Princess RiRi and the Technicolor Dreamporn

You’re probably aware of this already, but a few weeks ago Rihanna released a music video “We Found Love.” And though it’s technically old news by now, Lila’s post on Britney Spears was tangentially related to some thoughts I had about Rihanna after I saw this video for the first time, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to air them. In case you haven’t already seen the video (or are itching for an opportunity to watch it again), here you go:

Yup. You’re welcome.

So first of all, let me just say that I totally love this hot mess of a video. Like completely fucking love from the  innermost recesses of my teenage soul. It’s everything a music video should be as far as I’m concerned. It effectively tells a story in three minutes. Its crazy, speed-freak technicolor energy reflects the delirious dance energy of the song, and the rapid-fire editing is perfectly choreographed to highlight the highs and lows in the track’s momentum. And the song itself sounds pretty much exactly like what I would want be listening to if, perchance, I was busy falling in love with a stranger while out of my mind on ecstasy at a nightclub in Ibiza. Or a muddy field in the UK. Wherever.

And I love how unabashedly histrionic the storyline is – a perfect urban contemporary version of the romantic notion that it is oh-so-glamorous to self-destruct for love; the fantasy teenage girls sigh over until they find that perfectly wrong guy to rip out their still-beating hearts and realize that irreparably damaged men are more trouble than they’re worth.

But the most important thing about this video is that it is balls-out crazy. There are the broader themes, like the unprecedented amount blatant drug use and the unusually natural feel of all that sex. And then there’s Rihanna’s hipster fetish wardrobe; the random British industrial housing backdrop; that rainbow colored joint; the part where the Chris Brown stand-in forcibly tattoos the word “mine” on Rihanna’s ass; the part where they’re glowering at each other in a bathtub with all their clothes on for some reason; the part where Rihanna vomits pink ribbons OMG RIHANNA VOMITS PINK RIBBONS!!!!

But the main point that I’m slowly making my way towards is that after I saw this video I actually liked Rihanna more. And pretty much everyone I know had the same reaction, even if they didn’t love the video itself per se. Here’s my take on why (this is where I start circling back to what Lila said about Britney):

When Rihanna was busy trying to be a glam R&B princess, she was basically regarded as a poor-man’s Beyoncé.  Why? Because she’s just not much of a singer. I mean she does ok, but no way can she out-sing Beyoncé. Beyoncé is also an incredible dancer and a charismatic stage performer, and Rihanna doesn’t really have that going on either. She’s not untalented, but when Beyoncé is  your  competition you’re pretty much fucked. This is Hurricane Yonce we’re talking about, and her mind-melting diva superpowers seem to only increase with time. As long as Rihanna was trying to wedge herself into that same basic niche, she was doomed to be seen as second rate.

But with the “We Found Love” video, you can bet no one will be saying “eh, Beyoncé does it better.” She’s at the other end of the popstar galaxy with this one, and she’s effectively made her limited abilities as a singer/dancer completely beside the point. And while Rihanna’s been inching in this kinky techno direction for a while,  this is the first time she’s done something unique and eye-catching enough to truly reposition herself as a pop act.

And it’s working very well for her — she sells the shit out of this over-the-top  amphetamine rapture of a video, and she’s suddenly the embodiment of a very particular sensibility that she and her creative team seem to have more or less invented. By rolling up all these crazy references into a big disco ball (Requiem for a Dream, Trainspotting, the British series Skins, R&B, Euro-pop, hipster fashion soap opera, a bit of Madonna even) she’s somehow created something that isn’t quite any of them.

So unlike Britney, who with her weak voice and vanilla sex-appeal is the bland mediocrity of mainstream pop  given  human form, Rihanna has found a way to make her limited abilities as a songstress completely unimportant to her act, at least for now. It’s hard to say exactly what Rihanna doing, but she’s doing something no one else is, and it’s an extremely deliberate, calculated something. And whatever it is, it’s certainly enough to make her more interesting than Brittney ever was.

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