It used to be that pop singers reinvented themselves with each album — Madonna’s Erotica phase, centered on black leather and campy sexuality, was centered around her promotion of the album of the same name, as well as a coffee-table book. It lasted for a while! No longer: Rihanna’s new video, “S&M,” is a departure from her last video, “What’s My Name,” itself a departure from its predecessor. Will there be any phases left for her to go through by the time her next album comes out?
Unlike the (relatively) realistic, charming collaboration with Drake that was “What’s My Name,” Rihanna decided it was time to release a music video in which she struts in thigh-highs, a leather cap, and little else, snapping a pink bullwhip and strewing both candy hearts and signifiers everywhere. It’s hard to tell what Rihanna herself is setting out to do: parts of the video play as parody of “sexy” videos (she eats a banana languorously) and parts seem annoyingly self-serious (she wears a dress covered in fake newspaper headlines while ball-gagged reporters smother her in cellophane. Huh!).
Then again, Rihanna has always been a singles artist, not a woman who can sell albums. To get another #1 record and stay viable, she’s going to have to grab the attention even of those who only watch a music video when it’s a Gaga-style spectacular. But now that she’s walked Perez Hilton on a leash (really), how can she top this? May we suggest the shock of the demure?
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