No matter how many songs Rihanna records in her lifetime, no one will ever forget "Umbrella," her first smash hit and the song that catapulted her to new levels of fame. In a new book called The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory (excerpted in SPIN magazine), writer John Seabrook dives deep into the history of the song and how it ended up in Rihanna's hands. Many people know that the song was originally written for Britney Spears, but even after she passed on it, the writers weren't convinced that RiRi was the right person to take it because she wasn't yet very famous.
"They had to talk us into it," Mike [Stewart] says. "I remember Grammy weekend I was being hounded by every label executive to get that record. At parties people were running up on us everywhere. But [Def Jam's then-CEO] L.A. Reid and everyone associated with Rihanna—they were the most passionate. [Rihanna's manager] Jay Brown put me on the phone with Rihanna, and I said no at the time, and to this day when she sees me she says, 'Oh you're the one who tried to take my record away.' And she's so wrong—I didn't try to take her record away! I was just evaluating what was the best situation."
The book goes on to say that Rihanna finally got the song after L.A. Reid and Jay Z called "daily" on her behalf. Though the writers told Seabrook that you can't predict what songs will be hits, they did say they knew "Umbrella" was "special" from the beginning. "When she recorded the 'ellas,' you knew your life was about to change," producer Tricky Stewart said. Another fun "Umbrella" fact — the song was written in just two hours.
As for why Britney passed on the song, her label said she already had enough material for Blackout. According to Seabrook, "It is unclear whether Britney ever even heard the demo." Coincidentally, about a month before Rihanna released "Umbrella," Britney had her own run-in with a real umbrella when she used one to smash up a paparazzo's car. Ah, what might have been!
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.