A few weeks ago over on “That Guy With The Glasses,”
Nostalgia Chick posted a video detailing her top ten guilty pleasures
. She listed off some awful movies and gave legitimate reasons for her liking of them (except for the Grinch). I was pretty awestruck by the gesture.
Most people assume I hate everything and I always feel like I don’t give shitty media enough of a far chance. So in these past few weeks, I’ve been mulling around and trying to discover some bad media that I truly enjoy, myself. I’ve come up empty handed…for the most part.
There is one artist, though, that I seem to genuinely enjoy despite disliking a bunch of her songs. That, my dear readers, is Rihanna. Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty to Monica Braithwaite and Ronald Fenty, the Barbadian native has come a long way in her career. Starting off with simple pop tunes and progressing into dance, techno and even reggae, there is a tremendous body of work to this young women’s name.
To this day, Rihanna has sold over 8 million albums. Her career started in 2005 and she has made an album almost every year since. While that sounds like a tremendous amount of material to release, most of her songs reflect different themes and sounds between albums.
My favorite aspect of her work, though, is all of her music videos. There is such a style and flair to these videos that it’s hard not to notice the evolution of her music. Maybe she’s not getting more mature or adult, but she’s certainly producing videos that are worth watching. It’s almost in the vein of Michael Jackson, though not as feature length.
To start the discussion of her evolution, what better place to look than her very first video, “Pon De Replay.” It’s amazing how laid back and civil this video is compared to some of her latest work.
It almost looks like the video was shot on a budget of a few hundred dollars. There are very few extras or costumes and people literally just dance the whole time. There is no plot aside from, “This music is really low.”
It blends well with the party aspect of the song. Rihanna started off being a simple pop starlet and her first few songs didn’t tackle any really difficult topics. I suppose when you’re 17, the biggest thing in your life would be that music isn’t being pumped out at a high enough decibel.
The colors are really nice, though. I like the touches with the LED lights and how the dance floor seems to match the outfits. Rihanna wear’s some green and we see green lasers in the air. It’s eye catching, to say the least.
For her next album, though, Rihanna started to venture into tougher territory and no song looks at that better than “Unfaithful.” This rather sappy and sloppily written power ballad covers the idea of Rihanna being a cheater and ruining one man’s life. That’s stuff most young people don’t really contemplate.
As progressive as the song may be, it wasn’t very good. The video is fairly engaging, though. A lot of the shots encapsulate the fake romance Rihanna is having with one guy and later shots reveal the sexy and electric love she is sneaking around with.
I’m still kind of baffled by the included piano scenes, though. I’m not sure what they entail, other than that the song is played on a piano. I’m surprised at how well cellphones are used, though. Most movies can’t even get that modern aspect of life correct, but the quick 2-3 second short of “B Down in 5” is great.
Still, with as crappy as the song may be, I’m genuinely surprised at how well of a story the video tells. We may not understand the characters names or pasts, but we definitely are given a grasp of their emotional balance.
Jump forward a year to her next album, “Good Girl Gone Bad,” and we’re treated to Rihanna’s breakout hit (and the first song I actually heard by her), “Umbrella.” This is where the magic of makeup and costume design really start to take form for Rihanna. Everything is very flashy in this video.
The first shot, alone, shows that Rihanna is truly onto something. Lying down with one leg up, sitting in a foggy room and wearing skin tight black leather and a fedora, this girl looks tough. I certainly wouldn’t want to get in a fight with her (at least not in the truest sense of that word).
While Jay-Z’s verse is completely throwaway, his part of the video is even astonishing. The man is rapping in a rainstorm of sparks while dancers stand and look like bouncers. There is a touch of bravura about this video that lets the viewer know that no punches are being pulled in getting their attention.
Rihanna then begins to feel herself up and strike sexy poses while the camera zips in and out of focus and shakes at bit. I certainly get the feeling that the viewer is meant to be basking in her beauty and the makeup sells that to me. While she looks strong and fierce, her eyes seem hungry and excited and it’s enough to drive any straight man into frenzy.
Then we get to the somewhat goofy part of the video. Rihanna begins to dodge some CGI water and dance around. While I personally don’t care for these moments, the evolution of budget and special effects is reflected here. Rihanna would later perfect these moments and just having video proof that she was experimenting with such ideas is fun to watch.
I’m not so sure about the French maid/Victorian thing, but again, seeing an early idea that later gets perfect is nice. The green screening is pretty bad (or the backdrop is just poorly shot), but Rihanna looks like she’s having a blast, so it’s still an enjoyable scene.
The silver stuff, though…Wow. I have no idea what kind of significance this even has with the song (which is a ballad about having a friend’s back), but it absolutely is awesome. It’s almost avant garde in a way, but shouting something like, “FREAKIN AWESOME,” is also acceptable.
With the bar being raised so high, how else could Rihanna top this? Well, after a few videos that are rather bland, we finally reach “Disturbia,” another breakthrough hit for the artist.
The video captures a Halloween vibe and showcases Rihanna dressed up as a monster in a torture chamber. That is most definitely a hard sell. Despite how unappealing the idea sounds, the video is a pure wonder to watch.
The song discusses feelings of anguish and despair and I don’t really know what better visuals you could use than monsters and zombies. Some of the silver screens best monsters are literal monsters, so why not stick with that?
The video is shot in a very grainy style and everything has a strange fast motion approach. Things will be in slow mo and then speed up, only to return back. It creates the sensation that these “creatures” are moving irregularly and inhuman, leading to the belief that this truly is terrifying.
It’s also frightening to see how much of a transformation Rihanna has taken in her physical appearance. She doesn’t look as young and vibrant anymore. She’s more calculated and confident. She also is chained to a bed and scrambling around for dear life.
While I can’t say anything about her Hollywood style acting (I’ve yet to see a feature film with her), she definitely could be a pretty good costume actress akin to Doug Jones. That is mainly the aspect that sells this video, too. Everything just looks so vile.
That shot of Rihanna in the cage with white contacts is just awesome. She’s writhing around and looks sick and just nails it out of the park. That random guy in leather standing next to the cell is also pretty freaky, too. Her making love to a mannequin is also fucking weird.
Even though there isn’t a whole lot of significance in the video with regards to the song, it’s just a great watch. Music videos lost a lot of creativity in the turn of the century and ever since the rise of YouTube, most artists don’t even bother to make video companions to their work. It’s great to see Rihanna in this video making everything unconventional seem appetizing.
This would escalate further in the videos for her next album, “Rated R.” Not only do the visuals take a huge jump forward into an otherworldly aspect, but everything just seems to have a larger budget. No expense is sparred.
Just take a look at the video for “Hard.” Obviously Rihanna is aiming for a military angle, but everything is just so bombastic. The visuals echo the loud thumping in the song and explosions are just par for the course.
There is also the fucking raccoon style painting Rihanna dons with spiked shoulder pads, a la The Road Warrior. It creates a fierce atmosphere and a general “no bullshit” style look. This little lady isn’t messing around with anyone.
Seeing her command forces also mirrors the fame Rihanna has gained at this point. Her fans are rabid and willing to defend her at any cost. Much like internet fandom will do, these people have formed an army (A Kiss Army, if you will!).
Then there’s the obligatory sexual gestures Rihanna uses to lure people in. Her clothes are skimpy and her body movements suggestive. It’s all tantalizing, if a little clichéd at this point. I don’t think I can name anything else where some lady is dry humping a pink tank barrel, though.
For her very next single, Rihanna would channel the aesthetics of contemporaries like M.I.A. and produce a highly stylized video for “Rude Boy.” This is one of my favorite songs by Rihanna, if not solely for her aggressive sexual wording.
Using slow motion and super imposed color, everything about this video is a delight. It looks like a comic book on acid and the use of floating words, negative colors, rotoscoping and repeated movements makes everything electric and captivating.
There’s also a scene towards the center where Rihanna is in a black and white room with writing all over the walls. She’s in some Zebra skin outfit and is doing yoga. It works well to the songs attitude and style. This girl really wants whoever this “Rude Boy” is.
It’s after this album, though, that the artist has begun to falter with video production. Maybe this is just due to the fact that her music is becoming simpler in theme, but none of her other videos are even worth mentioning.
“Only Girl in The World” can be summed up by the color pink. Everything is pink, including Rihanna’s hair, and nothing really happens. We see some of the techniques used in “Rude Boy” such as slow motion, but the artist is mostly dancing around in a field.
I suppose it’s pretty to look at and Rihanna is drop dead gorgeous with red hair, but I’m not very engaged by anything else. The song is repetitive and dull and the video just looks like Candy Lane. It’s too saccharine for my tastes.
“Man Down” is a cool idea for a song, but the video is just very bright. It doesn’t fit the dark tone of the song. I’m also a bit confused on how I’m supposed to take the video. Obviously the song is about vengeance, but the video focuses a bit too much on the physical appeal of Rihanna.
“S&M” is just…wrong. Rihanna had a very tumultuous incident with singer Chris Brown and was abused by him. The details are very graphic, but you would think that producing a song about enjoying sadomasochism would be the farthest thing from her mind.
Apparently she’s into that, though, and the video just makes me feel sick. She’s being wrapped in plastic at one point and in another scene she’s sitting on an old man and whipping him. I have no idea why she would promote this image after being abused, but I guess I’m not the multi-million dollar artist.
Her newest album has seen Rihanna record some of the simplest lyrics I’ve heard this side of a techno album. Her songs are now one verse symphonies and hardly move past the track’s title in terms of depth. It’s very shocking to see an artist who has tackled unfaithful commitments, sexual aggression and friendship turn into an archetype of a pop star.
That aside, one of Rihanna’s most controversial videos comes from her newer album. The song “We Found Love” can be interpreted in many different ways, but Rihanna chose to highlight the “wasted youth” demographic. What ensues is chaos.
While I can appreciate that Rihanna is emphasizing that love can blossom in many different ways, why exactly is there so much drug use? We’re given a 4 minute opera of debauchery and it doesn’t even look appealing in the least.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The thing is filmed like a Danny Boyle movie and all the camera angles are fantastic. But we don’t even get any of the story like we saw in “Unfaithful” or have any of the neat visual effects like “Umbrella.”
For that matter, the costume design is also solely lacking. I seriously doubt that any of the costume designers had to stress themselves out to get a “druggy” type look. It’s also troubling to me that Rihanna chose something so basic to illustrate the “hopeless place” she’s referring to in the song.
Why couldn’t we just go with poor people? Or better yet, highlight some of the poverty in her nation of Barbados. Not only would that have gotten the point across more, but she would be doing a service to her country.
Regardless of that, her latest video at least takes a step back in the right direction. “Where Have You Been” is incredibly straightforward in it’s lyrical aspirations and the video reflects that. Rihanna just dances in different countries and with different styles.
So while I’m definitely missing the days where her videos were fashionable, at least we get to see Rihanna dress up in Indian garbs and dance around with flames on her hands. That certainly provides visual punch.
There is also some weird crocodile skin thing in the beginning, but I’m mostly just struck by the direction of the video. Her songwriting may have lost its magic, but the directors she hires unquestionably know film.
Looking forward, I’m not sure what else I can say for Rihanna. She is most assuredly a guilty pleasure for me. You obviously see me complaining about some of the things she produces, but I still have a lot of admiration for her artistic intents.
While I would like her to return to the depth and introspection she was doing with “Good Girl Gone Bad,” it’s hard not to appreciate that someone like her is around. While most modern pop is either radio fluff or forgotten within a few short weeks, Rihanna seems to just keep going.
I’m still hearing “Shut Up and Drive” and “S.O.S.” on the radio. These are songs that are close to 8 years old, which would be a death sentence in the pop world. That Rihanna has these songs in the collective conscious along with newer work is pretty extraordinary.
I can’t help but feel that her fire is almost out, though. I may listen to her newer work from time to time, but I can’t even get behind it. It’s so damn simple and this is coming from a guy who actively listens to techno with fiery fervor.
The girl has obviously made her millions and nothing is going to stop her from straying on whatever course she has chosen. I know she can do better and I really want to see her transcend her other pop contemporaries, but I don’t think there is anything else I can say.
At the very least, Rihanna knows how to produce good videos. That is an art that most musicians struggle with today. Hopefully I’ve inspired some of you to take a trek through her work. I know that, while I might not enjoy her work, I’ll always be awaiting her newest video single.
So if you'd like to discuss more Rihanna with me (or any other artist, for that matter), make sure to contact me on Twitter @KingSigy. Why not hit up Rihanna, too? @Rihanna I know that I'll be sharing this with her, whether she wants to read it or not! read