Rihanna is often exalted as the resident "bad girl" for her provocative song lyrics and music videos. She broke ground with S&M by making it mainstream in 2010, shortly after talking about rude boys "trying to get it up." She is seen as a feminist because she owns her body, her sexuality, and her image completely. There are still mixed reviews on her choice of subject matter and if she's really being a progressive artist. But, the question here is if she's finally taken a step too far with her most recent video, "Bitch Better Have My Money."
The role she plays here is what many would describe as a "badass", but she's far from it. While she's hailed as a free spirited, bad ass woman in charge, her video demonstrates her lack of respect for women and her use of misogyny to further her career. This isn't the first time she's dominated people in her videos or songs, particularly with S&M, but here the tactics she uses are blatantly clear.
The video caused much controversy when it first released, equally positive and negative. The video describes a scorned women, Rihanna, who goes after the wife of a man who owes her a large amount of cash, hence " bitch better have my money". The almost ten minute video documents the torture Rihanna inflicts on this wife, as a result of his payment being late. She attacks the wife, and through most of the video, has her hog tied with a taped over mouth, heavily drugged, and shoved into a suitcase like a ventriloquist doll. Many viewed this as empowering for females because Rihanna was taking control of her financial situation and showing him how serious she was about her money. She was in control, and took whatever means necessary to obtain her goals. The video is full of fashionable, glamorous shots of Rihanna and her crew, with the wife disguised in public, fooling all passersby. In one particularly graphic scene, probably the most gruesome, they have hanged the woman, nude, upside down in a large room, while Rihanna and her crew swing her back and forth, while Rihanna continues singing her anthem:
Louis XIII and it's all on me, n*gga, you just bought a shot
Kamikaze if you think that you gon' knock me off the top
Shit, your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car
Don't act like you forgot, I call the shots, shots, shots
Like brap, brap, brap
Pay me what you owe me, don't act like you forgot
Bitch better have my money!
Her words resonate, as the video progresses, and then one of the more bizarre scenes occurs. Halfway through the video, the ladies are in a hotel room, smoking weed and drinking ,while they heavily drug the wife again. This is one of the only scenes where she isn't tied up, and they all seem as if they're having a sleepover of sorts. This is covered up by neon lights, a catchy beat, and the immediate next scene is the wife being held under water in the hotel pool, again covered up by the group of women smiling and giggling, like they're having a girls day in. No one around them suspects any foul play, which adds to the playfulness of the video, and an almost bizzare sense of innocence that the girls are trying to portray.
Nothing about this video is subtle; it's very blatantly violent and graphic and misogynistic. She refers to the man as her bitch, displaying all her weapons before she decides to chop up his body, bathe in his blood, and sit in a trunk full of his money to end the video. She's the cool black girl smoking weed, killing bitches, and fucking shit up. But, for what point? And what makes this okay? Why have many chosen to accept this image and accept her as a cultural icon?
Rihanna uses incredibly cheap tactics to appeal to her viewers. She relies on objectifying and abusing other women to bring herself up, and for this she's rewarded essentially. The video and song were incredibly popular, and she's mostly received praise for the video and song lyrics. Nothing she does in the video is okay by any means- she physically abuses the wife and metaphorically rapes her as she controls her, all under the guise of being a "bad ass bitch." There is so much to be condemned here that she is praised for because she is supposedly in control and fighting for her illegally obtained cash. But here's the issue that she's run into for awhile- what she does is criminal, it's vulgar, it's disgusting in actuality and we're here giving her praise and attention for it. Thinking about the process of filming this video, I can't imagine playing the wife and the mental toll this role would have taken on her. She's a a pair of tits and a pretty face shoved in a box, for us to consume and swallow up and process like it's something normal.
This video is one of the most shocking and horrific things I've ever seen, and the fact that we're allowing Rihanna to express herself in this way because she's a women and supposedly a bad ass bitch is something we as a society need to look at considering everything she does here is everything we as a society fear and arrest people for. We can't say that this is okay because she's supposedly trying to be a powerful, in charge woman of color. This has been the excuse she's been given, that she's reclaiming the image for black women and young girls, to give them a sense of sexual freedom and control. But, this is not empowering, or feminist, or entertaining; it's criminal. There would be a drastically different reaction if this were a man performing the same acts; there would be no question of his hatred and disrespect for women. But here, she's abusing this woman to get to the man, and somehow her status as a female puts her in a place of power and reestablishes her status as a "bad girl." She isn't good, by any means. The classic Katzian badass is someone who is in charge, does what they need to achieve their selfish goals, and will make shit happen if need be. They will kill, they will harm, they will kidnap and they don't give a fuck. Rihanna is using her fame to create and uphold the image of that badass, but she isn't the real deal. It's fake, barely digestable, candy coated horror porn. If this is the type of message she wants to promote, and if this is what is acceptable and rewarded in society as interesting, edgy, and "badass", I'm fearful for what's next.