Friday 30 September 2016

Rihanna: Natural-born thriller...

Has Rihanna finally gone too far with her latest revenge fantasy

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Rihanna
Rihanna
Controversial: Teen shocker

Almost half a century after The Beatles opined about the Taxman, Rihanna this week went viral with her own distinctly 21st-century take on the trope: 'Bitch Better Have My Money'.

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Complete with its own hashtag, by now, #BBHM is widely believed to be a dig at the accountancy firm the Barbadian singer sued for $35 million in 2012.

But it's the seven-minute video for the first single from the star's upcoming eighth studio album that's truly courting controversy worldwide.

Featuring Casino Royale villain Mads Mikkelsen as the eponymous 'Bitch', the revenge fantasy sees the chart-topper kidnap and torture an accountant's wife, played by Rachel Roberts, before lounging naked and bloodied in a trunkful of cash.

Amid the ongoing war of words over whether her latest opus is feminist, misogynistic or otherwise, the 27-year-old has so far remained uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter.

Speaking to Review earlier this week, however, a spokesperson for the National Women's Council of Ireland condemned the film's "glorification" of woman-on-woman violence.

"As a successful artist and survivor of domestic violence, Rihanna is very aware of critical issues in the music industry, such as sexism, racism and the glorification of violence," says Jacqueline Healy, Women's Health and Human Rights Officer with the NWCI. "However, violence is not acceptable in any form.

"As much as anybody, artists do have a responsibility in relation to the messages they are sending out to their often young audience," she says.

"Regardless of what its intention might be, the video does very little to challenge the glorification of violence, and it does not send out positive messages about gender equality and the need to eliminate violence against women in any form."

From fresh-faced ingénue to tattooed bad-ass, Robyn Rihanna Fenty, as the tween idol is also known, has certainly come a long way since bursting onto the pop scene in the mid-noughties, when the most dangerous weapon she wielded on film was her famous 'Umbrella'.

Running the parent-baiting gamut from bondage to lesbianism and drug abuse, her music videos for 'S&M', 'Te Amo' and 'We Found Love', shot in Northern Ireland, were all banned in countries such as the US and France.

Including chainsaws, spliffs and full-frontal nudity, however, has the 'Good Girl Gone Bad' finally gone too far with her torture-porn directorial debut?

Dungarvan-based psychotherapist Michael Fitzgerald, who specialises in teen counselling and parent coaching at CounsellingWaterford.com, thinks so.

"I watched Rihanna's new video and found it very disturbing," he says. "Moreover, it is freely available to her young teenage fans online.

"Rihanna herself was a victim of abuse, but promoting a personal power fantasy over other human beings is hardly a healthy way of dealing with the world.

"Encouraging your audience to engage in self-centred revenge scenarios with drug and alcohol-fuelled sessions of abusing other human beings is hardly what a role model who says she wants to show female empowerment should do," he adds. "Surely empowerment would come from encouraging people to make the right choices."

Next to the new queen of shock pop's latest outing, Madonna's 1992 Sex Book or her infamous lip-lock with Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards seem a little quaint.

Defending the Tarantino-esque pop video this week, however, Canadian model and actress Roberts - the video's star - told how she was only too happy to strip off to play the bound and tortured Mrs Bitch.

"Whether or not you like what she's doing in the video, Rihanna is portraying a strong woman who is fighting back," she reportedly told a British newspaper, "even if her methods are obviously highly questionable. "Beyond that, I don't think it's particularly useful to argue the politics of the video - it was always meant to be over-the-top and not taken too seriously."

Supposedly inspired by 1988 blaxploitation parody 'I'm Gonna Git You Sucka', one Irish feminist group reckons #BBHMM wouldn't be ruffling half as many feathers were the fictional perpetrator not a strong, black women- nor the victim a rich, white one.

"You may notice the division of opinion [on BBHMM] is quite racially divided," points out Siobhan Ramos of Cork Feminista, a voluntary feminist organisation found at www.corkfeminista.com. "It is mostly white feminists who have a problem with it.

"I think people are getting upset because of a shift in power dynamics. Why is Rihanna vilified for depicting violence, while people like Quentin Tarantino are praised?

"White feminism has historically been very racist and exclusionary," Ramos continues. "Many white feminists are getting upset because Rihanna is promoting a narrative that is generally unheard of in mainstream media - a black woman putting herself and her livelihood first.

"I think it's very brave - and we should examine why that reversal of power is so shocking in the first place."

Undoubtedly, the image of a latex-clad RiRi brandishing a knuckleduster dagger is in stark contrast to that of the singer bruised and battered by boyfriend Chris Brown that was leaked in 2009.

And viewed more than 21 million times since being uploaded to Vevo last Thursday, the lyrics - penned by 20 year-old German artist Bibi Bourelly when she was "in a ratchet mood" - appear to have hit home with listeners.

"Using shock tactics to sell records is nothing new," says clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy of www.dreddiemurphy.ie. "If you look at pop music down through the years, there have always been people who pushed the boundaries - Rihanna is just the latest.

"There is some evidence to demonstrate the [negative] influence of media on young people," he adds. "Being less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, for instance. But you couldn't put that down to one Rihanna video - it's more of an overall culture."

As the contentious track soars to the top of Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart, the 'Unapologetic' singer is sure to be sobbing into her estimated $143 million fortune over the row.

Ramos argues: "Rihanna is a great example of an unapologetic, ambitious and authentic innovator. She shows young women how powerful it is to be unafraid of others' opinions.

"I don't like categorising people as good or bad role models because nobody's perfect, but in that sense, I think she can only inspire."

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