You've probably heard at least one of these two statements if you're a young woman—especially a Black woman—in the digital age:
"I'm not like these other girls."
"All girls rock. Black girls—we're just on another level."
One of these is oft said by a girl, likely conventionally attractive, who refuses to befriend other women. Rihanna, a musical powerhouse, fashion icon, and cultural phenomenon, is responsible for the second quote. Her words echoed on social media for weeks after she spoke this lionization of Black girls during BET's "Black Girls Rock!" awards show in April.
The difference between these two statements derives solely from the character and confidence of whose spoken them. Both are considered cool girls, but Rihanna exudes a confidence accumulated from years of surrounding herself with other women.
In "Gone Girl," author Gillian Flynn deconstructed the cool girl trope: A cool girl is beautiful, intelligent, behaves like one of the guys, and often stands out from the maligned others. The other girls are often considered simple, vapid, boring, and too darn feminine. So, women who are beautiful are often deemed unlike the other girls—and consider this separation a compliment.
Often, the cool girl is surrounded by men who showcase how much she can "bro out" or women who highlight how different she is. But, most importantly, the cool girl does not ascribe to traditional femininity. She has very few girl friends; she doesn't wear makeup because she doesn't need it; and she finds femme attributes—such as beauty or emotional vulnerability—weak, silly, and uncool.
We know the cool girl well.
The trope often appears in pop culture: Female characters take on starkly nonconforming or "unladylike" traits to be considered more appealing to men. Take Kate Hudson's Andie Anderson in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" for instance. She cheers loudly for sports and doesn't want to write about beauty anymore.
Or Cobie Smulders' Robin Scherbatsky in "How I Met Your Mother," a woman who smokes cigars and doesn't want kids. Or Zooey Deschanel's Summer in "500 Days of Summer." She listens to The Smiths because apparently women don't like The Smiths.
Or even Stargirl in the eponymously-titled book that's being adapted into a movie. Stargirl is so blithely removed from her peers that she doesn't even use her real name.
Robyn "Rihanna" Fenty should be the ultimate cool girl: She's been photographed dropping bills and rolling blunts at strip clubs with a gaggle of guy friends. She's been spotted court-side at Los Angeles Lakers games, unapologetically cheering on her favorite players and snacking on French fries without ever staining her lipstick. The "Needed Me" singer could have easily subscribed to the cool girl modus operandi of distancing herself from femininity.
However, she approaches coolness in a way that honors her Blackness.
The cool girl, like many tropes in popular culture, ignores race entirely. Pop culture's cool girls are mostly white, whereas Black women are either relegated to a trio of stereotypes—jezebel, sapphire, or mammy—or serve as sidekicks for the white cool/popular girls. Numbuh Five in "Kids Next Door" may be one of the only cool Black girls on television who has agency and a narrative of her own.
So, the cool girl never has to address her race because she is white—and considered the default. Race never comes up in her story because it rarely, if ever, actually comes up in white women's lives. The only example reminiscent of this would be Robin's lukewarm pride in her Canadian heritage, which she renounces when she moves to New York. Rihanna, however, chooses to center Blackness in her coolness.
For starters, her popular Instagram is full of photos with Black women. She poses with women, dances with women, smokes with women, and shops with women. Most of these women have been her closest friends since she gallivanted through Barbados as a child, as Drake pointed out at this year's "Video Music Awards" while presenting her with the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award. This flies directly in the face of the MO of many connoisseurs of cool femininity.
Andie and Robin attained "cool girl" status by displaying a limited sense of femininity—just enough to keep themselves pretty and clean—while distancing themselves from traits considered traditionally feminine.
In "How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days," Andie's small circle of female friends serve as accessories, accentuating her coolness and beauty through their womanly flaws and woes. For example, Andie chuckled at Kathryn Hahn's character Michelle when she admitted that she attached to her new "boyfriend" too quickly.
In contrast, Rihanna rarely speaks badly of other women, especially Black women. While we can never forget her feuds with Teyana Taylor, Ciara, and Karrueche Tran, she often speaks highly of other women. In 2015, she remarked about how "women are stronger than they know," and has even even complimented other pop songstresses.
"Her butt is perfect," she told Rolling Stone about fellow cool girl Nicki Minaj.
She also used her experience with abuse at the hands of Chris Brown to show why it's important to shift focus when it comes to violence against women.
"Everyone's focusing on the women, but the problem isn't the women," she told "20/20" in 2009. In that same interview, Rihanna warned young women about abusive relationships. "It's important for young women to know this is not a sign of love," she said. "Violence, controlling behavior and abusive behavior is not love."
Rihanna has even voiced her concerns about being a Black woman in the music industry to T Magazine.
"Everyone's cool with a young Black woman singing, dancing, partying and looking hot, but when it comes time to negotiate, to broker a deal, she's suddenly made aware of her Blackness," she said. There's also the infamous tweet she sent a hater who made an offensive comment about her hair.
While many of Riri's old friends remain in her entourage, she and Forde have been side-by-side since they were kids in Barbados.
The pair do nearly everything together: sit front row at Fashion Week, attend basketball games, smoke, and diss enemies. In fact, Rihanna admitted in an Elle UK interview that Forde is in part the catalyst behind her superstar image.
"My best friend Melissa [Forde], she was the one who girled me up," she said. "I would go to clubs with her and she'd be dressed up and I'd be wearing, like, sneakers and a bandana and I didn't find anything wrong with it until she started showing me magazines. And we'd just sort of stare at them, these crazy fashion stories and these crazy sex stories! I learned a lot hanging out with Melissa."
Her confidence has accrued from years of female friendships, as now Rihanna can wear her fluffy pink coats and false eyelashes, surrounded by a crew of beautiful women of color, and maintain her status as a cool girl. In short, Rihanna is a cool girl, a carefree Black girl, and most importantly, she is unapologetically herself.