03/16/2012 11:58 am ET Updated Mar 16, 2012

Rihanna's Tweets: Publicity Stunt Or New Image?

In the past few months, Rihanna has recorded two songs with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown (with whom she has a troubled past), candidly tweeted about about her predilection for smoking weed and started a nasty online feud with Brown's new girlfriend.

Rihanna has come a long way since she first exploded on the scene in 2005, but lately it seems she's been making more headlines for what she says and does outside the recording studio than for her music. Is she falling into a Lindsay Lohan-like spiral, or is this all just a calculated effort by the "machine" to keep her relevant in a market that is constantly looking for the next best (or baddest) thing?

If her latest stunt is any example of what's to come, it seems Rihanna will do almost anything to keep the blogosphere buzzing. The singer recently stepped out without a bra, while wearing a see-through top in New York City, and everyone was wondering what she was thinking.

"Rihanna wasn't going out for a night on the town or a performance," Leah Chernikoff, editor of Fashionista.com, told The Huffington Post. "She was going out to dinner on a Sunday at a casual but scene-y restaurant in the West Village. It certainly seems like a bid for attention, though I'm not quite sure why."

When TMZ asked Rihanna about the images, she was recorded saying, "You mean my t*tties? F*cking perv! It was the flash, man!"

Her fresh attitude was also evident in her recent Twitter attack on Chris Brown's girlfriend, Vietnamese model Karrueche Tran. Rihanna tweeted a picture of a bag of rice cakes wearing sunglasses and gold earrings similar to ones that Tran favors, with the caption "Ima make u my b----." The stunt started an online feud between the two women, with Rihanna's fans making serious threats against Tran.

It may seem like Rihanna is looking for trouble, but perhaps it's all a ploy to keep up with her outlandish competition.

The singer, who began her career as an innocent ingénue from Barbados, seems to be purposefully crafting an edgier, devil-may-care image as she struggles to define herself in a music market saturated with wild women like Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.

"Gaga and Minaj have set the precedent that the offstage 'performance' is just as important as what you do onstage," said Dorothy Cascerceri, senior editor of In Touch magazine. "The more shocking an artist's hairstyle or costume is, the more popular they are these days. Rihanna is a huge pop star, but it is no secret that her stardom has waned. Perhaps her crazy haircuts and colors, clothes (and lack thereof) are her way of staying relevant in a constantly changing landscape."

Rihanna -- or more likely her management team -- is careful about how they toe the line. Sure, she recently revealed that she smokes weed on Twitter, but she hasn't been arrested for her drug use and hasn't gone to rehab. The folks crafting the image of the "New Rihanna" are careful to make her edgy, but not uninsurable, unlike some other young starlets on the scene.

"Of course this is calculated. With record labels, movie studios and advertisers all benefiting from this 'machine,' she's got too many guardrails around this 'good girl gone bad.' Rihanna is nothing but on track towards a Britney-sized sexplosion, but with the LiLo cautionary tale on her side," explained marketing expert Eduardo A. Braniff, CEO of the Imagination Group’s Americas division. "The 'controversy’ and 'backlash' is all as formulaic as the series of events leading to what we all want to become an epic fail, but in this case will be a likely reinvention."

It makes sense for a reinvention to rear its head now, as Rihanna gears up to make her big-screen debut in the upcoming blockbuster "Battleship" in May. If she wants to be taken seriously as a multimedia star, she needs to prove her mettle by bringing in big box office receipts.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that Rihanna's see-through stunt came only a day before Universal released a new trailer for the flick, which also stars Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skaarsgard and Brooklyn Decker.

"She needs to attract her audience and then some in order to sell tickets," Hollywood image consultant Michael Sands told The Huffington Post. "For the next several months, Rihanna wants to be on every magazine cover and will say anything and act in any way to get to numero uno at the box office.”

Rihanna Photos