Written by Rebecca Humphries

In The News

Oohhhhh Rihanna!

Rihanna’s latest video, Bitch Better Have My Money, takes her attention-grabbing love of sex and violence to a new level. Rebecca Humphries thinks there’s a difference between showing off your tits and acting like one.

Rihanna video stillI want to begin with a typical exchange between myself and a female friend:

Friend: Look at this (shows me magazine with a picture of Kim Kardashian’s arse on it. It was very big, round and sort of glazed. Like a brioche).

Me: (pause) Oh wow!

Friend: ‘Wow’?

Me: I mean, is that good?

Friend: No! It’s objectification!

Me: Yeah I know, I was being wry.

I wasn’t.

The subject of female imagery in the media has always been confusing to me. I’m not a fence-sitter by nature, but for some reason I flounder for a solid opinion when faced with titty pics and the like. Questions bump around my brain: “Is it OK if it’s in women’s magazines?” “Does it depend on who the woman is?” “If she’s not skinny, does that make it better?” “Is it art if it’s in black and white?”

I know the body should be celebrated and flaunted but am never certain where the line between ‘You go girl!’ and ‘put some bloody clothes on!’ lies. I realise too that one must be wary of slut-shaming, that we should accept a person’s right to express their sexuality while at the same time recognising there is a difference between whether it is liberating or lewd.

Artistic or unacceptable.

A role model or… Rihanna.

Gory RihannaAh, RiRi. The beautiful R&B ingénue who gained respect with Umbrella and has been attempting to destroy it ever since. There is nothing unusual about wanting to break free from a certain mould, and reinventing oneself from girl to woman is a rite of passage in the music industry: Britney, Christina and Miley all being recent examples.

But unlike her pop princess peers I have always found something deeply uncomfortable about Rihanna. Maybe it’s the dogged determination to be controversial; maybe it’s the transparency within that controversy, this bombardment of explicit images and antagonistic themes in order to generate publicity, sell more records and thereby make a tidy profit. Essentially a profit that comes off the back of repeatedly convincing the young and impressionable (her target demographic is teenagers) that in order to be attractive, empowered, a ‘star’ you must be sexually explicit (her S&M video), emotionally submissive (she received criticism from the Rape Crisis Centre for the video to We Found Love), and most lately, explicitly violent and drug addled.

Yes, not content with being bound, gagged, graphically screwed and seemingly raped for the sake of flogging a few records, Rihanna’s now moved into the realms of taking wealthy people hostage and cutting them up. With some naked tits thrown in. Old habits die hard, it seems.

Which brings me nicely to her latest video, a semi-autobiographical take on her relationship with her ex-accountant. Its title? Bitch Better Have My Money. I sense they never patched things up.

I click play. First comes the obligatory “WARNING! Language, nudity, violence” which I think we all know reads to the under-18 set as “This is gonna be goooooood!”

Then there’s one of those really long intros before the music kicks in that lets you know: 1) what you’ve mistaken for a mere music video is actually a profound piece of storytelling, and 2) this storytelling cost a shitload of money to make.

As for the plot it’s… a bit like a hen weekend organised by Thelma, Louise and Satan. Rihanna plays a sort of vigilante, socking it to the rich. Like Robin Hood but, you know, a porno version. She basically nicks this bloke’s wife and strings her up, bottles and drowns her.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though: I for one had a right old lol at a scene which saw our drug-smokin’, gun-totin’ heroine positively raging at a cashpoint, her balance onscreen clearly reading zero. Rihanna! With no cash! Hahahaha! And I had her down for totally humourless.

Rihanna standing next to captive womanWhile the video is clear in its objective to shock and have an impact – and it clearly achieves the latter – what’s less apparent is any kind of point. Is it that it’s OK to threaten others if you feel you’ve been wronged? Is it that you’d better be careful of Rihanna because she’s actually genuinely dangerous? Is it that in order to take revenge on a man your best bet is to degrade other women (and by the way, what the hell is that about)? Without a clear message, what you end up with is just a big splat of angry images and no sound justification.

Listen – I am not completely sheltered or naive about the hip-hop industry. I realise that there are lyrics, videos and moral messages doled out by the likes of Kanye, Tyler the Creator, Lil’ Kim etc, that make Rihanna’s work look like Disney’s singalong songs. But the crucial difference is that Rihanna is a mainstream artist. And as such her image, music and music videos have a wider platform. She has become a household name, particularly in homes inhabited by teenagers (younger, even), and therefore has a responsibility to them whether she likes it or not.

At present all it would appear she is opting to use her platform for is to create outrage. And sell coconut water. Which to be fair is really good for you. But no amount of electrolytes in the world can make up for the damage done to millions of young people’s self-worth, self-esteem, or sense of what is acceptable.

I’m not saying don’t watch the video. In fact, I’ve come to think it’s important to formulate strong opinions on these things. In a way I owe Rihanna a thanks: on the subject of this video my (fully clothed) arse is well and truly off the fence.

@Beckshumps

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Written by Rebecca Humphries

Rebecca is an actress and writer from Norwich. She likes her portions big and her dogs small. @Beckshumps