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The 20 Best Rihanna Singles

We took a look back through the singer’s catalogue of hits and picked her 20 best singles to date.




Photo: Roc Nation

5. “Pon De Replay”

Caribbean music has been plundered for the pop masses for decades, while pleas for DJs to spin one’s favorite record has become a tired lyrical theme for a club song. And yet Rihanna’s debut single, “Pon De Replay” (broken English for “Put my song on replay”), felt—and still feels, a decade on—urgent and fresh. Its dancehall rhythm, sneaker-throbbing bass, and pitched-down sample from Quincy Jones’s vintage Ironside theme song—which was used in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films a year or two earlier—render the track ripe for multiple replays. Cinquemani

4. “Don’t Stop the Music”

Like 2006’s SOS,” the following year’s “Don’t Stop the Music” was based around a sample from a 1982 track (in this case, Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”) whose hook was based on another song (Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makoosa”). Dance music’s aphrodisiacal potency has been well-documented (most comprehensively in dance music, naturally), but Rihanna’s tribute to the groove, in which she embarks on a quest to find a “possible candidate” with the aid of Dibango’s carnal African siren song, possesses the urgency that comes with the realization that every dance floor eventually empties out. Cinquemani

3. “Only Girl (In the World)”

Rihanna and house music were, by this point in her career, fast besties, as were Rihanna and the top slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Everything about “Only Girl (In the World),” her seventh #1 hit, feels like the biggest prom coronation ever. When those peppy, percolating beats that open the track eventually give way to Stargate’s soaring chorus, it’s almost impossible not to step aside to allow her hubris to pass by. The song earned Rihanna her first (and, to date, only) win in Grammy’s Best Dance Recording category, against an extraordinarily pride fest-friendly slate. And it served up one of Rupaul’s Drag Race’s most memorable lip syncs when Monica Beverly Hillz, having just admitted to the judges’ panel that she was transgender, ate each and every word of the song for breakfast. Henderson

2. “Umbrella”

Not to slight Jay Z’s terse storytelling or brilliant Ice-T quotation, but without Rick Rubin’s body-slamming riffs and breakbeats, Hova’s cop-impression shtick might come off less revolutionary than novel. Likewise, if they weren’t called on to parry an onslaught of crashing cymbals and sizzling synthesizers, Rihanna’s “ays” and “ellas” might not have so completely assimilated themselves into the lexicon of millennial pop. When people whine about Rihanna’s superstardom being achieved without displaying any real personality, this is usually exhibit A, devoid of even the regional flair of “Pon De Replay” or the playful sensuality of “SOS,” but blankness is its own presence, and if this track was so surefire without it, how come Britney Spears and Taio Cruz both passed? Sometimes the path to pop’s stratosphere is just knowing which vessel to board. Mac

1. “We Found Love”

Announcing itself with a set of syncopated synth intervals that sound as much like a fire alarm as they do a call to the dance floor, “We Found Love”—more than any other song in Rihanna’s fun-demanding catalogue—makes the urge to get turnt up feel like an almost religious impulse. (Hell, even the most devout parishioners throw their hands up for this secular party hymn.) For understandable reasons, the title cuts off right before the qualifier “in a hopeless place.” But it’s the juxtaposition of the two (emphasized in the VMA-winning music video) that makes Rihanna’s best-selling digital single ever a fully shaded descendent of “The Pleasure Principle.” Henderson

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