I vividly remember sitting down on a Sunday night as many of us did to watch the latest series of The X Factor in 2010. While millions tuned into the popular talent show to see who would take the crown, part of its allure for me was the many famous acts that performed on the show weekly.
For the 2010 series finale, Rihanna made an appearance and performed ‘Unfaithful’ with winner Matt Cardle, as well as her hit track ‘What’s My Name?’ – a performance which remains etched in my memory.
From her curly burgundy hair to the cute print two-piece she wore and the memorable dance break down which resulted in Ofcom complaints from UK viewers, the performance encapsulated everything I loved about Rihanna’s Loud era. With her liberated attitude and unashamed boldness, her fifth studio album, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, had hit after hit.
At the time of Loud’s release, I was a shy and pretty insecure college student, trying to assess where I fit in the world and often feeling like I didn’t at all. The only thing I was sure of at that time was my love for writing and pop culture – things that motivated me and got me through some difficult years as I tried to find myself.
“Girls I knew would show up to college wearing red-hot braids, wigs and everything in between – something I wished I was bold enough to do but feared the attention that came with it”
During that particular year, there wasn’t a day that went by where Rihanna’s presence couldn’t be seen or heard. Released on November 12 2010, Loud gave Rihanna her highest first-week sales in the US and her second number one album in the UK at the time. And it wasn’t just the charts she was dominating: Rih and her fire-engine red hair could be found on magazine covers, TV show appearances and gossip blogs alike. Her style could even be seen amongst the girls I knew, many of whom would show up to college wearing red-hot braids, wigs and everything in between – something I wished I was bold enough to do but feared the attention that came with it.
As I found myself trying to discover who I was, there was something about the energy that Rihanna exuded that I gravitated towards.
It felt like I was witnessing her embrace all aspects of herself as she had fun with her music and fashion, and was unapologetic about it – something that I couldn’t relate to at the time but a position I definitely aspired to be in.
The attention-grabbing album was a colourful departure from Rated R. Rihanna’s fourth studio album had been filled with a darker energy, both sonically and visually. It followed an immense trauma Rihanna experienced at the hands of ex-boyfriend Chris Brown and the microscopic lense she was placed under – it probably even served as a much-needed cathartic release. But it was also an abandonment of the fun-loving Rihanna we saw on Music Of The Sun and the carefree yet seductive nature on Good Girl Gone Bad.
“It felt like I was witnessing her embrace all aspects of herself as she had fun with her music and fashion, and was unapologetic about it”
What Loud gave us was a rebirth of the carefree Rih, who emerged from her dark Rated R cocoon into a beautiful colourful Loud butterfly: daring, adventurous and pushing the boundaries even more than she did before. Seeing this transition was important to me because it represented an evolution and a sense of freedom that I hadn’t quite known.
The thought of growing out of my timid ways and putting myself out there seemed so distant to me. And while Rihanna may appear far from shy, this era showed that you can enter an immensely sombre period of your life and come out of it brighter and bolder than ever – an important lesson for me to learn as I realised that things get better. What I was going through in that particular moment wasn’t a reflection of my future.
We witnessed Rihanna enjoying herself and playing with various genres and lyrical content, giving us Black girl joy and debauchery with everything from the controversial ‘S&M’ (the music video was banned in 11 countries and pulled from some radio stations until 7pm), the Avril Lavigne-sampling drinking anthem ‘Cheers’, to soft rock ballads like ‘California King Bed’, the reggae-inspired ‘Man Down’ and much more.
“Loud further displayed Rihanna’s ability to hop on any beat and make it entirely her own”
“I wanted a colourful album,” she said in a surreal Interview Magazine conversation with Kanye West in 2010, “It’s aggressive at times, but in a really fun way – just the overall energy of it. Even the energy when we were making the album was really expressive and rebellious, but fun.”
Loud further displayed Rihanna’s ability to hop on any beat and make it entirely her own. At a time where generic EDM and David Guetta beats ruled, she put her own spin on it. Speaking to Radio 1 at the time, she said she was conscious of making songs that only she could do: “I didn’t want the generic pop record that Ke$ha or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry could just do and it’ll work. I wanted a song, or songs, that were Rihanna songs, that only I could do, had that little West Indian vibe to it, had that certain tone, a certain sass and a certain energy.”
The Loud era was all about fun, flirtation and not giving a fuck.
It also presented the opportunity for us fans to witness two epic collaborations – starting with the dynamic duo that is Rihanna and Drake. Their first collab, ‘What’s My Name?’, took the No.1 spot in January 2011 making Rihanna the first woman in UK chart history to have a number-one single in five consecutive years. It was the start of an epic musical pairing who would later give us ‘Take Care’, ‘Too Good’ and the song of summer 2016: ‘Work’.
We also got the first collaboration between Rihanna and Nicki Minaj on catchy anthem ‘Raining Men’, with the two powerhouse women declaring “Always raining men/girl whatchu worried bout?”
The visuals to the Loud era are just as key as the music – and if there’s one thing that Rihanna is going to give us, it is looks to remember. She did just that.
“That shy, introverted 17-year-old who would enthusiastically – yet quietly – sing ‘Oh nana/what’s my name’ is much bolder now”
This era saw Rihanna ditch the edgy haircuts and avant-garde ensembles and embrace brighter and softer hues, from the scarlet red dress and matching hair she wore to the 2010 AMAs (American Music Awards) to her Little Mermaid-inspired American Vogue cover. And who can forget the memorable album artwork photographed by Camilla Akrans, which displayed a softly-lit Rih and her vibrant red hair and matching red lip?
Playing the album today, Loud still stands out as one of Rihanna’s best albums to date for its experimentation, style and sassy nature. It’s a glossy party album full of hits from start to finish. I find myself still singing along to near enough every track as I did back then. It was the album that really solidified Rihanna as a pop icon for me.
Listening back to it, I find it hard to believe that it came out 10 years ago. However, within that time span, I’ve also grown so much as a person. That shy, introverted 17-year-old who would enthusiastically – yet quietly – sing “Oh nana/what’s my name” is much bolder now.
Perhaps, I’m embracing my very own Loud era as we speak – living loudly, unapologetically and no longer shying away from a thing.