Rihanna Shoots ‘Em Up

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Published June 1, 2011

 

Rihanna’s new video for the dancehall-heavy track “Man Down” leaked today, and like the video for “S&M,” it’s bound to raise some questions. The artist seems to have solidified her departure from her early, pop-friendly persona and, like many recent pop stars, opted for shock value instead. The video opens with the singer shooting a man, and—let’s be honest—she really looks adorable doing it. We don’t even look adorable shooting men dirty looks on the subway. But why’d she do it? We’re getting there.

The video takes us back to the day before. Rihanna appears to be in a tropical paradise: she struts around in an ombre dress, plays with kids, rides a bicycle, hangs out with locals with handguns, drinks a VitaCoco. Wait, why is she drinking VitaCoco—and after we’ve been subjected to gratuitous shots of a man cutting open a coconut with a machete? Is she making a comment on violence being a result of the infiltration of Western culture? Is this an Orientalism thing? Would she have really paid three dollars for a tiny little coconut water tetra pak when an actual coconut costs around 50 cents in Jamaica? Surely it’s not product placement in such a serious video. Five VitaCoco posters later we realize, okay, maybe it is just product placement. We try to let that slide. Music videos are expensive. Right, Kanye?

But it throws us off our game as the video continues: Rihanna goes to a local club, and the film style turns gritty. Couples are dancing; all the men are wearing sunglasses, even though it’s nighttime. It’s sweaty. Rihanna dances with a man, and as the tension builds and the songstress leaves the club alone, we can’t help but see the punchline coming. The man follows her from the club and from various shots heavy on the jump cuts, the implication is that the man she evidently shot in the beginning of the video sexually assaults her. There actually is a valuable lesson in this video, and we can give props to Rihanna, who eloquently summed it up on Twitter with a series of three tweets: “Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and #listentoyomama! I love you and I care!” As advice from a pop star goes, it isn’t half-bad.