They were looking for Megan Fox.
Three paparazzi, loitering in the hills high above Los Angeles. They parked here this morning, hoping to catch Fox, who has a house a little ways up the hill. But then luck cruised by in the back seat of an Escalade: Rihanna, on her way to a shoot at a photographer's place. Her windows were blacked out, but the paps knew it was her: There's a telltale dent on the bumper, plus they have a list of plates.
The paparazzi closest to the curb is a nice-looking kid named Arturo with a telephoto lens around his neck. He works for an agency called X17, and Rihanna is on his beat. He knows where she stays, where she shops, where she eats. He says a shot of her might fetch as much as five grand, depending on what she's doing or who she's with. "So," he says, with as much casualness as he can muster, "is she with anyone?"
As it turns out, she's with Mark — her security guard, a cockney bruiser with a heart of gold, who spent his formative years in East London beating the crap out of rival soccer fans. His fists are like sledgehammers, and he sounds like the bad guy from a Guy Ritchie flick. At one point, as a demonstration of his hooligan ingenuity, he takes a plain newspaper, makes a few expert folds, and within seconds has fashioned himself a blunt-force weapon. "We call this a Millwall brick," Mark says with a grin.
By now Rihanna is finished with her shoot and is sipping wine and chatting with her girls while the sun sets. There's Karin, her makeup artist; Ursula, who handles her ever-changing hair — today, a crimson explosion of Sideshow Bob curls; Jen, her personal assistant; and of course, Melissa, her best friend and right-hand gal, whom she's known since they were BFFs in Barbados when she was 14. It's a tightknit crew — or, as Rihanna's friend Katy Perry says, "a bunch of girls who keep it real."
Pretty soon it's time to roll. Mark starts prepping for the 30-foot walk to the car. "Do you want to give them a shot so they don't follow us?" he asks her. She's been getting her picture taken all day, so she's understandably less than enthused, but she agrees, for safety's sake.
But once the cameras start flashing and the smile comes out, she decides to have some fun. "Rihanna! Rihanna!" Arturo shouts. "Are you dating Ryan Phillippe?" That's the rumor this week — the latest in a long line of her alleged paramours, from Shia LaBeouf to Josh Hartnett to Drake. She shakes her voluminous curls. "I hate to burst your bubble," she says, "but no. I'm dating girls!"
Arturo laughs and snaps away."Yeah — Nicki Minaj, right?"
Rihanna laughs. "I wish!" she says as she disappears into the SUV. "Her butt is perfect!"
A little while later, she's at an Italian restaurant off the Pacific Coast Highway, digging into a plate of fried calamari. The place is called Giorgio Baldi, and it's her favorite restaurant in Los Angeles, maybe even the world. If she's home for a week, which is rare, she might eat here four or five times. She usually gets the spaghetti and sometimes the gnocchi. Tonight, she gets both.
So what's she like up close? Almost too much to take in at once. Impossible green eyes. Luminous skin. Legs that reach halfway to the ceiling. (No wonder Gillette once insured them for a million dollars.) "It's disgusting how gorgeous she is," Perry says. "Anytime I introduce my friends to her, male or female, the ride back always consists of, 'What, does she drink the blood of virgins?'"
Rihanna released her first single, the bubbly dancehall jam "Pon de Replay," when she was just 17. Since then she's put out a remarkable five albums in six years, for combined sales of 7 million. Eighteen of her songs have reached the Top 10; among female performers, only Whitney, Madonna, Janet and Mariah have more. If her latest single, "S&M," tops the charts like it looks it could, it would be her 10th Number One — more than Beyoncé and Lady Gaga combined.
All of which makes it easy to forget that she's only 23 — and a young 23, at that. She says she doesn't like vegetables because they taste "like bush." She does, however, love french fries, Cheetos and KFC. She's trying to learn Italian — she got Rosetta Stone for Christmas — but right now, her foreign-language vocabulary consists mostly of swear words. She loves Jonah Hill and Michael Cera (although she calls them "the fat guy" and "the other guy"), and she says cheerfully that she's trying to appreciate her body while she can, because she knows "butt and tits" are the first to go.
She's also really funny, in case you couldn't tell. She has shown glimpses of it before, co-starring with Andy Samberg in two digital shorts on Saturday Night Live about a pants-wetting goofus named Shy Ronnie. ("She came in and nailed it," Samberg says.) But she also has a dry and self-deprecating wit, joking about her "fivehead" (as in, bigger than fore-) and her prodigious appetite — like when, partway through dinner, she looks down at the three strands of spaghetti left on her plate and says, "Maybe I should stop so I have room for my gnocchi. You think it's too late?"
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