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Rihanna‘s songs have changed pop culture forever. That doesn’t mean she thinks all of them are great. She had mixed feelings about her first single, comparing it to a nursery rhyme. One of the song’s writers said the tune would set her on the path to becoming pop culture royalty.

Rihanna wasn’t too impressed with 1 song when she heard it over the phone

“Pon de Replay” was co-written by Alisha Brooks, Vada Nobles, Carl Sturken, and Evan Rogers. It’s not one of the more sophisticated tunes in her catalog but it’s undeniably catchy. On top of that, artists rarely debut with their best work. During a 2020 interview with Vulture, Rogers revealed that Rihanna had misgivings about the track. “I played it for Rihanna over the phone,” he recalled. “She was like ‘Uncle Ev, it sounds like a nursery rhyme. I like it, but I don’t know.’

“She had just gone back to Barbados,” he continued. “We said, ‘Well, we’re gonna fly you back up because we think this could be huge.’ She was like, ‘Okay, I trust you.’ She has a way of owning a song. And even at the very beginning, there was just something about that tone that she had. It was a perfect match for her too, because it had a Caribbean attitude to it.” Rihanna would go on to release numerous hits inspired by Caribbean music, including “Rude Boy,” “Man Down,” and “What’s My Name?” 

Rihanna’s songwriter said the tune would pique men’s interest

Nobles predicted the success of “Pon de Replay” would help Rihanna’s love life. “When I went to go mix it, Rihanna came by the studio,” he said. “In the session, as we’re playing the mixdown versions, all she thought about at that time was hooking up with [singer] Mario  she was a big fan. I told her: ‘Don’t worry. When this record drops, all the boys will be feeding you grapes like you’re Cleopatra.'”

Nobles said that many artists started out gaining fans through R&B radio before crossing over to pop music. In contrast, Rihanna crossed over to pop right away when she released “Pon de Replay.” Perhaps that’s because, while the song has major Caribbean elements, it’s not too far from the sort of dance music that dominated the radio in the 2000s.


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How the song performed on the charts

“Pon de Replay” became Rihanna’s first hit. The tune climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 27 weeks. No. 2 hits can be disappointing — but don’t feel too bad for Rihanna. She went on to release an incredible 14 No. 1 singles, including collaborations with legends like Jay-Z, Drake, and Eminem.

“Pon de Replay” appeared on the album Music of the Sun. That record reached No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 35 weeks. The tune also produced another hit: the reggae-tinged “If It’s Lovin’ that You Want.” Music of the Sun wasn’t one of Rihanna’s more acclaimed albums, like Rated R or Anti, but it set down the path to become one of the biggest celebrities the world has ever known.

“Pon de Replay” became a huge milestone in Rihanna’s career — even if she thought it sounded a bit juvenile.