Rihanna just released her music video for her hit single “Bitch Better Have My Money”, a song based on a real experience where her previous accountant cheated her out of millions of dollars. I have now watched the video several times, and I’m currently assembling a bountiful offering to leave at the altar of BadGirlRiRi. However, not everyone is as ready as me to praise Rihanna, a lot of feminists (mostly White) are upset; further they are calling the video misogynist. I have read think piece after think piece, and have found some patterns: many feminists do not have the appropriate knowledge base to apply a critical race analysis to their dissection of popular culture, you can apparently try to discredit future backlash by saying you don’t care if people think you don’t understand race, and lastly you can apparently not fully watch a video before writing a critique and then publish said critique in a major publication (the woman they kidnap never dies, why do people keep saying this ???).
There is a lot to unpack in this video, from the subversion of racial and gender power dynamics to violence against women by women. Though I’m a fan of the video over all, it is important to note there are problematic elements. I mean I am watching a women being tied up, hung upside down topless, being forced to consume drugs and alcohol, and knocked out with a bottle, all this amongst being repeatedly stuffed in a damn trunk. Violence against women is pervasive and a real problem in our culture, so is it right to excuse the violence we see in Rihanna’s video? We shouldn’t excuse it, but we should look at its socio-political meaning. Further, as Mikki Kendall reminded me in a recent TWIB appearance, sometimes we like problematic media, and that’s ok. After all we can still critique and analyze the images and narratives we consume, but still tear up the dance floor when “Get Low” comes on.
As we have a dual relationship with the media, our existing power dynamics shape our art; additionally, our consumption of popular culture and other cultural mediums have a broader social impact. So what about the violence in Rihanna’s video? Is she playing into existing social power dynamics that demean and marginalize women or is she subverting these norms? Rihanna is a visionary and the creator of some of the most important cultural artifacts of our time; she showcases her brilliance here by taking a narrative rooted in history (Black women at the service of the White elite) and flipping it on its head. However, in the end it is still a member of a marginalized group whose pain the audience mocks.
There is conviction and intention in every frame of this video, and unfortunately those within the feminist movement with the largest platforms and microphones are only scratching the surface. So I have decided to delve deeper and unpack this iconic video.