Last year was the first in now 26-year-old Rihanna's career that she didn't put out an album. Halting a seven-year cycle, she gave us something better: an unfiltered look at her life as she toured the world with a rotating cast of girl friends, pausing for respites in Thailand, New York, and Barbados. Some 12 million gawkers followed her hard work and downtime on Instagram. What they saw was loose and imperfect — Rihanna drunk at home, her nose painted red with lipstick — if not exactly documentary journalism. (She sometimes commissions professional photographers to take her selfies.) The access has hard limits, but to fans she feels "real," like a friend. It's hard not to think that Rihanna's no-bullshit manner didn't push Beyoncé to release her surprise 2013 masterwork, or to market it as the record where she "dropped that fourth wall" and got real.
Rihanna doesn't consider herself a role model; most other people wouldn't call her that either. But if her experiences speak to flawless 32-year-old mothers like Bey, they certainly merit a closer look from Rih's twenty-something peers.