in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak.
Rihanna’s non-profit organisation Clara Lionel Foundation donated USD 2.1 million to help victims of domestic violence in Los Angeles during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
Her foundation also pledged USD 2 million to support undocumented workers, the incarcerated, homeless and elderly populations, and children of frontline healthcare workers in Los Angeles and New York City amid the pandemic.
While she received bouquets for her humanitarian and advocacy work, she has also courted controversies over the years.
Rihanna’s 2010 song “Love The Way You Lie” kicked off a controversy over its problematic lyrics that many people believed glamourised domestic abuse.
The song featured the lyrics “I Like The Way It Hurts” that people found to be odd due to Rihanna being herself a victim of domestic abuse in 2009 when she was in a relationship with singer-songwriter Chris Brown.
The video of another track, “B**** Better Have My Money” ignited an intense debate about feminism, violence and race.
The Please Don’t Stop The Music singer had reportedly also faced flak for her photo shoot in front of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in 2013.
It was reported that the mosque management had asked her to leave the premises after they felt that some of the photographs she took “were not in compliance with the terms of the mosque”.
Most recently, the singer had to apologise for using a controversial song at her latest Savage X Fenty fashion show.
She had received backlash online for using the song Doom by artist Coucou Chloe, which includes a Muslim text known as a Hadith.
Rihanna had said the use of the song was “irresponsible” and called it an “honest, yet careless mistake.”
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