Who is Rihanna really? 

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TRIGGER WARNING – Graphic content and imagery (violence, nudity, sexual violence)

With a net worth of over 100 million dollars, more than 22 million instagram followers and over 16 million YouTube subscribers, it’s no surprise that Rihanna’s new video has garnered a lot of chatter. Interestingly (or tragically) the seven minute clip for Bitch Better Have My Money (BBHMM) has received praise not only from her most devout fans, but also from those claiming to support an end to violence against, and objectification of, women around the world. It also includes horrific torture against the female character’s husband (the clip is based around Rihanna’s experience of being ripped off by her former accountant).

I actually refrained from watching the video for quite some time, as just the imagery and descriptions alone made me feel ill – however I generally feel that in order to talk about something, I need to have watched/read the subject in question before commenting. So I did.

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By the end of the video, I just felt sad. Sad that the kidnapping, drugging, objectification and murder of an innocent woman (as punishment for her husband’s actions) was seen as ‘bad ass’ and ‘amazing’ entertainment. Sad that Rihanna, after her own experience with abuse at the hands of a man, thought that punishing a woman in such graphic and humiliating ways, was entertaining.

And even though it makes me angry that the video treats the woman like a literal object (her body stripped naked and hung from a hook, while Rihanna and her buddies swing her around), while the accountant who ‘fucked up her credit’ is only featured briefly at the very end, I was also disgusted at the torture against the man.

At the end of the day, there is no justification for violence of that kind – whether against man or women;  the guilty or innocent. As one male youtuber wrote: “If she was getting revenge on the accountant in another way…I would be totally down with it… But the violence is just out of control.”

Although Rihanna holds a reputation for being a ‘badass bitch’, and seems to be confident in her violent/soft-core pornified image, I often have doubts that she really is as hardened and tough as she makes out. To me, the escalation of violence, and simulated soft-core porn antics in her videos and instagram feed, all just appear grossly try-hard. Rihanna constantly markets herself as someone who shouldn’t be fucked with – but then again, why wouldn’t she want that? Especially after her own experience with domestic abuse….

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It’s interesting when you look back at the history of Rihanna’s career and the correlations between her personal life and the transformation of her ‘identity’. I distinctly recall the clear shift in her music and image with her 2009 release ‘Rated R’. I remember, because it came very shortly after images of a battered and bruised Rihanna were released; images that revealed extreme facial damage as caused by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown.

It seemed a significant shift, and an understandable one.  Some of the first tracks to be released during that period were Russian Roulette, Rude Boy and Man Down, and it was the first time I saw Rihanna begin to take on her ‘sexy tough girl’ image. In time, her videos escalated into a heavily saturated mixture of sexualised violence, with themes of substance abuse, unhealthy relationships and soft core porn (We found love/ S+M/ Can’t Remember to Forget You/ Pour it up).

Maybe that was the beginning of ‘Bad Gal Riri’…a woman who was tougher; a woman not to be messed with. Not for one second do I think that I know Rihanna’s intimate thoughts – but is it really that far fetched to wonder if the abuse she suffered may have been instrumental in her transformation?

I remember going through unhealthy relationships as a teenager and young woman, and swearing that I would never let myself be hurt or taken advantage of ever again. I didn’t go through anything as severe as Rihanna (in regard to physical abuse) yet I recall very clearly wanting to protect myself; to put up any barrier I could – and that meant taking back control. I started with my image, experimenting with different looks in an attempt to make myself look tougher; enjoying the power of being able to entice any man around me, yet turn him away. I wanted to be attractive, sexy, tough, and most of all, in control.

When I look at Rihanna through the lens of her ‘art’, I never get a sense of anything authentic; instead it feels as though she is merely playing a character. Thinking back over the years, the only moment I ever truly felt that Rihanna was relatable, raw and honest, was during her 2012 interview with Oprah.

Even as I watch it again now, I find it so refreshing. There’s no pretense, no attitude, no gimmicks…just Rihanna, a young woman with passion for her career, a love of life, and a character that is so much more interesting and deep than her public profile ever shows. The interview shows a touching moment where she gifts her mother with a gorgeous new house, and also showed her vulnerabilities – as she struggles to speak about the loss of her grandmother, and the wounds suffered through her time with Chris Brown.

She admits to Oprah that she doesn’t want people to see her as a victim, and that she’s often wanted to become stronger; tougher. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to transform yourself, or to grow into a stronger or even tougher person – but to do so doesn’t have to mean turning into something that is polar opposite to your personal values. Nor does it mean you have to buy into violent or hyper-sexualised personas.

Another interesting moment during the interview, comes when Oprah asks Rihanna how she feels about being labelled (by media over the years) as ‘the essence of fuck.’ Rihanna truly seems taken aback; lost for words as she tries to process this description of herself.

“I don’t even know what that means…I really – I do not think about things like that. I’m not like, ‘oh my gosh I had a great achievement here with this title!'”

“It’s inaccurate but flattering [being labelled the hottest woman in the world].”

I wonder if Rihanna still sees herself the same way today; just a grounded, down to earth and a normal young woman not quite comfortable in her own skin. It’s also interesting, given that she has also been known to post about following the Bible, and her gratefulness for God’s blessings on her life. I take Rihanna on her word when she says that she has a relationship with God – as it’s really not up to anyone else to say if she does/doesn’t – however I find it strange that she continues to take up a character/public image that is the extreme opposite of how God would see us treat others or ourselves. I don’t believe this means Rihanna doesn’t have a relationship with God or believe in Him, but I do absolutely believe that there is nothing in BBHMM that would be consistent with how Jesus would see us treat each other.

At the end of the day, some people may realise that Rihanna’s public image is marketed, and Rihanna may not see herself as a role model, but the fact remains that millions of young people look up to her. You don’t have to strive to be a ‘role model’ in the sense of achieving perfection, but is there really a need to buy into the soft-core porn saturated world that so many female musician’s are defined by?

When I look at the image that Rihanna shares with her fans on social media, I see someone defined by a meaningless identity of money, simulated sex acts and brutality. Creating an alter-ego/persona is nothing new for performers and artists – but if you believe in trying to live a life that follows after God, and you aren’t a violent person in real life, what’s the point of constructing an entire public persona in that image?

Bitch Better Have My Money is a sad and depressing clip for so many reasons, but it’s the ending that I find the saddest; Rihanna naked, covered in the blood of her victims, and alone with just her money. I sat there thinking: you’ve got money…But when that’s gone, what do you really have?

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