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Rihanna pictured smoking with a pal... Has she gone off the rails? XPOSUREPHOTOS.COM

Has pop princess Rihanna’s career gone up in smoke?

WT24 Desk

FOR years Rihanna has been the hottest thing in music – but the pot-loving singer’s ability to bag a No1 album has vanished in a puff of smoke, according to The Sun.  Yesterday her eighth album, ANTi, struggled into the charts at No7, marking the first time in six years that one of her new records has not gone straight to the top.

The 13-track record has been one of the most disappointing, disorderly and disastrous releases in recent history.  Early in her career, Rihanna’s album releases came like clockwork. Four out of seven of them went to No1, 19 of her singles hit the Top 10 and she sold 210 million records worldwide. Everything she touched turned to gold. But not any more.

From snubbed songwriters and constant delays to online leaks and dodgy tracks, ANTi has left Rihanna’s star shining less like a diamond and more like a low-watt light bulb. So how has the biggest pop star on the planet messed up so badly?

Between 2005 and 2012, Rihanna, who was born in Barbados and discovered aged 16 by Jay Z, released an album every year. She also won six Grammys, two Brits and barely moved from the top of the charts. Hits such as SOS, Umbrella and S&M were nightclub staples, and her 2011 Calvin Harris collaboration We Found Love sold 10.5million copies, becoming one of the most successful singles ever.

Then in 2013 the yearly pattern suddenly stopped. There was no new album on the shelves. Rihanna, 27, recently admitted to being scared of trying to replicate her past achievements. She said: “I used to feel unsafe right in the moment of an accomplishment — I felt the ground fall from under my feet because this could be the end.”

Work began on ANTi way back in 2014 but fans were left to wait for it. In the meantime, Rihanna launched fragrances, a fashion agency and a sock line, all while enjoying numerous holidays in the Caribbean. She became more famous for Instagram snaps of her smoking pot. In the past two years these suggest at least ten sunshine trips and show her clutching beer bottles and blowing marijuana smoke towards the camera.

Men got in the way too, as they have throughout her career. As Rihanna said last year: “I get horny, I’m human, I’m a woman and I want to have sex.” She has had high-profile flings with actors Shia LaBeouf, Josh Hartnett and Ryan Phillippe, sports stars Matt Kemp and Karim Benzema, and rappers Drake and Travis Scott.

She spent last summer partying in Barbados with F1 champ Lewis Hamilton, and last month The Sun revealed she had kissed Leonardo DiCaprio in a Paris nightclub. Three years ago she rekindled her relationship with rapper Chris Brown, who was still on probation for domestic assault after beating her up on the way to the Grammys in 2009. But they are no longer on speaking terms.

Rihanna said last year: “I don’t hate him. I will care about him until the day I die. We’re not friends but it’s not like we’re enemies. We don’t have much of a relationship now.” In 2015, everyone expected her new album would drop. Instead, reports of problems began to emerge — disputes with her record label, love life dramas and songs scrapped at the last minute.

Rihanna’s relationship with mentor Jay Z was rocked by claims from a celeb biographer that rumours they had had an affair led to him and wife Beyonce splitting for a year in 2005. Then there was her ongoing feud with labelmate Rita Ora. Rihanna banned the Brit singer from her Met Gala after-party. Rita hit back by making a very sexy video with Chris Brown for their single Body On Me.

A friend said: “Rihanna attracts drama wherever she goes and has had issues with Rita from day one. Their relationship has reached the point where it’s now beyond repair.” Her vague replies when quizzed about the new record’s whereabouts also failed to satisfy frustrated fans.

She told one interviewer: “To me it’s never done until it’s done.” Eventually, last October, the title and artwork were unveiled in a Los Angeles gallery. In November she launched “ANTIdiaRy”, a website dedicated to the album, then a few days later she announced a world tour to start in America in 2016. But by the end of 2015 there was still no album.

Finally, after a three-year wait, Rihanna’s eighth record arrived last Thursday — but not in the way she or her team had planned. It appeared on Tidal, the streaming service owned by Jay Z due to a “system error”, as they put it. In other words, ANTi had been leaked, and within minutes it was removed.

Yet the music had been downloaded and splashed across the web. It was a total shambles. Rihanna ordered ANTi back on Tidal before giving away one million copies for free to Samsung mobile users. Despite moments of brilliance, the album has been a major disappointment, receiving mixed reviews from critics and alienating loyal fans.

Peculiarly, her snooty record label declined to send review copies to The Sun — choosing to restrict it to broadsheets with limited circulations. None of the songs she released last year, including her collaboration with Sir Paul McCartney and Kanye West — FourFiveSeconds — made the cut. And there is no sign of the mainstream artists and songwriters such as Calvin Harris, Max Martin and Stargate, who all contributed their time and effort to the record. In a magazine interview last year, she hinted that change was coming, saying: “It’s easy to make an album full of great songs. But I want people to go for the ride. The songs have to make sense together.”

As a further blow, Aussie star Sia has thrashed her in the charts with an album at No3 featuring several hits that Rihanna rejected. Sia’s record, This Is Acting, includes the popular Cheap Thrills, which was declined by Rihanna because it sounded “a bit too Britpop for her”. Instead, after a decade of singing other people’s songs, Rihanna took full control of the creative process and made the record only she wanted.

The result is a series of songs which sound as if they were written and recorded in the early hours after getting stoned on a beach. Indeed, Rihanna begins the album on a high by proclaiming on track James Joint that she “would rather be smoking weed”. Musically, however, she reaches a new low. The award for the worst song title on the record goes to Woo, in which an auto-tuned voice howls “woo woo” in the background throughout.

While in the past she rarely got involved in the making of her hits (other than to lend her ever- impressive vocals), this time Rihanna is credited on all but one track. In Consideration she sings: “I got to do things my own way darling.” She can afford not to be too bothered about commercial success given her £17million deal with Samsung.

In return for her promoting their products, they are sponsoring the release of ANTi and covering the costs of her world tour. But sources say the gigs, which begin in the US next month, are not selling as well as hoped. And while Rihanna gave away one million albums to fans for free, it was paid for by Samsung, meaning she could come across as generous without being left out of pocket.

Off the back of that album giveaway, Rihanna’s team declared after 15 hours that ANTi had gone platinum, which means it had crashed through the one million sales barrier. In fact, it had sold fewer than 1,000 copies. And because no-cost records are not eligible for the charts, she has sacrificed any chance of reaching a No1 position in her first week.

Rihanna may be artistically satisfied and her bank balance is no doubt bulging, but the history books will tell a different story.

Talk about an ANTi-climax.

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