If you’ve seen the video to Bitch Better Have My Money (BBHMM), or heard anything about it, you’ll know that it's a glamorously grotesque joyride through seven minutes of menace, horror and terror, where RiRi darkly reveals her inner gangster. Her accountant’s failed to stump up what he owes so what else can a girl do but kidnap his wife and play torture?
Bound, gagged and naked, wifey's stylishly portrayed in various states of distress: swinging from the rafters by her feet, force-fed booze and drugs, all before being unceremoniously dumped in a pool. By the video’s end, Rihanna’s blood-drenched face and Chucky-like glare pretty much says it all.
BBHMM was lovingly crafted to offend, anger and excite, which is exactly what it did. As the sound of outrage filtered through the internet, RiRi must've been pretty chuffed that things had gone so well, so quickly, so smoothly.
For some, the outrage boiled down to her irresponsibility as an artist making a video laden with sexually-charged violence; particularly an artist whose fanbase consists largely of girls who haven’t even started their periods yet. I got that bit because it was pretty straightforward and hard not to agree with, but then people started talking about feminism and black female empowerment and I started to get a bit lost.
Rachel Roberts, the Canadian model who plays the part of the accountant's wife commented that the video really held a ‘feminist message.’
Yeh, that’s right. A big fat feminist message wrenched from the idea that Rihanna isn’t an ordinary woman on a torturing spree, she's ‘a strong woman who is fighting back, even if her methods are obviously highly questionable.’
I shouldn’t question it, I know. After all, feminism is in the mind of the beholder but really, has it come to this that torturing another woman is now considered a feminist act? If that’s the case I need to get out more, and buy a new dictionary while I’m there.
Naturally, Roberts’ “analysis” went down like a lead balloon and highlighted to some that the video wasn't feminist at all. Quite the opposite, the video was anti-feminist.
Helen Lewis in the New Statesman said: ‘It was not very feminist – not even very hashtag feminist – of Rihanna to ‘torture that poor rich lady’. That is because it is not very feminist to torture women. Even if they are white. Even if they are rich. Even if you are a woman yourself. Sorry if this comes as a surprise.’
‘Nice’, wrote Barbara Ellen in The Guardian. ‘Thanks for co-directing that, Rihanna, and for demonstrating how female-on female-torture and murder are just as “SEXY!” as the male-on-female versions. We were all a little unsure before – but now we know.’
But it wasn’t just the is-it-or-isn’t-it feminist debate. A number of black female writers commented that people didn't like the video because Rihanna is black and her victim is white. Clearly payback time.
‘Rih had that white bitch swinging from a noose!!! She lit!!’, carped singer Azealia Banks through Twitter. Blunt, maybe, but a sentiment similarly echoed elsewhere.
The Guardian’s Rebecca Carroll agreed with blogger, Black Girl Dangerous’ arguments that white women were pissed off about the video because Rihanna’s getting her own back: ‘What really has white feminists upset is that in the video Rihanna, a black woman, puts her own needs before a white woman’s needs. And it’s clear that when those needs involve money, social class and privilege (say lounging on a yacht), that there is no room for perspective. White women will fight to obtain food stamps for black women, but don’t let us have a yacht, pretty clothes or – God forbid – payment of money we are owed.’
Don’t get me wrong, as writer who is both black and female I can see racial and feminist angles to a lot of things, but not this. Watching Rachel Roberts dangling naked from the rafters I thought it was little more than gratuitous titilation. It didn’t make me think of slavery or that RiRi was getting one up on ‘Whitey’.
I went back to BBHMM and watched it again, and again, and to be honest, I still don’t really see it. As far as sisterhood strength's concerned, I've seen more feminism in a working men’s club and likewise, I don't buy the black female empowerment idea, either. Who would have thought that rather than working on our own shit (skin bleaching creams, anyone?), and gaining strength from within, that torturing the nearest white woman was the easiest way to empowerment. Not me, that's for sure.
Rihanna’s co-directors on the video, Megaforce, have already said that feminism didn’t cross their minds. They’ve also said that they went through a number of ideas about the video, from Rihanna inviting the wife to tea, to kidnapping the boyfriend or at one point, having Rihanna kidnap his dog. Which, for me, weakens the idea that they desperately wanted to work some serious political views into the video.
My problem in all of this is that even though we’ve got a pretty good idea that feminism and black female empowerment isn’t what BBHMM is all about, people are discussing it like it is. And while it might be a good way of getting some things out in the open, it just feels like people are seeing what they want to see.
Anyway, as people keep pointing out, it's all a fantasy and none of it's real (apart from the bit about Rihanna's real life accountant ripping her off for millions back in 2012), so there's not much point in analysing it as though it were real. If people really want something to think about, it might be more beneficial to consider just how far Rihanna would have got in reality: A black woman in America, kidnapping and torturing the wife of a super rich accountant? She'd have been shot by the cops before she even had chance to think about it.
So while female writers across the world continue to sit and scratch their heads about where feminism and empowerment fits into all this, Rihanna will probably be counting her millions and watching herself inch further and further up the Most Powerful lists. As one tweeter pointed out, ‘I’m not a feminist. I’m a rihannaist.’ Something Rihanna would probably agree with.