On Thursday morning I woke up and did the first terrible thing that I do everyday, check my phone for what’s new on Facebook and Instagram. I was just in time for Rihanna’s Vevo release of her Bitch Betta Have My Money video, a song that I haven’t really been into but sing along when I hear it play. I salivated as it loaded, waiting to be thrilled because the internet told me so. Let me just say this before I take one more step: I love Rihanna’s devil may care youthfulness, I like all of her songs and enjoy her existence as a conduit of modern cultural isms, contradictions, how she navigates her phenomenal fame while remaining true to her developing self, flaws and all and of course her style. Unlike some of my friends who are serious Beyonce and Rihanna stans, who could write theses and argue you under the table in praise and defense of Beyonce and Rihanna — I’ve never been a true fan of either of them, meaning I’ve never bought their albums and out of the 335 albums on my iTunes, neither belong to Bey or Riri. I watch their videos on the tube and dance when they are on the radio but we’re not girls like that. I know I’m making the cardinal sin of adding Beyonce to the mix when this post or video has nothing to do with her, but I’ve always seen them as either side of the same iconoclastic pop culture coin. If they were both on Roc Nation and we lived in a world where Empire was real, Beyonce would be the Jamal and Rihanna would be the Hakeem of this bitch. If 🙂
When I watched the video yesterday, I had to ask myself, am I taking this too seriously? Have I passed the age barrier that separates the cool from the uncool? It’s likely. As I’ve gotten older, I have stopped mindlessly consuming anything that comes my way. My filters are far more advanced than they were say 2 years ago. As much as I am still prone to indulging in random, distracting and passive content like buzzfeed videos and the occasional Kardashians binge , there is a critical switch that I turn on when I need to. However, with this video, that switch violently flicked itself on. I was perturbed. If you can’t get through the video, directed by Megaforce, here’s the gist – she kidnaps and kills her Bitch, in this case played by her white accountant and his wife for I guess, not having her money. (Apparently this did actually happen 5 years ago when her accountant almost bankrupted her, note ampur)
Before launching into my issues with it, I must admit that they are a good and engaging 7 cinematic minutes. If we had to award this music video film based purely on editing, cinematography and conceptual execution, it’s brilliant. But appreciating the execution without looking at its content would be like appreciating a meal for its presentation but not its taste. With that said, what are my issues with it?
1. Let’s start with the obvious, the gratuitous violence. Forget the fact that this isn’t a film that you actively choose to go and watch at the movies, or on PVR or whatever, I imagine an edited version of this will be available for television, that old thing which has become the internet’s bitch in the 21st Century. For those watching TV, this violence will make its way into their lives at any given moment of the day. It won’t necessarily be as active a choice as finding the violence by googling it, or by going to the movies to access it, it will find you chilling with your family on a Saturday afternoon and you will be forced to engage with it either by switching it off or turning up the volume. Bludgeoning, kidnapping, bondage, hanging, gagging, stabbing, shooting and jesus where u at, THE CHAINSAW? These were the methods and weapons used to inflict bodily harm, pain and ultimately murder on two other humans. My problem is the glorification and glamourization of excessive violence that this video promotes. This is in the midst of an America that has been crying to the world that black lives matter, an America that has been crying to the world about its out of control gun control laws, the violence against LGBTQI bodies and the violent KKK inspired burning of black churches amongst many other things. The common denominator in all these instances is violence. How (sway), are we, the same people that are circulating these stories that denounce violence, in such fervent ”like” of the violence in this video? Let’s also not forget the most disturbing thing when it comes to the association of Rihanna and violence – she’s the young woman who spoke out about being beaten by her ex boyfriend after paparazzi photographed her scrunched up face a few years ago. This is that Rihanna.
2. The treatment of the human body. I would understand if there was a deeper sense of symbolism, for instance, if the two victim’s bodies were those of slavers or evil corporate colonialists. I would stomach the act of getting what’s yours through violence if the people being tortured and killed were wearing Enron, BP, Monsanto, Coca Cola, Nike, NRA or Apple T-shirts, underwear or KKK hoods or any other paraphernalia to symbolize their greedy and evil selves. I would understand if she was proverbially murdering the things that mercilessly impose violence on humans like the world’s governments or white male supremacy. Unless I’m missing something, it was done for revenge’s sake, vanity, for kicks – just because that couple owed her and her Tumblr goons money, which in reality we all know is a fable, a tale, a figment of imagination because she’s minted with money. Could it be interpreted as a reclamation of power by a black female over whiteness and its greed? Could this be an attempt to show white feminists and their historical deafness to non white female issues up? I find it hard to stretch the interpretation that far seeing that one her goons is a white female.
The treatment of those bodies, especially the woman hanging upside down, transported in the nude, gagged, beat over the head with a bottle, then drowned, had me sitting down on some, what the bejesu is going on here? Are a bunch of women, for the majority of this video (we don’t actually see her doing anything to the dude), doing this to another woman? I imagine Tarantino with a pencil and his filmography, ticking a bunch of references from films like Death Proof and Pulp Fiction, patting himself on the back. The internet would have been screaming blue murder if those were four men doing that to that woman but it’s okay because it’s four women? The liberation of women/black people isn’t about claiming your power only so that you can occupy the place of the people who have oppressed you for thousands of years and doing exactly what they do to maintain that power, it’s about changing the game, breaking the box all together not learning how to appropriate it into your own style.
3. To what end is it? I just can’t accept that she’s just a chicken head (someone who happily upholds any form of white supremacist capitalist imperialist patriarchy in their daily lives, knows it and doesn’t care or is ignorant and doesn’t care). Earlier this year she released a song commenting on the things America was built on, one of which was and is a continuing violence. It wasn’t ”sexy” and doesn’t have the typically high numbers of Youtube hits but it was something, a necessity considering the current atmosphere around violence and non white bodies in the world today. Then there’s that other gorgeous song with Yeezy and Paul McCartney. I understand the need to balance out your Michelle Obama side with your Nicki Minaj side but this just seems schizo and a little desperate to stay seen to me. I could be wrong. When she’s sitting on a pile of money with blood dripping all over her, isn’t that perfectly symbolic of all the things that are wrong with the world? The things people have done in the pursuit of money.
The thing that wins in this video is not Riri’s character, it’s not the supposedly sweet taste of revenge – it’s Capitalism, the love of money, which provides the lube to the slippery downfall of the virtuous qualities of our humanity. I know I shouldn’t expect more from Rihanna but I expect more from us, the people on the receiving end of this violent careless trite. We should be the ones to say actually Rihanna, we’re tired of you making money off of the things that a lot of us actually suffer in real life – not having money is a reality for billions of people. You are not one of them. Instead, here you are sexifying it in your little fiction vanity project, for whose gain? Blood on your face is not a joke. Drug and alcohol addiction is a serious mental and emotional condition for thousands of people that has caused immeasurable pain for millions of people on earth. Being high or drunk is glorified in many parts of this video, in a way that makes it look normal. When the bound victim laughs on the bed, it makes it look like she’s enjoying this abuse and that makes it look less violent, it makes it look desirable. All the things that are being glorified in this video are exactly the things that have everybody fucking depressed. The scene that got me, the one that people have screen grabbed and made their profile pictures on Instagram, is the scene of the ass with the dead body under water. That’s exactly the symbol of how powerful Capitalism is – it can confuse you with a sexy bum while completely desensitizing you to cold blooded murder.
Finally, all the nudity. I get the need to free the nipple, to be in charge of your own body and do with it what you will. But my problem with Rihanna’s constant nudity is not that she’s never been a product of something that has stood for destroying sexism and capitalism, it’s that she is an example of, an actual product of how capitalism sexualizes boobs and women’s bodies and uses that to make money, and disguises that as freedom. Hello Good Girl Gone Bad. Hello every second extremely popular woman pop star of today. If she was freeing the nipple from a religious institution in protest, or from Wall Street or from some overcrowded sneaker producing plantation in Asia, then I’d say free the fuck out of that nipple, but she’s doing it from the priapic podium of nipple oppression – HOLLYWOOD!
I appreciate that we have a world where we can do whatever we want and our thoughts and feelings can be heard, especially as young women. But I just think that we need other perspectives streaming through our media right now, we need a counter narrative to the stuff that has scrunched the virtuous qualities of humanity in favour of the the non virtuous. We’re beyond the time where caring about representation, caring about what our media promote is something that can be left to lefty hippies, parents, academics, the religious and old people. Who signs Rihanna’s cheques? We constantly have to ask who is benefiting from pop music and the imagery it creates for us to consume? Who makes money from the denigration of female bodies? In this video, is the accountant the man or the woman? If it’s the man, why is all the violence directed towards the woman?
The last time I got mad because of that naked dress she wore to the CFDA’s last year (which I still stand by), people were like Mili you need to chill and stop imposing your views on this free girl. Fine, I get that. She wasn’t harming anybody physically. But now she is and there’s nothing cool about it.
It just so happens that a Brazilian rapper by the name of Emicida, made pretty much a video in the exact same sentiment just a month ago, except his was a revenge music video film of the poor, black working class domestic workers turning on their rich white employers. I’m here for that. All day. Here’s the video that Rihana could have made. The dynamic in Brazil is different in America but the visual language in this video is something that can be understand.
Since I published this on Friday, Youtube has taken the video down and I have two feelings about that. One, I’m relieved that this kind of violence is out of our timelines. That said, I feel like Youtube removed it because it’s violence against a white woman, white people by a black woman. There are many more violent, real life videos of violence against black bodies that are chillllling on Youtube so if it’s for that reason, I’m not here for that kind of hypocrisy. Black lives matter just as much as any other lives.