NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 11: Attendees look through the book during the launch of Rihanna's first Visual Autobiography, Rihanna, at Guggenheim Museum on October 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Rihanna)
Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images for Rihanna
October 14, 2019 12:23 PM EDT

Don’t get stuck next to the photographers when Rihanna makes an entrance, as you may get nearly trampled; it’s an experience this reporter can attest to firsthand.

Book launches, like the one Rihanna showed up for on Friday night at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, aren’t always buzzy affairs filled with paparazzi. But when it’s a Rihanna bookThe Rihanna Book, officially — all bets are off. The megastar’s new coffee table book is a hefty self-titled tome published with Phaidon and filled with over 1,000 behind-the-scenes photos of the artist and her entourage, retailing for a cool $150 for the most minimal version. To celebrate its upcoming release, Rihanna shut down the stately Guggenheim, packing the nautilus-shaped gallery with a crowd dressed to the nines, sipping champagne served from golden bottles as they awaited the arrival of the Queen of the hour.

Driving up a cool forty minutes late — that’s fashion, friends — in a flowing one-shouldered leopard print dress and loose curls, Rih soaked up the spotlight as she posed for photos outside. It had been a good week for Rihanna: she just landed the cover of American Vogue, and was still basking in the afterglow of a successful Savage X Fenty lingerie fashion show, which premiered on Amazon at the end of September. Her high fashion house, Fenty, was earning praise. And her dedicated fandom, the Navy, seemed momentarily appeased from applying constant pressure for new music, thanks to the interview and continued public appearances.

Still, why a coffee table book — or, as they’re marketing it, a “visual autobiography”? “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I believe that,” she told reporters on the red carpet. When Rihanna says stuff like this — stuff that you’ve heard a thousand times before — it suddenly sounds fresh and absolutely true. As for the process of narrowing down her many thousands of photos to the printed selection? “I tried to pick the ones I looked cute in first,” she quipped. Then she got serious: “I worked so hard and so much, consistently, when I was young,” she said. “Now it’s even crazier. I’m like, wow, there was a day I only did music?”

Rihanna attends the launch of Rihanna's first Visual Autobiography, Rihanna, at The Guggenheim Museum on October 11, 2019 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images for Rihanna

Inside, the main floor was packed body-to-body around the large central champagne bar, mostly with paying guests; tickets retailed for $175. When Rihanna finally entered, screams echoed from a crowd who hadn’t, perhaps, dared to believe she would actually be there. The crush tightened as she circulated the room, doling out hugs. Less eager spectators lined the curved ramps, lounging against the low banisters. From above, you could pinpoint where Rihanna was at any moment purely from the concentration of people around her, a flock attuned to her motions like flowers to the sun. Women in thigh-high snakeskin boots perched atop the rim of the museum’s interior fountain. On the outskirts of the scrum, musician Mark Ronson mingled unbothered.

Off to one side, a special golden pedestal hosted a super-sized version of the coffee table book. Guests were invited to slip on white gloves and turn the pages delicately, onlookers offering murmurs of reverential appreciation as the photos revealed themselves, each new image eliciting hushed coos and nods of understanding. There was Rihanna boarding a private jet; Rihanna kissing an elephant’s trunk; Rihanna, in close-up, slurping up a cup of noodles; Rihanna playing dress-up with her friends, striking a playful pose. All told, the book is 504 pages, and the trade edition weighs a hefty 15 lbs. There are fold-out sections and a removable poster. There are three special editions, too, for the Rihanna superfans; the simplest one comes with a custom stand “inspired by Rihanna’s hands,” and the most extravagant includes a hand-carved marble pedestal; Cardi B is the proud owner of one of these, bidding on it at Rihanna’s recent charity gala for over $100,000.

Inside the Guggenheim during the launch of Rihanna's first Visual Autobiography, Rihanna, at Guggenheim Museum on October 11, 2019 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images for Rihanna

When Rihanna finally ascended to a spot on the circular hall ramp to say her thanks, she sounded relaxed and jubilant, a royal bestowing some grace on her subjects. Behind me, a young woman started to hiccup and cry.

“People that know me… understand how important this is for me because of my fans,” she said, noting that the project had been “five plus years” in the works. “What an honor it is to be here… respecting our art as something that’s at the rankings of art that is here and has been here over the years since 1959,” she continued, referencing the Guggenheim’s storied collection. She thanked her designers, photographers, collaborators and the Haas brothers, the sculptors responsible for the special editions. Plus she gave special kudos to her “bestie” Melissa Forde, who got an extended cheer from the crowd; she’s well-known to avid fans.

Then she relinquished the mic, the music turned up and the bartenders emptied their remaining magnums of champagne into waiting flutes. The stated end time of the party was 10:00 p.m., but guests lingered for an extra hour, perhaps waiting for something more to happen — or likely just basking in Rihanna’s afterglow, and making good use of their fashion-forward outfits. She may be withholding music, but she does know how to keep feeding her fans.

Singer Rihanna attends the launch of her first visual autobiography, "Rihanna" at Guggenheim Museum on October 11, 2019 in New York City.
Roy Rochlin—Getty Images
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