Monday, 8 August 2011
Originally published in Attitude magazine.
I’ve been trying to work out why I object so much to seeing Rihanna behave like a sex worker. After all, I didn’t mind Madonna’s persona during the Sex era. In the intervening years I’ve grown as tired of everyone else of her crotch becoming her star attraction, and can’t help but feel that her commitment to exposing herself has become less about her audience and more about her. Like with flashers. That said, in the early nineties Madonna’s allegiance to smut was groundbreaking if nothing else. In today’s climate, when you can google image Britney’s vagina and Christina wears a full gimp mask for LOLZ, the whole sorry palava is as exhausting to witness as I imagine it is to take part in. I expect that for Rihanna pouring herself into yet another PVC bodice arouses the same levels of excitement as a lollipop lady donning her tabard – after all, both are uniforms of sorts.
Perhaps the key difference between Rihanna now and Madonna back in the day is that Madonna, as Julie Burchill put it, looked like a prostitute and thought like a pimp - whereas to me Rihanna just looks like a prostitute. However misjudged Madonna’s routine may have been (and who wouldn’t foster a degree of regret at having simulated sex with Vanilla Ice in a coffee table book?), it always felt like Madonna was calling the shots. I mostly really enjoy Rihanna as a pop star, but I don’t think intelligence is one of her strengths (a notion that was reinforced during the Halloween episode of last years Xtra Factor when she emphatically informed Konnie Huq that she was an extremely superficial person, before having to be told that she meant superstitious). I just can’t help but feel that her decision to perform almost entirely in clothes that could be bought from a sex shop is less about artistic license, and more about surfing the current zeitgeist for sexualisation above all else.
It also feels that there are darker forces at play, which I can’t seem to fathom. It seems as if her image overhaul directly coincided with the aftermath of her attack at the hands of Chris Brown. During the campaign for her subsequent album, Rated R, it was all muzzles and tits bound in barbed wire – culminating in that charming duet with Eminen, in which she sings that she likes the way his love hurts. Her current release has seen her singing the praises of S&M and being raped in the music video for Man Down. Surely I can’t be alone in feeling uncomfortable at seeing a generation’s most high profile victim of domestic violence assuring her fan base that she likes for men to cause her pain. I might feel differently if I had once heard her eloquently justify her artistic direction, but as it stands I find her current persona even more sinister for seemingly being at her record companies bequest.
Maybe Madonna’s gusset baring antics are responsible for a whole wave of pop princesses who perpetuate the notion that to be a star is to be sexually aggressive 24/7. As a male feminist I obviously think that women should be able to wear what they want. As a pop enthusiast and gay man who likes to keep his top on in a club (am I alone?) I find the notion that the only way to truly express yourself is to wear as little as legally possible a little bit depressing.