MISSDRE has been talking about dyeing her hair “Rihanna-red” recently, and in an attempt to convince her that what I consider to be an unfortunate replica of Ronald McDonald’s classic color is not the most preferable move, I have refocused my attention to the 23 year-old Robyn Rihanna Fenti.
Despite the upbeat dance tracks, sartorial and stylistic boldness, and general badass-ness of this pop-icon, it is most obvious from Rihanna’s videos that she is a young women dealing with some seriously heavy shit.
Let’s look at a rundown of the videos from her last album Loud (2010) with some short-hand analysis.
S&M: Debut of red hair. Paparazzi in muzzles. Raggedy-Anne parallel. Rihanna’s actions are jerky and violent–she seems out of control, but she gazes piercingly at the camera. Sticks and stones may break my bones/ but chains and whips excite me (as opposed to “and words will never hurt me”). The video juxtaposes innocence with guilt, and calls into question the thin red line on which the paparazzi and contemporary pop music tread.
What’s My Name: The title says it all–Rihanna questioning, as all young women do, who the FUCK she is. She shows the tattoos on her hands (questionable permanence), and talks about the man she needs (not necessarily Drake, the one serenading her). She is wearing the referee-vest, indicating that at this point in her life she is able (or should be) to judge what she needs and what she doesn’t. She is smiling and laughing when with Drake, who she feels comfortable with and wants, but there is a hint of insecurity about her deliberate walk around New York (purposeful stride, but where is she going?). She isn’t running from something as in S&M, but she she also doesn’t have a direction planned out for herself yet.
Cheers (Drink to that): Flashbacks to a summer drive (lookin’ fly), children playing on a beach at sunset, laughter with her friends, preparing for a show looking sassy, and applying makeup are interspersed with live footage of a concert and the after-party. Rihanna, of course, rocks the show in her biggest hair and tallest heels, but is chilling at the house-party with her friends and family (Avril appears in a cameo skating into the swimming pool). This video is a pure-hearted celebration of being a young, free-sprited girl who feels lucky to live the life she has.
Only Girl in the World: She wants to be the center of someone’s life–the only girl in the world. But in this video she means the only person in the world. She is completely alone first in a field of flowers (very feminine, wearing comfortable but cute clothes, and with an oversized bow in her hair), and her dress exposes the tiny gun tattoo on her right side. Then she appears in a desert-ocean reminiscent of a Dali painting (large floating orbs) wearing a ruffly cupcake dress, blissfully twirling on a background of fireworks, and walking through a sparsely-wooded forest lit by candles made of dresses. Throughout the video she is smiling and happy. Had enough of the men in your life Rihanna?
California King Bed: The scenes in this opening track are similar to “Only Girl in the World”, with an ephemeral forest and a room of chiffon curtains blowing in the wind. We see her new collar-bone tattoo, which reads “never a failure, always a lesson”, and is written backwards. This is a friendly reminder, and one that young women often come to at this age (as both I and my bff have similar inspirational tattoos), that it is ok to fail at least once a day (or all day, every day). Though this is a typical weepy love song video, rihanna makes it her own by keeping her hair dyed red–indicating that even when sad she is still the sassy pop princess as in “Cheers”.
Man Down: This was my favorite from Loud because it was so controversial. Again we see that Rihanna constructs her identity both alone in contemplative thought (at the waterfall at night), and when on walks around the place where she lives (see HuckleKat’s post on walking). Another theme common in Rihanna’s videos, the blurred line between right and wrong, is repeated in this vid when she is raped at a club by someone she was dancing seductively with, and when she then kills him to restore the balance of justice. The last 30 seconds of the video show Rihanna preparing for the murder and are completely silent, indicating that this video is much more than a way to sell music (the video might even hurt sales because of its unsuitability for certain audiences (but of course I reject that on principle)), it tells a very personal story. However, her face is never shown in this particular segment—Rihanna’s video is a comment on discussions about rape and promiscuity in our society.
With all of this in mind, I invite you all to watch the video for her AWESOME new single from the album Talk That Talk, to be released November 21. I immediately thought of Sid and Nancy, a story about sex, love, drugs, and violence in the 80s. I have been rockin’ out to this single for the past few weeks, but it takes on a very serious and poignant meaning with the video attached. I hope you enjoy it, and I welcome any comments/ analysis from the viewing public!
We Found Love:
Rihanna has ditched the red hair, and for me this signifies a shift from the (nonetheless advanced) art of a questioning girl to the rebirth of a passionate female artist who is in complete control of her image, politics, and philosophy—they may change as she learns and grows, but her projected image is completely her own. I loved the tattooing scene, because it is unclear who is harming who–whether she begged to be abused (as Nancy begs to be murdered by Sid in the aforementioned film), or whether love’s passion and the intensifiers of music and drugs create an energy that is entirely pure, but not entirely benevolent. Rihanna’s smiling laughter and joy is finally presented in context of another person, and the lyrics do not reflect the misunderstanding of love as “you and I”, but the interpretation of true love as “we”, whether “we” go down in a fit of passionate disaster or not.
If you would like to read more about Rihanna, I reccommend the Rolling Stone cover story: Rihanna, Queen of Pain: Spanking, sexting, spaghetti: One hot week with pop’s most complicated sex symbol