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I DRESSED VERY CAREFULLY for her” | Rihanna Opens Up

I DRESSED VERY CAREFULLY for her, the way I would for a good friend, thinking hard about what she likes. What I think she likes. I ordered Uber Black — the highest level of Uber I’ve ridden. The driver said it would be about an hour and a half to Malibu, a long time to resist telling him where I was going.

‘‘I’m going to meet Rihanna,’’ I finally yelled over the radio.

He turned the radio down.

‘‘Rihanna. I’m going to meet her, to interview her. That’s where we’re going.’’

‘‘You kidding? That’s my girl,’’ he said. ‘‘I love her. She’s so down-to-earth. She always keep it cool with her friend and her family. Her and Melissa, I think they are the best celebrity friends. I always say that.’’

‘‘Melissa Forde,’’ I said, to show that I knew who he meant.

‘‘I took a picture with her! Look!’’ He handed back his phone and I took it skeptically. But there he was, in a tux, with his arm around Rihanna. She was smiling. ‘‘She hear my accent and ask me where I’m from. She’s so nice. I knew she would be.’’

‘‘Where are you from?’’

‘‘West Africa, Niger. I come to play soccer for University of Idaho. Oh, that’s the other thing I love about Rihanna — she love soccer.’’

Over the next two hours I interviewed Oumarou Idrissa about how he survived during his first five years in Los Angeles after his student visa had fallen through. He slept in laundromats, sending tiny sums of money back to Niger where his 25 brothers and sisters were starving. This took us through the beach traffic; we grew quiet as the SUV zipped along beach cliffs above blue water. I think we both suddenly remembered Rihanna.

‘‘Do you want me to ask her anything for you?’’ I said.

Oumarou thought seriously about this for a long time. ‘‘Yeah. Here’s my question: When she going to West Africa? Many celebrity don’t like going there because we’re so poor. But I know she have a good heart and I think Rihanna would be the one to open the door to all of them. Also if she needs a driver, or security. Or French teacher.’’

‘‘Or soccer teacher,’’ I said, as we pulled up to Geoffrey’s, a fancy Malibu restaurant. I warned Oumarou that I might be a long time, but he wanted to pick me up when I was done with the interview. He wanted to hear her answer to his question.

‘‘Don’t be nervous,’’ Oumarou called out as I hopped out of the car. ‘‘She’s really nice.’’

I SPENT THE NEXT HOUR and a half with Jennifer Rosales, Rihanna’s ‘‘24/7’’ assistant. We ordered drinks and discussed Jennifer’s reproductive future. Each time I realized I was getting drunk I nibbled some bread, and when I felt my head becoming too clear I drank more. It was hard work maintaining a light buzz for so long, but it paid off. When Rihanna’s manager, Jay Brown, appeared to tell me that this was one of her first interviews in years I just laughed. And then choked. Because here she was.

Her lips were bright red, her long nails were pale iridescent lavender, her mascara was both white and black in a way I didn’t really understand. A rhinestone necklace against her chest read ‘‘FENTY,’’ her last name. Oumarou wasn’t the only person I had grilled about what makes Rihanna great. A lesbian art history professor told me that she’s ‘‘the real deal.’’ Others used the words ‘‘magic’’ and ‘‘epic.’’ But when I tried to get anyone to pinpoint things she had said or done — particular interviews or incidents — everyone became lost in inarticulacy. Yet another friend, referencing an episode of ‘‘Style Wars’’ that Rihanna had appeared on, concluded, ‘‘You could just tell she’s a good person.’’ None of this was all that helpful.

Rihanna hugged me hello and we sat down in front of two glasses of white wine. ‘‘Your eyes are amazing,’’ she told me, pulling her chair closer. ‘‘I’m staring at you and I feel like my eyes are gonna blur because all I can see are those tiny dots.’’

‘‘Well, it’s mutual,’’ I said stiffly. ‘‘Trust me.’’ It was probably the weakest compliment she’d ever received but praising her seemed like a slippery slope. I glanced down at my carefully typed-up questions, looking for an easy opener.

‘‘Do you search the Internet?’’ I asked, ‘‘And if so, what do you look up?’’

‘‘Oh, random things. Like I will be sitting around Googling childbirth.’’

‘‘Could be more random than childbirth.’’

‘‘Childbirth is putting it the not-gross way. I was searching the size of certain things, and how much they expand, and then what happens after. …’’

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