The sessions for Rihanna's fifth album, the new Loud, kicked off with a frenzy of activity: Earlier this year, Island Def Jam CEO Antonio "LA" Reid installed 27 songwriters and 32 producers in a warren of Los Angeles studios and told them to get to work. Every morning, he would check in on this "writers' camp" to select the best stuff. "I was in touch with Rihanna the whole time, like, 'We got a great record today,'" says Reid, who also executive-produced the LP. "In two weeks, we collected about 200 songs."
The songsmiths had a straightforward mandate: "Energy, energy, energy," Rihanna says. The singer says that after the dark vibes of 2009's Rated R – released in the wake of her abusive relationship with Chris Brown – she wanted to return to her pop roots. "I wanted songs that were catchy, like on [2007's] Good Girl Gone Bad" she says, "but that had the depth of Rated R."
"She got the aggression out of her system, now she wants to have fun, talk about love, sex, partying – that's where she is," says Tor Erik Hermansen, half of the Norwegian production squad Stargate, Rihanna's go-to hitmakers since her 2005 debut. Hermansen says he looked to European dance music for inspiration – Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses and Energy 52's "Cafe del Mar" were major influences. The latter song inspired Loud's first single, the Ibiza-style top-five hit "Only Girl (In the World)." "We wanted one of those huge, uplifting riffs," Hermansen says.
There is one notable allusion to Rihanna's recent stormy past: "I Love the Way You Lie (Part II)," a sequel to Eminem's tale of domestic violence, told from the woman's side. "It's close to reality," Rihanna says. But the flirty, innuendo-filled Number One single "What's My Name?" better captures the new LP's upbeat tone – and still nods to the gossip pages by featuring Drake, with whom Rihanna had a rumored romance.
Next up: She's filming the 2011 Battleship movie – and brightening up her wardrobe. "The whole black leather, latex, dominatrix thing was getting old," she says.
This story is from the December 9th, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.