Let’s be honest, people — as delicious as pop music is, it has some serious sexist potential. There are only so many times I can hear about “pimps” and “hos” and “smacking that” and other musical vulgarities without getting thoroughly sick of it all. Don’t get me wrong. Hating on pop stars isn’t my cup of tea — but they do make it so easy. As much as I dig Rihanna’s music, it’s about time somebody addressed her most recent hit’s top-rated music video, “We Found Love”:
It’s catchy. It’s upbeat. It has a touch of dubstep and it makes a great workout jam. What’s not to love? Those were my thoughts when I first heard the single that dominated the top of iTunes’ top chart list for weeks. There’s nothing wrong with “finding love in a hopeless place.” My qualms aren’t with the song, but with the music video; the music video that has close to 90 million hits on YouTube and is being viewed by boys, girls, men, and women worldwide.
The video starts off nicely enough. Rihanna and her man play in a skate park, run around in a field, and get fast food together. But as the video gets hotter and heavier, some dangerous undertones come into play. From 1:51 to 1:56, we see Dudley O’Shaughnessy — the guy in the vid — push Rihanna up against a wall and literally throw her down on the bed, violently.
From 3:37 to 3:46, we see Dudley tattoo the word “MINE” upon Rihanna’s exposed backside, while she screams in protest. From 3:45 to 3:50, we watch as Dudley screams at Rihanna while she covers her ears in anger. At 3:57, the two are in a car and Dudley crudely grabs Rihanna’s chin so she is forced to face him. Anyone else see the problem here?
Aside from the blatant displays of male violence and domination, we see other tell-tale signs of sexist stereotypes. For over half the video, Rihanna is more than half naked. She wears a bikini, a shirt, and no pants, another shirt and no pants, another… Well, you get the picture.
Since when did our pop culture decide that female artists need to remove their clothes in order to produce a successful music video? And the list goes on: Drug use is rampant. Alcohol is omnipresent. Rihanna passes out in the street. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, granted, this music video is by no means reminiscent of a 1950s, male-dominated relationship. Rihanna engages in arguments, steals food, and retaliates when confronted. The scenes are passionate and raw.
One could argue that the borderline-horrifying images portrayed — a.k.a. tattooing “mine” on a lover’s rear end — are merely an artistic, hyperbolic portrayal of a modern relationship, complete with impassioned brawls and substance abuse.
However, we as attentive viewers need to consider not the artsy intentions behind the video, but how the video is being perceived by the masses. We can’t forget that “We Found Love” was iTunes’ number 1 hit for weeks; the video was watched by all people of all ages. And whether they’re artsy or just plan horrific, many scenes from this video abide by sexist stereotypes and gender-stereotypical behaviors; behaviors that we do not want the younger generation of viewers to aspire to or emulate.
So what’s the solution? Do we censor heavily sexual images? No. Should videos that portray even the slightest hint of sexism be banned? No. The real objective in combating scary, powerless portrayals of women is to raise awareness and alert the masses that though this song and video may have been number 1, it does not mean that all of the messages portrayed therein are acceptable.
Besides, how are viewers supposed to sift through the conflicting messages portrayed in this video? Half of the time we see the couple happy, kissing on the beach, and having good-natured food fights in convenience stores. The other half of the time is consumed by masochistic tattoos, drunken stupors, and physical/sexual violence. I’m convinced I can’t be the only one struggling to differentiate between the “love” and the “hopeless place” portrayed in this video.