3. Rihanna

Rihanna’s 2009 was defined by one date: February 8. That’s when she was assaulted by her then-boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, after an argument on the eve of the Grammy Awards. And from day forward, Rihanna — who, thanks to a string of hits, had become a global star — took on a very different role.

It wasn’t the kind of role we’re used to seeing pop stars play, and for much of the year, Rihanna kept silent about it, even as reports of previous abuse by Brown began to surface, and details about the incident began to surface. When she finally broke her silence, it was with a simple statement, issued through her representatives, which said that she would not make any further comment on the matter.

She reportedly reconciled with Brown, but, after intense media scrutiny, ended the relationship. And this is where the second part of her remarkable transformation began: Rihanna went from being a victim to an empowered, driven, fiercely independent artist. And that voyage is what makes her our #3 woman of the year.

2009 Highlights: After distancing herself from Brown (who copped a plea deal and was sentenced to 180 days of community labor, domestic abuse counseling and ordered to have no contact with Rihanna for five years, Rihanna slowly began to reappear in public, hitting the town with Katy Perry and walking the red carpet at the Met in New York. She then got back to the business of making music on Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” and appeared in Kanye West’s “Paranoid” video. There was even talk of an “edgy” new album, from none other than Justin Timberlake.

Then, in mid-October, Rihanna shocked fans with a simple Tweet: “The Wait Is Ova. Nov 23 09”. It heralded the arrival of a brand-new album, Rated R, which Ne-Yo advised would be a big one, saying only “World, get ready.” After a couple of early previews, she debuted the proper first single from the album, a moody, subdued track called “Russian Roulette”, which showed that, yes, she was still heartbroken, but she was ready to move on.

She began her promotion for R with a deeply personal interview with Diane Sawyer, detailing her family’s history of abuse and admitting that her relationship with Brown had bordered on “an obsession.” She would later tell MTV’s Alexa Chung that she did the Sawyer interview “to give insight to people who have Rated R, a darkly complex album, bowed in November, selling 181,000 copies in its first week, and Rihanna continued to push the envelope with subsequent singles, like “Hard,” which features a verse by Young Jeezy (the video for which premieres on MTV today), and news of a “daring” world tour. And, as 2009 draws to a close, she remains very much in control, very much empowered. She’s the year’s most inspiring comeback story, even if it seems like she never really went away in the first place.been through what I have … it’s helping save lives.”