Though not everything she's done is good, these are the 15 best songs of Rihanna's career as I see fit.
***For reference, I'm considering the proper studio album work of Rihanna from A Girl Like Me to "FourFiveSeconds" from the presumed #R8. Spoiler: nothing from Music of the Sun made this list or the honorable mentions. Also, overrated shit isn't making the list...***
15. "ROCKSTAR 101" ft. Slash [from Rated R]- Despite the fact that this is Rihanna's lowest charting single at #64 on the Hot 100, it's an under-appreciated gem of hypersexual era Riri. Slash's guitar work mixed with Riri's most braggadocious delivery ["Six inch walker/big shit talker/I never play the victim/I'd rather be a stalker"] makes for a cut that should've been bigger than it was.
14. "You Da One" [from Talk That Talk]- Although not the best showcase of Rihanna's vocals, this is about as minimalist as her hypersexual era from Rated R to Talk That Talk ever got...in sound. A relatively simple song has since been overshadowed by some of the most eye-popping and most crotch grabbing video work she's ever done (And believe me...that's saying a lot.)
13. "Hard" ft. Jeezy [from Rated R]- The second single from the edgiest album in her career, "Hard" was able to become another Top 10 hit when it peaked at #8 on the Hot 100. Playing into the femme fatale side she explored as a result of her personal life gaining unfortunate traction, "Hard" is simply that; Riri not giving a single fuck with Jeezy in tow in a rap section that is no afterthought.
12. "Hate That I Love You" ft. Ne-Yo [from Good Girl Gone Bad]- Right when Rihanna was catching people's attention, one of the instances in which her singing was at some of her cleanest yet most emotional was on this GGGB track. With the addition of singer-songwriter Ne-Yo, this track plays out as one of Riri's most storied/immersive.
11. "Diamonds" [from Unapologetic]- Before you brandish pitchforks and light torches, understand this; "Diamonds" is not overrated nor pitiful. There just happen to be 10 songs better than this. Positives for this song include the fact that this is when Rihanna's vocals were allowed to speak for themselves [at least before the videos were ever released...] Still, it's understandable why this became a standout in her admittedly uneven career as a singles artist.
THE TOP 10
10. "Stay" ft. Mikky Ekko [from Unapologetic]- Despite the fact that this is some of the best Rihanna's singing has ever been on a song, one thing keeps this follow up to "Diamonds" from advancing further than #10 on this list...Mikky Ekko. His vocals are such an afterthought and frankly, that's fucking pathetic. The live performance she gave of the song on Saturday Night Live proves she should've been allowed to sing this alone.
Still as one of the most divisive pop acts of today in terms of singing, "Stay" should be heralded as a triumph in her singles history.
9. "Disturbia" [from Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded]- Of the two GGGB:R debut tracks, "Disturbia" dropkicks "Take a Bow" down a flight of stairs. Originally written by Chris Brown for himself, Rihanna was able to turn this into a #1 song and it's very evident why. Rihanna's vocals are at their iciest yet most alluring on a track that sounds like the Mortal Kombat franchise had sex with a pop song.
8. "Shut Up and Drive" [from Good Girl Gone Bad]- The most under-appreciated and best track from either edition of GGGB. There I said it; it's leagues better than "Umbrella", "Don't Stop the Music" and "Take a Bow". What it lacks in subtext on purpose, this pulsating pop/rock adjacent track has Riri at her most playful yet dominating vocally. Sadly, that damn "Umbrella" screwed with this song's mojo and it only peaked at #15 on the Hot 100.
Still, there's no better way to proposition someone for sex through thinly veiled and vague car/racing verbiage set to music than here.
7. "We Found Love" ft. Calvin Harris [from Talk That Talk]- Rihanna's most successful song to date with 10 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100. The lead single from her 6th album unleashed some of her most captivating singing. This is also a case of the GSSV Effect* in play which is the only negative about this entry...
*The GSSV Effect: Meaning "Good Song, Shitty Video", this is when a music video doesn't live up to how exhilarating or enjoyable the audio of a song is.
Personal gripe aside, this happens to be some Calvin Harris' finest production work to date.
6. "Rude Boy" [from Rated R]- The third and most successful single from the 2010 released Rated R. Despite some disconcerting lyrics, the addictive instrumental and Rihanna's most theme appropriate singing pull the listener in and won't let them go. FUN Fact: this song pops up in mashups left and right. Everyone from DJ Earworm to Robin Skouteris has used this song in order to create mashup magic.
Playful yet secretly dominating like any good Rihanna song should be, "Rude Boy" has just enough to stand out in Riri's singles discography for mostly right reasons.
THE TOP 5/MOST CONTROVERSIAL PART OF THE LIST
5. "FourFiveSeconds" ft. Kanye West and Paul McCartney [from the upcoming 8th release from her; code named "#R8" by the Rihanna Navy]- The first single from Rihanna since "Stay" to gain any traction, this is a well needed artistic shift to minimalist pop [for Rihanna after all.] Accompanied by Kanye West's guest...vocals (?) and Paul McCartney's guitar work, "FourFiveSeconds" for all of its minor lyrical fuckery is the second best singing on a slower song of Rihanna's entire career.
4. "Only Girl (In The World)" [from Loud]- The lead single that didn't need some two-bit Drake collaboration's after-effects to take it to #1. The debut of red-head Rihanna [the prettiest incarnation of her and you can't tell me otherwise], this was the song that broke from the edgy, angry Rated R era. Exuberant and some of Rihanna's best singing on a strictly pop/EDM track, this had Riri sing her ass off and do it well.
3. "S&M" [from Loud]- The best song from Loud period/point blank. Inadvertently following a cue from Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi", "S&M" isn't actually supposed to be about sex but rather about her tumultuous relationship with the press and grappling with public perception [AKA, the bullshit people write about her in YouTube comments].
The video is able to highlight this meaning of the song and have two glorious things transpire; Perez Hilton being whipped around and Willam pre-RuPaul's Drag Race partying in a fierce as fuck lace ensemble.
2. "Russian Roulette" [from Rated R]- The lead single/best track from Rated R and Riri's best singing on a slower song in her career. The tumultuous relationship she had with Chris Brown is encapsulated in this pulsating ballad. The edgiest single she's ever put out, this was the surprise Top 10 [peak of #9 on the Hot 100] and considering this is from the same album as "Rude Boy", "Hard" and "ROCKSTAR 101", "Russian Roulette" is the most introspective, vulnerable and electric she has ever sounded.
Before we get to #1, here's the song that missed the Top 15:
"Talk That Talk" ft. Jay-Z from the album of the same name. Even though it's an entertaining track, what keeps it from being in the Top 15 is the fact she's put to the side on her own song.
#1 AKA THE BEST RIHANNA SONG EVER
1. "SOS" [from A Girl Like Me]- It's her first #1 for a reason (This time, it isn't supposed to be a dig at Christina Milian.) Using the "Tainted Love" as done by Soft Cell sample, Rihanna's potential came across my radar from this track [and not that overrated shit, "Umbrella"]. "SOS" made up for "Pon de Replay" and then some and laid the ground work for Rihanna's meteoric rise to fame.
That and for a pop song this catchy, Rihanna's vocals are on point here.