A Conversation With the Admiral of Rihanna's Instagram Navy

If you wanted to follow Rihanna on Instagram (and you should), what would you do? You'd probably Google "rihanna instagram," which turns up an Instagram account with the screen name "Rihanna." But if you follow that particular account you're not getting Rihanna—you're getting a South American teenager squatting on the Barbadian pop star's name. And gaining hundreds of thousands of followers, to boot.

When she was on Instagram (she quit about a month ago), the real Rihanna went by "badgalriri," which more or less described how she used the service—the Barbadian singer was briefly banned for posting topless photos, and she frequently took to Instagram to mock random haters or repost memes. The page for "badgalriri" is no longer up but since no one is squatting on that name specifically, it's likely that Rihanna's real account is merely deactivated.

"Rihanna," on the other hand, belongs to 17-year-old Daniela Cintra, a South American girl who's amassaed nearly 1 million followers with the Instagram username "Rihanna." Since badgirlriri's disappearance, instagram.com/rihanna has ascended to the throne. It is the first Google hit for "rihanna instagram" and the top result when you search the singer's name in the app. Though it obviously lacks Rihanna's lacerating online persona, the account is serviceable at its one job: keeping photos of the singer in your feed.

Unlike a "traditional" online squatter—grabbing a valuable screen name or URL and sitting on it, producing nothing in hopes of selling to its namesake later—Cintra is fulfilling what she sees as the duty of anyone with the "Rihanna" name. It makes her an odd and fitting emblem of modern pop fandom. The barriers between fan and star have all but crumbled (unless you're Avril Lavigne), so it figures that after Rihanna quit Instagram, the responsibility for keeping her so-called Navy updated on her every movement would fall on the shoulders of one of those fans. But Cintra—peppy, earnest and very eager to discuss her idol—doesn't see her task as a burden. Instead, she's at the top of a wide and oddly powerful social network.

The account is run solely by her, and she allowed us to use her name and photo but asked that we not say where in South America she lives. I was curious about what it takes to run the top fan account for one of the world's top pop singers, so I reached out and asked if I could interview her.

Last week we talked via Whatsapp about how she got control of the account, the pressures of maintaing it, why she's inspired by Rihanna and a bit about the business of selling Instagram posts.

(Note: the interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

When did you take over the "Rihanna" name on Instagram?

I took over this insta name in 2012. Actually there was another person with this username, but it wasn't related to Rihanna and I was always checking the search list for "Rihanna" when one day I realized the person wasn't there anymore (she was from Japan). Then I tried to change my username from "TeamRihanna411" to "rihanna" and it was available, it was pure luck.

Have you ever talked with any Rihanna fans who were also trying to get the name? Was it competitive?

No I haven't talked, in that time there were a lot of fan pages too, and I was one of the first Rihanna fan pages. Nobody even cared about that username since we all knew nobody would get it from that inactive japanese account. But I was always paying attention to it, when they changed their username I got it.

Do you know if Rihanna ever tried to get the name back?

I tried to contact her via Twitter direct message (she follows me there) but she didn't reply back, also she used to prefer the @badgalriri username which was more creative.

How often would you search the "Rihanna" Instagram name to see if it might be open?

That time I used to search for it every 10 minutes, like all the time, but I used to do it only to see if my fan page was on a great spot of the list when searching for "Rihanna." It wasn't my intention to get the username.

Do you know how many followers you've gained since you got "Rihanna"?

When I got that username I had almost 80K followers, I was the most followed instagram account about her already.

And you have 974k now, so you added almost a million followers since you got the name?

Yes! But I used to gain a lot of followers when I had the "TeamRihanna411" username too, so it was added mostly because of the time I'm on Instagram.

How often do you get messages or tags from people who think you're the real Rihanna?

Everytime, even tho I put on my bio that I'm not her and I have always tagged her real account on my photos and never pretended to be her, there are people that still think I'm her.

Do you respond to people? What do you say?

Sometimes I do, but I'm tired of answering the same thing, "I'm not Rihanna, please read my bio." So sometimes my followers answer each other, also I don't offer only Rihanna content so I have a kind of fashion and rih fan page account. No need to think I'm her.

Where do you get your photos of her? How often are you looking for Rihanna photos and how often do you post them?

I get my photos mostly from random Tumblrs or blogs, I search for it twice a week, I save a lot of photos of her and edit it to fit instagram. So I post some during the week.

Do you do that from your phone or computer? Do you post while at school or just from home?

I do that all from my phone, I almost don't use my computer, I post a few while at school and mostly when I'm home.

Do you ever feel pressure to keep the account updated or is it mostly fun for you?

It started only for fun because in 2012 I didn't have a lot of friends so I created it to don't feel alone and have something to do in my free time because I wanted to communicate with people who share the same interest as me (Rihanna). But now that it is so big I feel obligated to post stuff and I still do that because I enjoy it.

Have you made any friends online from the account?

I have met a lot of Rihanna fans there, but didn't make any friends, I made more friends on Twitter than there.

Is your Twitter about Rihanna, too?

Yes it is, it was one of the most known Twitters about Rihanna but I stopped updating it often because of Instagram.

How did it feel when Rihanna followed you on Twitter?

I was the 23rd person she followed there, it was really rare to get a follow from her. I felt so special and it gave me more pleasure to keep the fan page more updated, my twitter is @TeamRihanna411.

Do your irl friends know you have accounts dedicated to Rihanna that have so many followers?

Only 2 of my friends know about it. I don't like to tell them because they might think I wanna show off because I got an instagram with so many followers or they might wanna co own it too.

Do they think it's cool or do they think you're crazy?

They think that it is extremely cool and special.

Have you ever thought about what you'd say to Rihanna if you got to talk to her?

I would thank her for all of her songs and for inspiring me a lot on fashion and for making me wanna follow all my dreams in life with hopes.

What do you find most inspiring about her?

Her taste in fashion, in my opinion she is the most stylish celebrity ever.

What's your favorite Rihanna song?

My favorite song of her is Man Down because the beat is so great and it makes me wanna dance!

I see that you let people buy posts on your IG. How does that work?

I share people's business to give them a chance to have their product seen by almost a million people which is great for their business and which makes my account not only a fan page but also a fashion page, since I enjoy new products and fashion a lot.

How often do you get contacted by people looking to do business?

Quite often, I already have the ones I do business with always, so it's mostly by these ones.

Can you tell me how much you charge?

I charge a fair price according to everybody who contacts me, I don't like to gain a lot because these posts are helping on the content of the page. I cant say the price because it varies with the followers number.

Do you ever see yourself quitting the Rihanna IG or do you think you will update it for a while?

I can't see myself quitting it, it is part of my life and it made a lot of difference in my personal life, I'll update it always!

Anything else you'd like to say?

I would like to thank all my followers for supporting me a lot with the account by being always active on it and my clients for helping me with the posts on the content of the page and I'm always opened for new business.