In discussing Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous is correct to ask readers, if they only see Rihanna’s “BBHMM” video as a literal depiction of violence to question why they don’t believe that she is “capable of creative and socio-political vision. Did you think every aspect of Madonna’s videos were literal? How about Lady Gaga?”
When Lady Gaga, with Beyoncé, poisoned a whole diner, in her “Telephone” video, nobody accused her of glamorizing mass murder. The cartoonish aspects of “Telephone” helped it to be recognized as social commentary, but Rihanna’s video also contains cartoonish elements; putting water wings on a kidnapping victim and keeping her inside a plastic kiddie pool on a yacht hardly strikes me as a realistic depiction. The repeated appearance of a sheriff who is too busy exercising his male gaze to notice that Rihanna and her co-conspirators are kidnappers, invites us to question how we decide what is a real crime and what merely simulates one.
So what is Rihanna’s vision here? McKenzie sees her depicting a “a black woman putting her own well-being above the well-being of a white woman” and, in the process, reversing centuries of white women profiting off the oppression of black women. Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic argues that Rihanna has created an artful revenge fantasy in which she seeks to get her money back in a world in which women are constantly constructed as victims.
Here are the dynamics I see: a rich white woman who has benefited from a white man’s exploitation of a black woman is kidnapped and brutalized by the exploited black woman. We don’t know if the white woman knew about the exploitation or not, but does that matter? It is the nature of privilege that you don’t have to know how others have been damaged so that you might benefit. Eventually, the white man is murdered but only because, as it turns out, he doesn’t value the white woman enough to give up some of his wealth for her.
The wealthy white woman in “BBHMM” isn’t brutalized because she is a woman. She is brutalized for her complicity in the racist and sexist exploitation of Rihanna and because of her presumed value to the white man. Rihanna has two other women on her team, one of whom is the other blonde woman in the video.
As Roisin O’Connor notes at The Independent, this video “is fuelled by real rage.” The anger, however, goes beyond the merely personal and beyond those who have directly exploited black women to target and expose those who merely, passively benefit and have accepted the advantage.
- Guns’n’poses: Rihanna’s BBHMM is the return of the blockbuster music video (theguardian.com)
- Rihanna makes history as the most successful digital singles artist of all time (ibtimes.co.uk)
- Rihanna’s shocking new song and other controversial music videos (breakingnews.ie)
- Rihanna Kidnaps and Murders in Her “Bitch Better Have My Money” Video (pitchfork.com)
- Rihanna Glamorizes Kidnapping and Sexual Humiliation in NSFW “Bitch Better Have My Money” Video…Cool? (flavorwire.com)
- Rihanna Tortures, Kidnaps in NSFW ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ Video (rollingstone.com)
- Rihanna Is No Pam Grier (newrepublic.com)