Rihanna covers the November issue of Vogue, looking stunning, as expected. A lot of ground was covered in the accompanying article, including her politics, music, and fashion. Enough material to spawn several different Twitter arguments, even about her nationality. 

They even edited the Wikipedia page! I love the internet.

There were two key takeaways from Rihanna’s Vogue profile. The first is the status of Rihanna’s next album, R9. It’ll soon be four years since ANTI, four years since Rihanna’s released new music, a fact the Navy keeps reminding her of at any given opportunity.

Back when Rihanna got drunk with Seth Meyers (a video I watch every day), she shocked everyone when she asked Seth what she should do if she were to quit music. Rihanna quit music? Unthinkable! But…not impossible. Rihanna has grown her fashion and cosmetic business at an exponential rate. She has Fenty Beauty, heads her own fashion house with LVMH, and launched Savage x Fenty, which basically redefined lingerie shows back in September. It takes a lot of work to make all of this happen, and without any sign of an album on the horizon, it really felt like Rihanna’s music might have become a thing of the past.

The Vogue profile thankfully dispels that. When the interviewer asks Rihanna if there’s a day where she won’t make any more music, she says, “Oh nooo…To cut that off is to cut my communication off.” Phew. In fact, while we’re still waiting on R9, Rihanna has already started on R10, or is at least in the ‘discovery stage’: 

“We always went into the music this time around saying that we were going to do two different pieces of art…One was going to be inspired by the music that I grew up listening to. And one was gonna be the evolution of where I’m going next with music.”

Excited? R9 is reggae-inspired, or as Rihanna says, “reggae-infused,” and R10 sounds experimental and exciting. Rihanna knows how to give us just enough, even without an album or specifics, and despite the beratement she receives from the Navy. Because when asked when we might expect an album release, she quickly recoils in horror. “’No, oh my God, they’re gonna kill you for that!’ she exclaims.” 

The next line is what gets me though. “’But they’ve earned it,she is quick to add. ‘They got me here.’” It reminds me of when Beyoncé wrote us all that handwritten letter after her birthday. Grateful, but stern. These women know how to manage their fans.

The second part of the profile is the one that’s making the most headlines. When talking politics, Rihanna admits that she turned down the Super Bowl halftime spot last year. Here’s what she says:

“I couldn’t dare do that. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler. There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.”

Rihanna has made her support of Colin Kaepernick very public, but that’s still a major jab towards the NFL. It’s also potentially a callout. She refuses to be an enabler. She refuses to be a sellout. She’s on the one who loses out, it’s “her people.” 

Rihanna is currently the richest female artist. Back in August, the richest male artist announced a partnership with the NFL. When Jay-Z made the announcement, people weren’t sure whether the argument of “fix it from within” was enough to counter the NFL exploiting the good PR or Jay Z’s potential self-serving financial gain.

Now that Rihanna has weighed in, it seems like she’s at odds with Jay – or at least his philosophy. Which is complicated because Roc Nation reps Rihanna, and both she and Jay are powerful artists with large business empires. This is part of a larger conversation about power, who has it, and what they choose to do with it. How this plays out is important for a lot of reasons. It shows us whether a woman who has achieved a similar level of success can challenge the position of her male counterpart. That Rihanna IS powerful enough to decline an institution like the NFL while simultaneously disrupting the fashion and beauty industries. This is how she’s approached Fenty, with its pop-ups and non-traditional distribution. When Rihanna chooses to give her stamp of approval (or withhold it), it can create some big waves. Remember when she pulled out of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and it died four years later? She has chosen to abandon the NFL. Is that enough to combat Jay Z’s patronage of it?