In 2008, if you had told me that soon Rihanna would be having a Tina Turner running bleeding across an eight-lane highway moment, I would have laughed you out the room. At that time, Rihanna and Chris Brown were pop’s power couple, think Britney Spears & Justin Timberlake circa 2001. There was no way mild mannered and wildly talented Chris Brown would ever raise a hand to strike anyone, unfortunately I would have been very wrong.
On February 8, 2009, Chris Brown did strike Rihanna, leaving her swollen and bloodied; bringing an unfortunate end to reign of Princess Ri Ri and Prince CB. After The incident, Chris got probation and community service, Rihanna got an interview on 20/20. Come 2010 the world had all but forgotten about the incident.
That was until Rihanna rocketed to the top of the pop charts in the summer of 2010 with “Love The Way You Lie,” a duet with notoriously controversial rapper Eminem. The video for the hit song, starring Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan, portrayed an abusive relationship. Many critics claimed the song and video glorified domestic abuse and came down hard on both artists. As with all mild controversies, it blew over quickly. The story remained dormant until Feb 1, 2011 when Rihanna released the video for her hit song S&M.
The video, which I featured right here, is a peak into Rihanna’s enjoyment of BDSM. Yet again people are criticizing Rihanna for her choice to “glorify violence.” One article in particular caught my attention, aka pissed me off beyond all belief. Yahoo! Music columnist Billy Johnson Jr’s article, “Why Is Rihanna Singing About Violence?” asks some valid questions. He postulates, “Rihanna is both victim and perpetrator here. But is this message empowering? Does it advocate fighting back? Or is it just titillating in the same sense of Lady Gaga's homicide-themed ‘Paparazzi’ or Katy Perry's gratuitous ‘California Gurls’ videos?”
This questioning alone is not a problem, being a public figure of Rihanna’s status, it is to be expected that you will be under constant scrutiny. In addition, these questions are something we should be thinking about; is Rihanna using her pop star status to spread a good message, as she claimed in her 20/20 interview, or is she using her past as a way to beef up record sales? No one really knows, I would venture to say both, but all of those questions are missing the point.
S&M is a song about strong proud sexuality, not abuse nor violence. For many domestic abuse victims reclaiming their sexuality is something they may never manage to do. For those who do, it is often a great challenge. Here Rihanna stands, bound and gagged for the occasion, a perfect example of how a person can live happily after a domestic abuse situation, yet many people still find a way to muddy the issue. What we have here is a young woman who has suffered, and persevered. By all public accounts, Rihanna has handled the attack well and has not let it hinder her. There was a period in late 2009 and early 2010 where she went to a darker place musically with her album “Rated R,” but that sort of reaction is to be expected.
Even if Rihanna released a song about her love of furries or rape fantasies, we should be applauding her courage and strength rather than scolding her. It is both shocking and deplorable that media outlets have reacted so negatively to “S&M.” It’s not as if this is an unprecedented move by a pop artist. We need only look to Tina Turner’s 1984 breakthrough solo single “Private Dancer,” for historical precedent.
Turner’s song and video were released only six years after the dissolution of her marriage from Ike Turner. From this, one could conclude that her abusive past led her to glorifying prostitution. Of course, that argument would be specious, misinformed, and flawed in the worse sense, but is it any worse than claiming Rihanna’s “S&M” is some kind of cry for help from a battered victim?
Another troubling point of Billy’s article is the assertion that the sexual practice of S&M (more commonly known as BDSM or bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism) has anything to do violence. BDSM, like any other sexual act, consists of willing participants that enjoy it. Equating BDSM with violence is like comparing sex on a webcam to pornography and exploitation. It is an unfair vilification of a healthy, and very popular sexual practice. Let thou who hath not slapped a butt cheek, used a pair of handcuffs, nor let your partner(s) take control throw the first dildo.
To answer Billy’s original question, "Why Is Rihanna Singing About Violence?” Rihanna is singing about violence because she can. If Eminem had gotten Beyoncé to sing the hook on “Love The Way You Lie,” no one would have batted an eye. If Lady Gaga were the one latex clad dog walking Perez Hilton around her front lawn while declaring her love for BDSM, everyone would write it off as a boring Tuesday.
Because Rihanna was the victim of a domestic assault, does that mean we must hold her to a different standard? Any domestic assault survivor will tell you that all they want is for their life to return to normal. We must not forget that even though she is a domestic abuse survivor, Rihanna is an adult woman who can make any decision for herself she pleases. If Rihanna can get up in the morning and put on a brave face and a latex body suit, who are we to stand in judgement of her? By measuring Rihanna against the metric of a victim, are we not assaulting her autonomy as a human being? How does treating a person like a victim, instead of a survivor, make us any better than Chris Brown or Ike Turner? Answer: It does not.
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