If Good Girl Gone Bad is unanimously recognized as the beginning of Rihanna’s transformation from media-trained radio star to adventurous pop idol, then “Umbrella” is the obvious genesis—the single that along with an image change achieved by a simple asymmetrical cropped hairstyle, turned Rihanna into an icon when her third album was released 10 years ago today.
Among the many extremely dated pop songs of the 2000s, “Umbrella” is in that special class of singles that have never aged to me and sounds like magic every time the opening cymbals kick in, followed by Jay Z. Not once have I heard this song and not enjoyed how terrifically repetitious it is, even when it was playing in headache-level rotation. Consider that 2007 was also the year of Fergie’s “Fergalicious” and Akon’s “Smack That,” a song no one would ever willingly sing today unless under duress.
The mid-2000s was the opportune time for a Rihanna rebirth—Complex refers to Good Girl Gone Bad as “her first record that feels like it’s made by the Rihanna we know today”—with an album of hard pop. The album cuts “Say It” and “Sell Me Candy” are similarly gratifying examples of her transition out of innocence. But “Umbrella” is the perfect single, one of The-Dream’s first major hits, co-written with his production partner Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and Kuk Harrell. That the song was originally written for Britney Spears isn’t that shocking, but I cannot imagine Britney’s version of “ella ella” sticking in my head the same way Rihanna’s does.