Rihanna's 'Good Girl Gone Bad' Turns 10: Crafting A Rule-Breaking Pop Culture Icon
“Uh huh, uh huh… yeah! Good girl gone bad!” Who knew a simple introduction by Jay Z on Rihanna’s “Umbrella” would shift the way we thought about her forever? The pop star’s third album Good Girl Gone Bad celebrates its 10th anniversary this week (May 31 was the international release, June 5 for the U.S.), which served as the catalyst that would transform Rihanna from the average girl-next-door singer to an icon in the making.
We were first introduced to Rihanna with 2005’s Music of the Sun, which featured singles like “Pon De Replay” and “If It’s Loving That You Want.” She followed that up a year later with A Girl Like Me. While this new project featured more challenging songs like “SOS” and “Unfaithful,” it wasn’t enough to shake off comparisons to the likes of Beyoncé, Ciara, Ashanti and Teairra Mari. Just when critics were ready to categorize Rihanna as a throwaway artist who wouldn’t last, the singer proved she was here to stay with a single defiant chop of those Disney princess locks the night before she shot the album cover and the groundbreaking release of Good Girl Gone Bad.
The edgy, rebellious tone of both the album and her new personal style showed that Rihanna had more to say than what her record label was feeding the industry. She has never been the pristine, cookie-cutter girl that you would take home to grandma. No, she had other (and much bigger) plans—an incredible revelation for someone who was just a tender 19-year-old at the time. Speaking to MTV in 2007, Rihanna explained the reason for the change:
"They just put me in the studio and I started recording and recording, and it showed the direction of who I became as an artist. We figured 'Good Girl Gone Bad' was the perfect title because it showed people I'm my own [person] now. Not doing what anyone wants me to do. I'm not the innocent Rihanna anymore. I'm taking a lot more risks and chances. I felt when I cut my hair, it shows people I'm not trying to look or be anybody else. The album is very edgy. We have some urban records, some really pop records."
Rather than continuing with the dancehall/reggae/pop fusion of her first two albums that mirrored her Bajan roots, Rihanna called upon producers Tricky Stewart, The-Dream, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Girl Wonder to help bring her new sound to life. GGGB is overflowing with musical influences like ‘80s dance, rock, folk and soul, helping push Rihanna further away from the packaged sticky-sweet innocence. Instead, it propelled her into the realm of ambitious risk-taking that icons (and two of her biggest inspirations) like Janet Jackson and Madonna have done in the past. This career-defining moment was Rihanna’s Control, her Like A Prayer.
GGGB opens up with “Umbrella,” the 6x Platinum lead single which has now become one of Rihanna’s signature songs. It immediately grabs your attention as the rock-inspired percussion comes crashing down just as heavy as the rain the Bad Gal is shielding her true love from. Thank goodness it didn't go to the other pop star it was originally intended for—Britney Spears.
The album then trickles into subtle themes of sexual empowerment and liberation, with Rihanna batting her jade-colored eyes at the cutest guy in the club for “Push Up On Me” and the European club explosion that is the infectious “Don't Stop the Music.” The latter single features the genius sample of Michael Jackson’s 1983 smash, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” which forces you to get up and groove until the sun comes up.
Then comes the underrated deep cuts like the don't-f**k-with-me “Breakin' Dishes” stomper, the velvety reggae melodies of “Say It" that sampled dancehall star Mad Cobra's 1992 "Flex” and the undeniably sultry “Sell Me Candy" (produced by Timbaland, Riddick and The-Dream). From Rihanna's coos of "I’m weak by your touch and when it’s melting on my lips" and "I run through my body when you lick my fingertips" to the futuristic mix of electronica and hip-hop, “Sell Me Candy” quickly became one of the album’s main highlights.
Rihanna continued to flex her experimental muscle with the New Wave-inspired “Shut Up and Drive” (it definitely wasn't about riding cars) that samples New Order's “Blue Monday” classic, the romantic “Hate That I Love You” Ne-Yo collab, the wild child horror-tinged “Disturbia” and the rumbling melancholic tale that was the Justin Timberlake-backed “Rehab.” The album then appropriately ends with two moments that sum up the entire album: “Question Existing” and the title track. The former finds Rihanna reflecting on the demons in the music industry as she struggles to find people to trust (“But when you're in the spotlight everything seems good / Sometimes I feel like I have it worst,” she sings). The final song, “Good Girl Gone Bad,” is a sharp display on how you can never hold a bad girl down once she sheds her innocence. Since that statement, Rihanna has remained untouchable.
GGGB made its debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold 162,000 copies in its first week, as well as No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Chart with sales of 54,000 copies in the initial week. The album later went on to become certified 5x Platinum by the RIAA, 6x Platinum by the U.K.’s BPI and sold over nine million copies worldwide as of 2017. It earned a whopping seven Grammy nominations in 2008, including Record of the Year for "Umbrella" and Best Dance Recording for "Don't Stop the Music." The album took home a single award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Umbrella.”
We have Good Girl Gone Bad to thank for paving the way of the living legend that is Rihanna now. Similar to how she was inspired by the Janet Jacksons and Madonnas to break out on her own, generational pop stars of today like Selena Gomez, Halsey, Zara Larsson, Bebe Rexha and more look up to the Bajan star. She’s become the pillar example to help them find their creative voice in an industry that begs artists to stick to the mainstream script. If it weren’t for the singer proudly shattering her label-made shell, there wouldn’t be the rawness of Rated R or the vibrancy of Loud, both of which later led to the artistic brilliance that is now known as ANTI. It may have taken three album tries for Rihanna to make the leap into breakthrough stardom, but we’re damn grateful it finally happened.