What Was Rihanna's Best Music Era? We Revisited Them All.

Rihanna is undeniably one of the most iconic artists of our time. Be it a pop star, fashion killer, tycoon, beauty guru, cover girl, or any other title she decides to add to her impressive résumé, she is the definition of a living icon. Music first introduced the world to the self-proclaimed "bad gal," and hopes of new music keep fans tapping into the self-made billionaire mogul. And after seven long years of waiting, Rihanna has finally begun her musical comeback.

The Grammy-winning singer kicked off her return in September 2022, when Apple Music and the NFL declared her the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show headliner. The next month, she released her first original solo song since she dropped her 2016 album "Anti" — a track titled "Lift Me Up," which was featured on the "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" soundtrack. Rihanna's latest offering has since scored her an Oscar nomination, her first ever, but now her Navy base is clamoring for more.

In recent years, Rihanna has kept listeners at bay with fun collaborations like "Wild Thoughts" with DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller, "Loyalty" with Kendrick Lamar, "Lemon" with N.E.R.D., and "Believe It" with PartyNextDoor. However, that hasn't stopped fans from inquiring about details for her next album, which are still very scarce. The project's last concrete update came in a November 2022 interview with Associated Press, in which Rihanna denied rumors that her Super Bowl performance meant her new album was imminent. "That's not true," she said. "Super Bowl is one thing. New music is another thing. Do you hear that, fans?"

Even if Rihanna's "R9" isn't quite yet on the horizon, that doesn't mean we can't revisit all the great music she's released thus far — and trust, there's plenty. Rihanna's impressive discography dates all the way back to 2005, when the then-17-year-old made her debut as a Def Jam artist and released her first album "Music of the Sun" — which featured her explosive breakout hit "Pon de Replay." The rest is, as they say, history.

Over the next 10 years, Rihanna would go on to release genre-bending, tour de force albums like "Good Girl Gone Bad," "Rated R," "Loud," "Talk That Talk," and more — all of which created defining eras in her career. From bass-pumping house tracks and thumping club bangers to electric guitar riffs, dancehall mixes, and moving ballads, Rihanna has, time and time again, found a way to effortlessly evolve her sound. Her musical risks have culminated in a feat that very few artists today can achieve, which speaks volumes to how her daring artistry continues to set the standard.

In honor of her return to the stage, we're revisiting every iconic era from Rihanna's catalogue.

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"Music of the Sun" (2005)

While "Music of the Sun" isn't Rihanna's most experimental or critically acclaimed album, it is, without a doubt, the inciting release that catalyzed her longstanding music career. Led by her catchy debut single "Pon de Replay," the Barbadian singer's first LP placed her at the forefront of the 2000s dancehall revival alongside legends like Beenie Man and Sean Paul. It marked her first foray into blending sounds of different cultures and backgrounds, particularly Caribbean music and R&B. The two singles released from this album quickly shut down rumblings of Rihanna being a one-hit wonder and, instead, established her as a major pop star in the making.

Best Songs:

  • "Pon de Replay"
  • "If It's Lovin' That You Want"
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"A Girl Like Me" (2006)

Rihanna struck gold again when she released her next infectious single "SOS" off her second album, 2006's "A Girl Like Me" — a project that furthered her reputation as a pop artist with even more to prove. Flirting with more R&B elements, she balanced out the upbeat album with slower numbers like "Unfaithful" and "P.S. (I'm Still Not Over You)." This all hinted that the then-teenager had more mature subjects she wished to explore in her music — which she did when she made her bold transformation the following year.

Best Songs:

  • "SOS"
  • "Unfaithful"
  • "Break It Off"
  • "If It's Lovin' That You Want - Pt. 2"
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"Good Girl Gone Bad" (2007)

If Rihanna's first two albums and her first handful of radio hits were her polite introduction to the world, then "Good Girl Gone Bad" saw her unapologetically busting down doors to let people know exactly who she was. It's this defiant era that transformed Rihanna from a sweet charming island girl to a fierce badass who defined her next chapter on her own terms. The "Umbrella" effect, as some put it, reintroduced Rihanna with a brand-new sound to match her sleek look (remember when she cut and dyed her hair without consulting her label?), a signature she's since stuck to with the rest of her album releases. But "Good Girl Gone Bad" as a whole signaled experimentation unlike we'd never seen before. The gamble on Rihanna's third studio offering paid off: thanks to its success, not only did it set the tone for her future artistry, it proved that she could never be put into a box.

Best Songs:

  • "Umbrella" feat. JAY-Z
  • "Don't Stop the Music"
  • "Breakin' Dishes"
  • "Shut Up and Drive"
  • "Hate That I Love You" feat. Ne-Yo
  • "Rehab"
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"Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded" (2008)

"Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded" is the first and only remixed album Rihanna has ever released, which makes it even more special because it shows how much of an impact that point in time had on her. Well into her fearless era, the rereleased project arrived one year after the original with three bonus hits, each more daring than the last — the dark and sexy "Disturbia"; breakup anthem "Take a Bow"; and pop rock song "If I Never See Your Face Again" with Maroon 5. The deluxe edition signaled a turning point in Rihanna's career and officially marked her departure from the Caribbean sound she started with, though she'd go on to shock the world with other sonic shifts.

Best Songs:

  • "Disturbia"
  • "Take a Bow"
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"Rated R" (2009)

With "Rated R," Rihanna traded in her mainstream pop appeal to release a dark, explicit, and deeply therapeutic album about postrelationship issues in the wake of ex-boyfriend Chris Brown pleading guilty to physically assaulting her. The singer's grim fourth album completed her "good girl gone badass" transformation and only further proved just how uninterested she was in sticking to the status quo. Rihanna's goth coming-of-age manifesto was the most adventurous she'd been musically up until that point, and also the most vulnerable. The album made a bold statement about her independence, but most of all, it demonstrated how committed she was to cementing herself as a global icon.

Best Songs:

  • "Hard" feat. Jeezy
  • "Rockstar 101" feat. Slash
  • "Russian Roulette"
  • "Rude Boy"
  • "Te Amo"
  • "Cold Case Love"
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"Loud" (2010)

Rihanna shed the weight of her emotional trauma when she returned with her next musical experiment: her fifth studio LP, "Loud," where she dove head first into her R&B and dance-pop era. The album was a clear declaration of Rihanna's freedom and control of her own destiny, from its striking red imagery to the then-redhead's happy and liberating lyrics on songs like "Only Girl (In the World)" and "Cheers (Drink to That)." The pop masterpiece turned Rihanna into a certified superstar who was finally letting her music do all the talking.

Best Songs:

  • "S&M"
  • "What's My Name?" feat. Drake
  • "Cheers (Drink to That)"
  • "Only Girl in the World"
  • "California King Bed"
  • "Man Down"
  • "Skin"
  • "Love the Way You Lie, Pt. 2"
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"Talk That Talk" (2011)

Back in 2011, Rihanna's reign just wouldn't let up. Exactly one year and five days after she dropped "Loud," her sixth hits-driven album, "Talk That Talk," arrived. At this point, Rihanna was past taking risks. "Talk That Talk" showed just how comfortable she was ruling as a pop princess who didn't care to abide by genre rules. From EDM cuts like "We Found Love" to alluring bangers like "Birthday Cake" and even the island-flavored tune "You Da One," Rihanna successfully dissolved boundaries as she continued to push her soundscape to the next level. While some critics at the time scored "Talk That Talk" as a muddled project with too many ideas happening at once, the album still validated the singer's boundless palette.

Best Songs:

  • "You Da One"
  • "Where Have You Been"
  • "We Found Love" feat. Calvin Harris
  • "Talk That Talk" feat. JAY-Z
  • "Cockiness (Love It)"
  • "Birthday Cake"
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"Unapologetic" (2012)

Rihanna's "Unapologetic," her seventh album in seven years and first No. 1 album, lived up to its name as the singer peeled back more layers to address her personal woes and contradictions. One of the biggest questions about the album was her controversial duet with her ex Brown on "Nobody's Business," where the two explicitly tell critics and naysayers, "It ain't nobody's business but mine and my baby." But beyond that, the Grammy-winning album saw Rihanna elevate and ease into new territory as platinum-selling songs like "Diamonds" and "Stay" pushed her to be the global powerhouse artist we know and love today.

Best Songs:

  • "Phresh Out the Runway"
  • "Diamonds"
  • "Numb"
  • "Pour It Up""
  • "Loveeeeeee Song" feat. Future"
  • "What Now"
  • "Stay" feat. Mikky Ekko
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"Anti" (2016)

Finally, after a three-plus-year hiatus, Rihanna returned to reclaim her throne with "Anti" — the album many consider her magnum opus. Though she had many musical triumphs under her belt by this point, "Anti" marked the first time Rihanna unequivocally made a skip-less album. It's the culmination of Rihanna challenging her own artistic brilliance and creating something that, ultimately, defines her entire musical legacy. Front to back, the album is a cohesive body of work that, as the title suggests, flips the script on everything we thought Rihanna to be. Over a decade and eight albums later, the Grammy-nominated, critically-acclaimed "Anti" finally destroyed any label ever placed on the singer. Her sound could no longer be contained in a single category, nor could her impact.

Best Songs:

  • "Consideration" feat. SZA
  • "Kiss It Better"
  • "Work" feat. Drake
  • "Desperado"
  • "Needed Me"
  • "Yeah, I Said It"
  • "Same Ol' Mistakes"
  • "Love on the Brain"
  • "Sex With Me"