When it comes to honoring influencers in the music industry, it's hard to get more prestigious than the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, given out each year at the MTV Video Music Awards. It's awarded to an artist who has made an indelible impact in the entertainment world, which is why I couldn't be more delighted to find out that Rihanna will receive the 2016 VMA Vanguard Award. The honor's official title is "The Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award," just to give you an idea of the standard that Rihanna is being measured against, On top of that, she joins the ranks of artists such as The Beatles and David Bowie, who received the inaugural Vanguard Award in 1984, and more contemporary creators like Beyoncé and Kanye West, who were honored with it in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
It's a fitting tribute to Rihanna's immense contributions and influence, in fields as varied as pop culture, fashion, film, philanthropy, feminism, and of course music. At just 28 years old, the Barbadian entertainer has already made her mark in essentially any enterprise she tries her hand at, and she's just getting started. Rihanna burst onto the scene in 2005 with Music of the Sun , her debut album, with her voice and tone somehow already fully-formed at age 15. While many artists take a while to find themselves or gain traction in the industry, Rihanna never seemed to even stumble; "Pon De Replay" still holds up today, over a decade after its release, and the video for "S.O.S.", off of Rihanna's second studio album, 2006's A Girl Like Me, set the tone for the lush, sensual videos she'd put out one after another in a career that is somehow still gaining momentum.
Rihanna is so skilled at pairing music with imagery that it's impossible to hear one of her songs without also seeing moments of her videos inside your head. When you say "Umbrella," I see her kicking her way through puddles in the corresponding video; if you mention "Rude Boy," it's pulsating, pop art colors; for "Stay," it's her stripped-down face, free of makeup, and that eerie, milky water. And I could go on. Every time we think that Rihanna has pushed her last boundary and finally settled on a look or a style, she surprises us once again. She somehow manages to be both a chameleon and intensely true to herself at the same time, and it's earned her the universal respect and admiration of the industry.
In addition to her achievements in music, which include eight Grammys, 14 Billboard Music Awards, and 61 million albums sold worldwide, Rihanna is also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to fashion. Her ever-changing looks have held us rapt throughout her career, and influenced countless others, earning her like being named the 2014 Fashion Icon by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which led CFDA President Steven Kolb to refer to her as "fashion’s most exciting ambassador in recent memory." Strong words, but well-deserved, considering how many times she's worn outfits that have gotten the entire world talking.
Or not worn outfits that have gotten the entire world talking, as she did with her support of the #freethenipple movement. Rihanna has always been one of our most body confident celebrities, chafing under the notion that she is under any responsibility to hide her body away when she doesn't want to. As her fifth and seventh studio albums suggest, she is both Loud and Unapologetic, and frankly, she doesn't care what you think. She told ELLE in 2012:
Sometimes I'll wear something and think, I'm going to get so much flack for this tomorrow, but if I want to wear it, I will. If I dress too sexy, then I'm a slut; if I dress sophisticated, then I'm a grandma. At the end of the day, I just wear what I want to wear.
It's a philosophy that comes through in every facet of her life, from music to fashion and beyond, but it doesn't mean she doesn't care. In fact, Rihanna supports a number of causes, including UNICEF, DoSomething.org, and the Red Cross, and even formed her own foundation for charitable giving in 2012, the Clara Lionel Foundation, named after her grandparents, that aims to improve quality of life for communities across the globe. Although the bulk of her artistic endeavors and influence are still in music, Rihanna has also explored other arenas; she starred in 2012's Battleship, and has allegedly signed on for the upcoming, lady-dominated Ocean's 8 .
Essentially, whatever this talented young artist touches turns to gold, and I'm so glad to see her hard work pay off with a tribute like the VMA Vanguard Award. I can't think of anyone more deserving than Rihanna, and I can't wait to see how the rest of her career plays out.