Rihanna – Sex Fiend or Attention-Seeker?

Rihanna has never been one to shy away from controversy, with countless edgy and revealing outfits, her violent altercation with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown and most recently with the release of […]

Rihanna's latest video has sparked outrage

Rihanna has never been one to shy away from controversy, with countless edgy and revealing outfits, her violent altercation with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown and most recently with the release of her latest promotional video for her single ‘S&M,’ which has attracted heavy criticism from the media. However, how far can this be seen to be an ‘innocent’ expression of art, or simply a desperate shout for attention?

Rihanna walks Perez on a leash in the vid

The video itself shows Rihanna donning numerous brightly coloured fetish outfits and seemingly punishing various members of the media, including celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, who makes a cameo. Highly provocative, Rihanna is shown forcing others to wear ball gags and walking Perez on a leash, whilst she herself can be seen tied up in full bondage ropes. However, director Melina Matsoukas claims that this was a conscious choice of direction for the video, saying that she felt inspired by Rihanna’s ‘…sadomasochist relationship with the press … it isn’t just about a bunch of whips and chains.’ However, Matsoukas maintains that ‘it’s also refined and colourful and poppy. She loves pop art and wanted to build off of that.’

Rihanna is shown engaging in bondage

Although its director maintains that the video is refined, it hasn’t stopped eleven countries, mostly in the Southern-Asian region, from instantly banning it due to its highly charged sexual content. Even here in the UK the song and video faces challenges, as on entering at #20 in the UK singles charts yesterday, the BBC took the initiative of renaming the song ‘Come On’ whilst censoring words such as ‘sex,’ ‘chains’ and ‘whips’ to which Rihanna herself reacted with outrage.

The appeal of the video is, however, hard to deny and 6 days since its premiere to youtube, the video has picked up over 7.5million views, despite the site deeming it to be unsuitable for younger viewers and installing an over-18s only policy, stating that the content ‘…may contain material flagged by YouTube’s user community that may be inappropriate for some users.’

Rihanna has been accused of plagiarism for this outfit

The video has sparked further controversy recently due to its comparisons to the work of celebrated photographer David LaChapelle, and his famed shoot for Vogue Italia. Rihanna’s newspaper dress and pink latex headpiece have caused particular debate, as many have claimed that they bear such a striking likeness to the photographer’s work that they have accused the singer of plagiarism, with several of LaChapelle’s fans initially believing that he had directed the video. Even Perez Hilton, despite his feature in the video, had something to say about it, tweeting ‘The next time you make a David LaChapelle music video you should probably hire David LaChapelle.’

We should perhaps take time to consider the views of the director, who has categorically stated that she aims to make her videos controversial. Matsoukas is quoted as saying: ‘When I go out to make something, I kind of go out with the intention to get it banned — [well] not to get it banned, I always want my stuff played — but to make something provocative … so when you do something that’s provocative, that’s usually a repercussion. It’s gonna be talked about or banned or slandered in some way. But it’s making an effect and people are having a dialogue about it, so, to me, that’s successful.’

Meanwhile, Rihanna took time out to hit back at her critics by tweeting ‘They watched Umbrella… I was full nude.’ Blunt and to the point, we like it.

Is the video's cartoon-like quality harmless?

So, should we be criticising Rihanna for her overtly sexual promo vid or praising her for flying in the face of her critics? It’s clear that the video was always going to spark a debate, what else do you expect with a title such as ‘S&M?’ However, the links to the media are also clear to see in the video, whilst the pop-art aspect of the piece lessens its blow. Therefore whilst we can see that it is provocative, it doesn’t seem to carry the sordid undertones that it could have done due to its cartoon-like quality. It’s fun and generally quite tongue-in-cheek about its subject which forces the viewer to engage with it. Perhaps as a younger generation we find it less shocking, but in my opinion it’s harmless.

In essence, Rihanna’s strategy here is innately brilliant. Echoing her director’s words, by authorising such a provocative video, it is undeniable that debate would ensue, ensuring the track was on everybody’s lips. So whilst the world might not be ready for Rihanna’s sexual overtones, it should prepare itself for quite an astute business woman.