Got Love on the Brain? Rihanna Sent Us an Early Valentine—and an Iconic Essence Cover Collab With Lorna Simpson

Illustration for article titled Got Love on the Brain? Rihanna Sent Us an Early Valentine—and an Iconic Essence Cover Collab With Lorna Simpson
Screenshot: Savage X Fenty (Instagram)

Does working from home change the terms of what’s “not safe for work”? With her latest tease for Savage X Fenty, Rihanna’s certainly testing those boundaries, debuting a pinup-inspired Valentine’s Day promo that would make Betty Boop blush.


Cavorting in a red mesh garter set and heart-shaped pasties from her wildly popular lingerie brand paired with latex thigh-highs, opera gloves and a glossy Fenty lip (and diamonds, dahling), the megastar gets cheeky—literally, thanks to her g-string. Effectively combining boudoir and burlesque with a bad gal-worthy dash of kink, the spot is a welcome wake-up call from our quarantined winter’s nap, giving us “vintage Valentine vixen” vibes—and some good ideas for how to spice up that next virtual hookup. (So break out that ring light, y’all)

You’re not my only Valentine,” is the slogan of the Savage X Fenty campaign—and neither is the drop Rihanna’s only new release this week (and no, we’re still not talking about R9). On Thursday, Essence debuted a groundbreaking cover of the global icon, pairing her with acclaimed visual artist Lorna Simpson for a landmark January + February cover art exclusive. The photographic cover collage, Of Earth & Sky, is a gorgeous rendering in which “Simpson channels Rihanna as her muse—reimagining the artist in a way that has never been seen before” is intended to “reinterpret the narrative of modern-day beauty,” according to a release provided to The Glow Up, in which Simpson states:

“I needed to create images of Rihanna to place within the environments of source materials from my archive. For the project to have the same kind of dramatic visual intensity as my collage work to date, I had to consider the atmosphere and lighting of specific source materials before arriving to set. Knowing Rihanna’s charisma and commanding presence, my effort was then to be as present and prepared as possible to capture her exquisite performance for the camera,” she concluded.

Illustration for article titled Got Love on the Brain? Rihanna Sent Us an Early Valentine—and an Iconic Essence Cover Collab With Lorna Simpson
Image: Lorna Simpson for Essence

Inside the issue is a 12-page portfolio feature also comprised of original works by Simpson, all a continuation of her prior “collages that re-contextualize images of Black women from vintage pages of Ebony and Jet magazines,” a growing motif over the past 15 years of her three-decade career. The images of Rihanna, clad in Savage X Fenty (of course) as well as Prada, Givenchy, Hood by Air, Thelma West, Rick Owens and more are ethereal extensions of this ongoing narrative. In fact, we’re so enthralled, we’d pay a pretty penny for a deck of Essence x Rihanna x Lorna Simpson tarot cards—or at least, a calendar. (Essence, you can have that idea for free—just comp us a few decks!)


Making the issue even more special is the inclusion of Anthems of Possibility, an essay by Simpson’s daughter, writer and actor Zora Simpson Casebere, who also served as Rihanna’s stand-in for her mother’s compositions. In her piece, she reportedly frames the experience as a full-circle moment as she considers “how Rihanna helped shape her womanhood at an early age,” according to Essence’s release, which includes an excerpt.

At 13, I was deeply grateful that at a formative time in my life, it was Rihanna’s voice and art that became my portals to so many questions about sexuality, sexual exploration and sexual autonomy. Now, on set, I assisted my mother as a model as she explored how she might later place Rihanna within the visual contexts she’d selected from vintage Ebony magazines, old Associated Press photographs and 19th-century lithographs of mineral specimens. When Rihanna arrived at the set—my first time seeing her in real life—I was mesmerized. She was the very definition of grace, charisma and influence. Wearing a magnificent Maximilian black headdress, she requested the song ‘Thick’ by DJ Chose, then met the camera with power and possibility—power in how she moved her body through space, and possibility in how she dismantled and moved beyond institutional boundaries…


But wait, there’s more! Kicking off 2021 with a welcome bang of positivity, Essence’s first double issue of the year also celebrates the historic win of Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris’ historic win with the help of Donna Brazile, Leah Daughtry, Karen Finney, Star Jones and Minyon Moore. Barack Obama also makes an appearance to discuss his new book and own historic journey as the nation’s first Black president. No stranger to firsts, an excerpt from the memoir of legendary actress and new author Cicely Tyson also graces the issue, which hits newsstands next week.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



It should be against the law to look as good as she does.