Meet Rihanna’s BFF: Melissa Forde

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It’s been a solid five months since Rihanna’s Instagram – where she posted a constant stream of unmediated snapshots of her life and kept us abreast of her ever-changing hair – was shut down after she posted nude (but very artful) photos taken for Lui magazine. Instagram has since been dramatically less exciting – and it doesn’t appear she’ll be back anytime soon. Which has made Rihanna’s longtime best friend, Melissa Forde, an essential resource.

Forde’s story is a mystery – she never talks to the press – but we know a few things about her. The pair grew up in Barbados together, and have been pictured publicly alongside one another for as long as Rihanna has been a global icon: whispering at awards ceremonies and fashion shows, drinking beer out of plastic cups and giggling courtside at NBA games, puffing on blunts from the deck of a yacht, or holding hands as they push through swarms of paparazzi. She has a habit of lashing out at Rihanna’s enemies (Ciara and Chris Brown flame Karreuche Tran) on social media, free from the repercussions that would befall Rihanna if she said the same things.

Forde, who calls herself a photographer (admittedly, Rihanna is her primary subject), has become a style icon of her own. She often counter-balances Rihanna’s oozy, silken glam with tougher looks, keeping her hair cropped short and sporting oversized sportswear. Together, Rihanna and Forde appear unstoppable – bold and glamorous, tomboyish and chic, and probably more than a little mean. They’re a dynamic female best-friend duo that could rival the greats, both fictional and real: Oprah and Gayle, Cher and Dionne from Clueless, Paris and Nicole, Lucy and Ethel,Taylor Swift and just about everything. It’s surprising that tabloids haven’t tried to out them as a lesbian couple.

But these days, Forde is more than just the childhood best friend who became the assistant or the default sidekick. In the absence of Rihanna’s Instagram, Forde has become Rihanna’s keeper, a steward of her persona for fans desperate for a closer look. Rihanna is a prime paparazzi target, and there is no shortage of photos of her weekly, but Forde is the person with the best access to her private life. She’s the only one with the ability to show Rihanna gobbling an ice cream cone before NYFW, tooling around on a four-wheeler and shopping for postcards on vacation, or rapping along to a new single in a bikini. To get to Rihanna, you must first pass through Melissa Forde.