A lot of male celebrities are checking out Rihanna, and so is Trey Songz — but not like that.
The R&B crooner finds inspiration in Rihanna's meteoric rise. Her 2007 smash "Umbrella" established her apart from the typical singers on the scene, and Songz thinks he's poised for that same breakthrough moment with his latest CD, "Ready."
"Somebody else could have sang that song but it wouldn't have been what it was (if it wasn't) for Rihanna ... just would have been a whole different moment for her — exactly where I am right now," he said.
Songz, 25, is enjoying his greatest success with his latest album. His racy song "I Invented Sex" hit the No. 1 spot on the R&B charts, while another hit, "Say Aah," is steadily rising. And "Ready" is nominated for best contemporary R&B album at the Grammy Awards on Jan. 31 in a category that also features Beyonce and Jamie Foxx.
"The records moreso defined me than any other album I had," he said. "I feel as though anybody can have hit records, like a hit song could be sang by anyone, but you know when you find what it is that your niche is, like a song like 'I Invented Sex' — I don't feel like anyone else could have sang that song."
Gail Mitchell, a senior editor at Billboard, says Songz's rise has been a steady one.
"I think now a small circle of folks knew what he was about and understood it and it's just gotten a little bigger with each album," she said.
"I feel as though I've always had great records, but somewhere on the rise to stardom it was something not interpreted to the fan," said Songz, who will go on tour with Jay-Z and Young Jeezy in February. "I feel as though the Internet has done a lot ... helping me with that, the Twitters, Facebooks, things of that nature."
Songz, whose real name is Tremaine Neverson, debuted in 2005 with the CD "I Gotta Make It." His sophomore effort, 2007's "Trey Day," had a hit with the Grammy-nominated groove "Can't Help But Wait."
"Ready" can be viewed as a sign of his growing maturity. The singer has traded in his sneakers and T-shirts for tailored pants, tasteful shoes and a chic vest. He also chopped off his braids. The new look is something his producer and mentor, Troy Taylor, calls a "drastic change" — and a needed one.
"Trey's from the streets, he's a hood kid. He wasn't glamorous and (didn't have) the finer things in life growing up," said Taylor, who has worked with the Virginia native since he was 14 and produced for artists like Boyz II Men and Aretha Franklin.
"He didn't want to lose his street-ism," Taylor explained. "As he grew into it I think he began to realize, 'Wait a minute, this ain't that bad after all,' and then he got the ladies' opinions."
While Songz already had a strong female base, "Ready" has helped take it to a new level.
With songs like "I Invented Sex," some would say the singer is playing up sexy for sales and publicity. Songz disagrees.
"I feel like I've always played toward sexual innuendoes in my music ... I think it's just being highlighted now," he said. "I always find it important to know and show people that I do have records of substance as well."