By Skinny Legend
Over the course of her sixteen year career, Rihanna certainly hasn't had any trouble making hits. Named by Spotify and Apple as the most streamed female artist of all time, Rih's also earned herself 31 top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Furthermore, five of her songs - 'Umbrella', 'We Found Love', 'Stay', 'Work' and Eminem collaboration 'Love The Way You Lie' - rank among the world's best selling songs of all time.
Her distinct vocals, trend-setting sounds and high-profile romances also make her a songwriter's dream, with many artists imagining her voice layered over the top of their latest works. Sadly, as is true for most artists who rely on others for their songwriting, Rih is unable to record each and every track she's sent, and there's a large selection of songs she's turned down which have gone on to be hits at the hands of other artists. Some of these songs were given to newer artists inspired by her, such as Selena Gomez; while yet others reverted back to their original owners, such as Sia. Regardless, it's fascinating to imagine what these songs would sound like if they'd been sung by Rih, and just how many more millions of dollars she could be raking in if she'd accepted them.
1. Selena Gomez - Come & Get It
Ester Dean and Stargate are the dream team of musicians behind a number of Rihanna's dancehall-tinged hits, from 'What's My Name' to 'Rude Boy' - and if they'd had their way, they could have given her another one. Selena Gomez's 'Come & Get It' was submitted for Rih's 2011 album Talk That Talk, but was left off the album possibly due to an over-abundance of up-tempo songs that were already present. While Rihanna's islander vibe would have worked perfectly on 'Come & Get It', we're glad this one went to Selena - after all, without this track she may have been stuck permanently in Disney purgatory, and never have started recording the more adult music we all know and love today.
2. Selena Gomez - Same Old Love
Charli XCX was working overtime for Rihanna in 2015, when she was writing songs for both ANTI and the Rihanna-helmed Dreamworks film Home. While none of their collaborations ended up on either project (although Charli did land one of her own songs, 'Red Balloon', a spot on the Home soundtrack), Rihanna did record at least one Charli co-write - 'Same Old Love'. Rih first teased the song in June of 2014 on Twitter, over a year before the public even know it existed.
It wasn't until Selena released her version as a single in September of 2015 that fans put the pieces together and deduced that Rihanna had recorded her own version of the song, a theory confirmed in 2018 when a snippet of her version leaked online. While Rih would have done a good job on the track, we understand why she scrapped her version - the song's catchy hook and poppy vibe would have sounded completely out of place on 2016's ANTI.
3. Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop
Selena isn't the only ex-Disney star to swoop in one of Rihanna's rejects. Production duo Rock City had originally written their song 'We Can't Stop' with Rihanna in mind, but they decided against offering it to her after hearing her change in musical direction that began with 'Diamonds'. Feeling that "this could be somebody's first single", the group instead offered the song to record producer Mike Will Made It, who passed it onto Cyrus. While Miley's version of the song is a certified bop and exactly what she needed to release at that point in her career, we can't imagine the song fitting into Rihanna's more introspective Unapologetic album, and we're actually glad she never released this one.
4. The Chainsmokers - Don't Let Me Down (Feat. Daya)
Everyone's least favourite production duo The Chainsmokers have barely been heard from since their chart-topper 'Closer', but they did have a minor hit with 2016's 'Don't Let Me Down'. The final version of the song ended up featuring then 17 year old singer Daya, but before they called her the group had already reached out to Rihanna for some vocals. Her rejection of the song clearly left the duo feeling a little bitter: in an interview, the group's Alex Pall took the chance to throw some shade when he said that he was happy to have Daya on the song "because young unknown artists have this hunger – they're willing to work really hard". We get the feeling Rihanna was already busy work, work, work, work, work, working on a real hit.
5. Usher - DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love (Feat. Pitbull)
Despite multiple collaborations with his off-siders such as Dr. Luke and Cirkut, Rihanna has never actually worked with pop music's GOAT producer Max Martin. Surprisingly, she turned down the chance back in 2010 when Martin sent 'DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love' in her direction as one of the over 200 songs which didn't make the cut for Loud. With some help from Pitbull, the song would later go on to become one of Usher's most successful singles, hitting the top ten in over fifteen countries while it competed with Rih's own collab with Eminem, 'Love The Way You Lie'. Although the song would have worked great in Rihanna's hands, we see why she rejected it; it serves essentially the same purpose as 'Only Girl (In The World)', which was the first song recorded for Loud and which was always intended to be the first single.
6. Drake - Find Your Love
Rihanna and Drake have had major success with the majority of their collaborations, from 'What's My Name' to 'Take Care' to 'Work' - but long before any of these tracks were released, a relatively unknown Drake was already pitching some of his first hits to Rihanna. 'Find Your Love', the second single from Drake's debut album, was originally pitched to Rihanna due to Drake's belief that the song was "extremely vulnerable". "It's actually a huge risk," he would later state. "It almost feels like the song should be performed by a woman. I'm just hoping that men really hear the song and they're honest with themselves. I know a lot of men feel that way." Ultimately, the risk paid off for Drake who had a hit with the song, and whose own vulnerability and sensitivity would later go on to become a point of distinction and mockery in later years.
7. Rita Ora - R.I.P.
Rita Ora has been compared to Rihanna again and again over the course of her career, and it's not hard to see why. With her ethnic beauty, emotive vocals, and career trajectory from Roc Nation-approved R&B to Calvin Harris produced pop, it would be easy to think of Ora as Europe's own answer to the Bajan beauty. It's a comparison made even stronger by the fact that Rita's breakthrough single, 'R.I.P.', was initially written for Rihanna. 'R.I.P.' was another Drake-penned track that originally appeared on his The Gift Without a Curse mixtape with the name 'I'm Ready For You'. Ora's version retained the Nneka and Chase & Status sample of Drake's original song while adding a fresh coat of production paint courtesy of frequent Rihanna collaborators Stargate. Although we're sure that Rih could slay this track, it's a testament to Rita's talent that we can't imagine anyone performing it as well as she does, and we're glad that she got the chance to shine with such a bop for her first release.
8. Justin Bieber - Love Yourself
'Love Yourself' was a hit for Justin Bieber in 2015, but the track had a long journey to the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It was originally written by Ed Sheeran for his album ÷, and back then it had a very different, R-rated chorus of "If you like the way you look that much/Baby, you should go and fuck yourself". Realising that he didn't have the "swag" to pull off such a line, Sheeran initially considered pitching the song to Rih. "Rihanna could get away with saying 'you should go and f--k yourself,' in my mind anyway," he would later state.
Ed never got around to sending the song Rihanna's way, but when talking to Bieber near the end of his recording for Purpose he realised that Justin would be able to pull off a more G-rated version. "It kind of came at a zeitgeist time for his career, where he had fallen out of grace with the public, and he had this comeback song that was quite grown up," he would later say. Although there's no guarantee Rih would have recorded the song, it would definitely be interesting to see what she could do with the track. Some of her more interesting songs have experimented with acoustic instruments, such as 'FourFiveSeconds' and 'Stay', and 'Love Yourself' (or 'Fuck Yourself') would definitely have been a nice addition to that series.
9. Ed Sheeran - Shape of You
Rihanna must be running through Ed Sheeran's mind a lot, because 'Love Yourself' wasn't the only song he wrote with her in mind. Ed's own hit 'Shape of You' was initially conceived as a duet between Rih and the UK band Rudimental, but a combination of his record label head persuading him to keep the song for himself and his own personalised lyrics made him rethink the decision. "We were writing this song and I was like 'this would really work for Rihanna,'" he would explain later. "And then I started singing lyrics like 'putting Van the Man on the jukebox' and I was like 'well she's not really going to sing that, is she?' And then we sort of decided halfway through that we were just going to make it for me." Although the song's tropical flair would have suited Rihanna well, there's something distinctly masculine about the lyrics of loving someone's body which we just can't imagine her singing. Then again, who is Rihanna to let something like gender stop her?
10. Sia - Cheap Thrills
Upon it's release, 'Shape of You' was compared unfavourably to another tropically-minded song which had been released months earlier: Sia's 'Cheap Thrills'. Like all of the other songs on her This Is Acting album, 'Cheap Thrills' was a song that Sia had originally written for another artist before reclaiming it for herself, and in this case it was once again Rihanna who had turned down the track. Ultimately, this ended up being for the better: the super-poppy 'Cheap Thrills' wouldn't have worked at all on ANTI, but it did go on to become Sia's first #1 in the US and probably paid for her fifth vacation home.
11. Sia - Alive
'Alive' was another This Is Acting cut that had been intended for multiple artists before it's release. Sia co-wrote the song with Adele "in Adele's perspective" for her album 25, but the song was rejected from the album at the last minute. "I said to [Adele], 'Do you mind if I pitch it to, let's say, Rihanna?'", Sia would later recount. "She said, 'Yeah, but can you take my vocal off it because I don't want my vocal floating around out there on a demo?'" Sia ultimately recorded her own take on the song to pitch to Rihanna, where it was rejected for a second time. Despite this, Sia's collaborators encouraged her to keep the song for herself. "Everybody in my life was like, 'You can't give this away to anybody'," she explained, which inspired her to release the song as the first single from her own album. As far as 'Alive' goes, we can take it or leave it: Rihanna would probably have done as good a job as Adele or Sia did on the song, but there's nothing particularly special about the generic self-empowerment lyrics of the song, which is probably the reason why it stalled so low on the charts.
12. Sia - Reaper
'Reaper' was another This Is Acting album track, and the third song on the album that had originally been hand-crafted with Rihanna in mind. 'Reaper' was written by Sia and her frequent collaborator Jesse Shatkin alongside Kanye West and his team of 88-Keys and Dom $olo for ANTI - however, the track was scrapped when the album underwent a last-minute change in direction. 'Reaper' was for the version of ANTI pre-'Work' which also featured 'FourFiveSeconds', 'Bitch Better Have My Money' and 'American Oxygen', which existed back when Kanye was executive producing the album. After a falling out between him and Rih, she retooled the album without their collaborations, making it the hit record we know today. As for our thoughts on the song, Sia summed them up pretty nicely herself when she said, "I don't care about the song. I know in print that will look bad, but what I mean is I'm not emotionally attached to it. I thought it was a fun song. I think it's a good, fun song, but I didn't anticipate it being on the record." 'Reaper' is fun and catchy, but it seems like a throwaway track for Sia and more like something we'd expect from Rihanna's fifth album than her eighth.
13. Beyoncé - Pretty Hurts
'Pretty Hurts' is often regarded as the standout from Beyoncé's self-titled 2013 album, and even it's lead songwriter Sia considers it to be her "best song". As such, it makes some sense that the track was in demand by multiple musicians before Bey finally snagged it for herself. The track was originally written by Sia alongside producer Ammo on the same day as she recorded 'Titanium' for David Guetta in 2011, and as with 'Titanium' first dibs for the song went to Katy Perry. Somehow, Katy ended up missing the e-mail that 'Pretty Hurts' was attached to, and the track was instead passed onto Rihanna's team. Rihanna, who was at the time recording for Talk That Talk, showed interest in the song and placed it on hold; but after she failed to pay the track's fee for a whopping eight months, Sia continued to shop it around once more.
While 'Pretty Hurts' remained in limbo, Beyoncé heard it and labelled it as "my song". She would later go on to state, "The second I heard the song, I'm like, 'I have to sing this song, I don't care how hard I have to fight for this song!'". Ultimately, she paid the fee to make the song hers and stole the track right out from under Rihanna's nose. Given that 'Pretty Hurts' originally had a very different composition from the version that Bey released, it's hard to say how Rihanna's vocals would have worked on the track; although given that the song is a statement on the beauty industrial complex, we can't imagine that her Fenty Beauty company would have gone on to great success after she recorded it.
14. Jordin Sparks - Battlefield
2009 was the year of Ryan Tedder, with the English-born songwriter penning hits for balladeers ranging from Beyoncé to Kelly Clarkson: and if things had played out differently, he may just have added Rihanna to that list. 'Battlefield', which was ultimately released by Jordin Sparks as the first single from her album of the same name, was initially written with the intention of pitching it to Christina Aguilera. After a demo was recorded it was then considered as a duet for Rihanna and Chris Brown, but after news of Brown's physical assault broke these plans were scrapped. Instead, Sparks went on to nab the song and turn it into a moderate success, with the song hitting #10 on the US charts.
15. Jessie J - Do It Like A Dude
Jessie J had success with writing on Miley Cyrus's 'Party In The U.S.A.', and it didn't take long before she tried to replicate the hit when she wrote 'Do It Like A Dude' for Rihanna. Jessie had Rihanna on the mind at the time due to the prominence of 'Rude Boy' on the radio, and she thought that the "tongue-in-cheek" and "empowering" nature of 'Dude' would be perfect for Rih to embody. After her completion of the song, Jessie sent it to both Rih's management and her own record label Island Records; and while she received no response from the former, an enthusiastic review from the latter encouraged her to release the song as her first single. Although Rih would have undoubtedly improved the song just by her very presence, we're kind of glad she didn't lend her vocals to this one; I'm pretty sure even Rihanna couldn't have saved this tryhard mess of a song.
16. Ariana Grande - Dangerous Woman
'Dangerous Woman' is a favourite among not only Ariana Grande fans, but also the popstar herself, who liked the track so much that she ended up scrapping her original lead single 'Focus' in it's favour and reworking her entire album to fit it's theme. Despite this, writers Johan Carlsson and Ross Golan had a very different artist in mind when they penned the song. Initially, the song was written with the intention of sending it to Carrie Underwood, who passed; and following this, it was also sent to Alicia Keys. Rihanna was third on the list of artists who were sent the song, and it was only after she rejected it that Grande got sloppy...fourths? While it would have been cool to hear Rih do her thing on this thumping mid-tempo, we're honestly more interested to hear what Carrie Underwood could have done with the song. She's never headed in such an R&B direction before, and it could definitely be an interesting change of pace for the country singer.
17. Major Lazer & DJ Snake - Lean On (Feat. MØ)
'Lean On' was one of the biggest songs of 2015, and one of the largest hits of the streaming era. Despite only peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, the song reached #1 in nine other countries, and went on to become the most streamed song of all time, as well as selling over 13 million copies worldwide. Surprisingly though, the track was offered to multiple artists who turned it down before it became the smash we know it as today. Major Lazer and MØ wrote the track together as a slower reggae song, pitching it to Nicki Minaj who turned it down. Later, they reworked the track into a more upbeat version with the help of DJ Snake, and went on to pitch this version to Rihanna. "I played her 'Lean On,'" Diplo would later recount. "She was like, 'I don't do house music.' I face-palmed so hard on that one." Weirdly enough though, despite the song's tropical influences, we think MØ is way more suited for the track than Rihanna would ever be. Ultimately, this track went to just the singer who needed it most.
18. Pitbull - Timber (Feat. Ke$ha)
Out of all of the songs that Rihanna turned down, this has to be the one we're most happy to see her let go of. Although Pitbull was always (unfortunately) intended to rap over the 'Timber' beat, he had initially wanted Rihanna to sing the chorus later made famous by Kesha. Fortunately, due to Rihanna's focus on her Shakira duet 'Can't Remember To Forget You', she was unable to find time to record vocals for the song. This was a positive thing for two reasons: one, because Rih didn't have to besmirch her good name by working with a rent-a-rapper like Pitbull; and two, because Kesha's southern roots and party girl image were perfect for the chorus of 'Timber', which gave her a greatly-needed hit at the perfect moment in time. We just wish she'd been given the chance to rap the verses herself.
Which of these songs would you most like to hear Rihanna's vocals on? Let us know in the comments down below!
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