Rihanna's Video for "S&M" Sparks Outrage

Rihanna's Video for "S&M" Sparks Outrage

Published February 4, 2011

It's a time-honored tradition: Good Girl Makes It Big, Good Girl Goes Bad, Bad Girl Makes Over-The-Top Sexy Music Video Wherein She Sports Skintight Latex.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Rihanna's latest music video, for her new single "S&M," has got some all tied up in knots with its bondage themes and overt sexuality. YouTube has flagged the video as inappropriate for viewers under 18, and U.K. paper The Daily Mirror is reporting that the Melina-directed clip has even been banned in 11 countries.

In today's video-saturated media environment, that's quite the reaction. And it's one that, no doubt, was planned from the very beginning.

Rihanna's "S&M" is so stuffed with teasing imagery that it becomes the visual equivalent of a poke in the ribs. She dances in a tube top with the word "Censored" striped across her chest, she eats a banana in slow motion, and she gets right up close to the camera and shakes her head around like she's got a screw loose. She's in your face: Get it?

The bound and gagged sex-symbol thing has been done before and done better by Madonna and, of course, the reigning queen of provocation for provocation's sake, Lady Gaga. Rihanna's take seems to be aimed explicitly at the press, with men in suits who are supposed to be reporters (I take it Melina doesn't know many) holding her hostage at a press conference. Newsreels flash by, during the scenes where Rihanna isn't half-naked eating sexually suggestive foods, labeling her a "slut" or "princess of the Illuminati." She leads the gossip blogger Perez Hilton around on a literal leash.

Taken with the calculated outrage to the video itself, we suppose these statements are meant to cast Rih-Rih as oppressed and misunderstood. Of course, for Rihanna to be misunderstood, she would actually have to be saying something.

Last year, MIA played the censorship card with the cover and promotional materials for her album /\/\ /\ Y /\. While there was much eye-rolling at those claims, at least the embattled Sri Lankan—a tacit terrorist sympathizer with legitimate media beef—had a case and something she seemed to be fighting for.

What does Rihanna have? Why on earth would anyone want to censor her?

Perhaps that's the dilemma that "S&M" is really about. Rihanna has never been very good at standing for anything. Her songs and albums are almost all prewritten and produced by others as ruthlessly efficient weapons of chart destruction. And in the aftermath of the extremely high-profile Chris Brown debacle, when anti-domestic-violence activists made her a defacto poster girl, Rihanna was aloof, never getting too touchy-feely about any of it. She just went sexier and more provocative on her next album. 

"S&M," with its "sex in the air, I don't care" attitude, is boundary-pushing in a cheap and messy way, but nothing to get up in arms about. Nearly all of Rihanna's music videos of late have been über-sexed in one way or another—that's pretty much her M.O. at this point. We suspect we'll all survive to see the visuals for her next steamy, if slightly less "in your face" chart topper.

As the Good Girl Gone Bad herself reminded us in defense of the video: "They watched "Umbrella"... I was full nude."

Courtesy of Island Def Jam

Written by Reggie Ugwu


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