Rihanna finally shoots a video that doesn’t make you think it ought to end with “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline!” and she’s getting grief over it. I used to sometimes get annoyed when she would harp on being a rock star and employ it as a defense tactic for whatever criticism is leveled her way. Not that is isn’t true, but sometimes I think artists hide behind that veil in order to avoid taking any responsibility for what they release into the world. After having read some of the flack Rihanna has netted as a result of the “Man Down” video, I have a better understanding of why she’s so adamant about using the rock star defense.
It largely goes unsaid, but many take issue with Rihanna for not being the picture perfect celebrity domestic violence victim. While she didn’t exactly give that many people cause for concern, folks didn’t like that she didn’t throw Chris Brown under the bus. Nor did she cry on Oprah’s couch, lend her image to some “This could be you!” themed campaign ad, or any of the other things that you expect when a star faces deeply disturbing circumstances. She moved on on her own terms.
I believe that had she become a more vocal advocate about domestic violence it surely would have helped people in similar situations. Yet, not doing any of that was all within her right. The same applies to what she does in her art. She could’ve tied a pretty bow around the subject matter of the video, but she wanted a narrative that she believed was more realistic. Why should we fault her for it? Bad things happen to people and sometimes they allow anger to dictate their actions. In cases of rape, this should not be surprising to anyone. As great a cliché as it is to say, if you don’t want your child watching the video then behave accordingly. Or do your job and answer whatever questions that come from your child as a result of Rihanna doing hers.
Plus, in hindsight Rihanna not tackling rape in such a typical way might arguably help people who need to see things in a more nuanced fashion. The same for her going on with her life and career following her break up with Chris Brown. That’s one thing I have to give Rihanna credit for: She is interesting. There are times when I think her constant sexual innuendoes are repetitive, boring, and a cover for what some feel she may lack but we have to admit she has her moments when she proves she is necessary. You know, beyond the fact that she makes really great pop music and is a vision everywhere she goes.
Case in point, her interview in Rolling Stone. After you got past her rants about the joys of being spanked and tied up, she did offer a rather astute statement about the root of her sexual interests. She said, “I do think I’m a bit of a masochist. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something I noticed until recently. I think it’s common for people who witness abuse in their household. They can never smell how beautiful a rose is unless they get pricked by a thorn.”
As someone who grew up constantly witnessing abuse, I read that comment and had to step back and think about what varying degree her words applied to me and people who faced similar circumstances. Rihanna might not do much in the way of ponying up any real answers to the topics and questions in which she raises (nor does she have to), but she does bring about dialogue. Considering she is very much a rock star, that’s really all we should be asking of her.